Pearly white teeth are no new concept; we have been obsessed with our smiles for decades, always trying to improve the way we look and in turn how we appear to others. With the greater reach of celebrities, influencers, and social media these days, the obsession to have bright-white almost luminescent teeth has reached an all-time high; this means whitening procedures have also become more prevalent. With an increase in whitening procedures, it is logical to have increased concern for any adverse effects and risks, warranting us to ask the question; how harmful is whitening teeth?
To find the answer to this question and learn the essential information you should know before consulting a dentist, please continue reading.
Stains can seem like they came out of nowhere sometimes and no amount of brushing is going to make a difference. They vary in size, shape, and form but mostly they vary in their origination.
Categorically, teeth stains are divided into two pathways of causation: extrinsic and intrinsic stains. External staining stems from factors such as aging, medication usage (tetracycline), genetics, high fluoride levels, and even developmental disorders of the teeth, such as dental fluorosis.
Internal staining is directly related to beverages (coffee, tea, carbonated drinks, food consumption (types of food with dying abilities), smoking, and even antibiotics. It’s important to know where the stain came from to be able to successfully remove it, if not at least make it look better.
It may look like magic but in reality, physical removal of stains and chemical reactions are at play, hydrogen peroxide being the main contributor to chemical removal dynamics. Teeth stains are chemically made up of chromogens, which are colored compounds of various shades. Breaking and altering these chromogens leads to a lighter color and therefore, the ‘whitening’ effect of teeth is achieved.
Depending on the extent of the stain, the type, and its stubbornness, different options are available for treatment. Whitening toothpaste is recommended for tougher stains and can make a difference of one to two shades lighter at most.
Over-the-counter whitening strips and gels come as a full kit, easy to use and with instructions; to make them safe for home use the peroxide in these kits is of a lower concentration than one used in the oral and dental clinic, meaning shade differences of only one or two levels can be attained. Whitening mouth rinses, work at a much slower rate but are also an option to be used when advised.
Whitening kits using fitted trays are available to increase the contact time of whitening chemicals and to be more, they employ the same method as strips and gels. Lastly, for shade differences more drastic, in-office whitening is the only option. With the help of an expert, more concentrated forms of peroxide can be used safely and thus bringing forth a much whiter and brighter smile than home methods.
Whitening procedures carried out by dental professionals are always recommended, as not only will they be able to guide you better for what is most suitable for you but can do so in the safest, methodical process, ensuring you and your requirements are best-taken care of.
If you’re thinking about improving your smile aesthetically by ‘bleaching’ your teeth, you should also be prepared for possible teeth sensitivity. This means increased sensitivity to hot, cold, and air stimuli for the following days after the procedure. This typically lasts just a few days and can easily be managed by being cautious with food intake and temperature usage.
One of the other most common side effects of whitening is gingival irritation; chemicals placed on the teeth may come into contact, even in minute amounts during the procedure with gingiva (gums), since gums are a soft tissue they are vulnerable to damage and are affected and irritated. This usually mild irritation also may last for a few days until the gums fully recover from the impact.
Despite these common risks and their varying representation, in vitro studies have shown that other additional adverse risks have been reported, these include erosion of teeth, tooth mineral degradation, increase in susceptibility to being demineralized in the future and even damage to the pulp. It is best to seek guidance from an expert in the field before opting for any whitening methods.
It’s important to understand that everyone has different teeth, some are naturally whiter and some yellowish; genetics, demographics, socioeconomic status are just some of the variable factors that contribute to teeth hue(color) and chroma (undertone) as well as many others not listed here. Each tooth, individually, may also respond differently to staining and consequently to whitening procedures meant to correct it.
The best option for you is the one that keeps you content, as all procedures come with some risk and manifest differently from person to person. Whitening your teeth is overall considered safe by relevant authorities and the decision is ultimately entirely up to you. Keep in mind the smile you have and the one you want to have if there is a difference, there is a solution!
Dr. Hanaa Nasir is a dental professional having graduated with honors, currently pursuing her Master's in Oral Surgery, and is a published writer. She has worked for a well-recognized dental hospital in Pakistan and is in the process of attaining her further education from Australia. Still, in the early process of her research based on Psychology and Dentistry, she aims to advocate for, revolutionize and broaden dental care to be well integrated with mental health whilst also working on her own novel. An inquisitive person by nature, Dr.Hanaa dedicates most of her time to science and medicine whilst balancing the obsession with poetry and her art skills.