Teeth whitening is a billion-dollar industry. In 2016 alone, Americans spent more than $1.4 billion on over-the-counter teeth whitening products. And with the never-ending deluge of ‘grams, snaps and tabloids reminding us that our Hollywood idols have impossibly white smiles, this trend isn’t going anywhere. Some dentists have even taken to giving the obsessive quest for whiter teeth its own name – Bleachorexia.
History of Teeth Whitening
Even though whitening strips and bleach trays have only been around for 30 years, the quest for whiter teeth has been going on for millennia. In ancient Egypt, white teeth were a sign of wealth so they’d use twigs to apply a paste of wine vinegar and ground pumice stone to their teeth. Think that sounds gross? The Romans used urine to whiten theirs! In the Middle Ages, barbers acted as surgeons and dentists too, and they’d actually file teeth down before putting nitric acid on them!
Thankfully those days are behind us. Since the 1980s, dentists have been perfecting the art of whitening teeth with in-office whitening treatments and take-home whitening gels. But patients are often concerned with the cost of these treatments and will turn to inexpensive, over-the-counter alternatives which unfortunately—without the expert advice of a dentist or hygienist—can lead to some unintended dental disasters.
Dangers of Over-the-Counter Teeth Whitening
The problem with over-the-counter bleaching products is that they are not regulated by the FDA, and many people will leave trays on too long or use them too often. Using bleaching trays too often really does more harm than good because over-bleaching can remove the protective layer of your teeth called enamel. Ironically enough, teeth with less enamel are not only weaker and prone to tooth decay – they will also appear more yellow in color!
Bleaching fears are why many people turn to whitening toothpaste which—like all toothpastes—is abrasive. Toothpaste abrasiveness can be measured by its relative dentin abrasion (RDA) value, but these values are rarely printed on packaging. We always recommend talking to your dentist about which toothpaste is right for your teeth, but if you’re curious about the RDA of your favorite brand, there are many charts available online. The common belief is that toothpastes under 150 RDA are best for your teeth.
Remember that whitening products can make teeth more sensitive, as well as harm gum tissue, tooth nerves, and tooth pulp which can result in mild discomfort or severe pain. If you notice after home treatments that you have bleeding gums, extra sensitivity or discoloration, your best bet is to stop immediately and schedule a checkup with your dentist. Experts say the negative effects can be reversed, but sometimes caps and veneers will be needed to protect over-bleached teeth.
Teeth Whitening Tips
Teeth whitening, especially in-office whitening or at-home whitening gel, is very safe and effective in moderation. And our practices offer a variety of payment options to help you achieve the smile of your dreams. If you’re ready to whiten, we’ve got some tips that will help you do it right.
- Consult your dentist first. We understand that teeth whitening gum or inexpensive, store-bought bleaching trays might be easier on your bank account than a trip to the dentist. But in-office teeth whitening or at-home whitening gels are much safer and more effective than anything you can buy at the store. The whitening gel used by dentists is designed to absorb into teeth on the microscopic level through your naturally porous enamel layer and be retained by the tooth at the level of the dentin, where the actual color of the tooth is determined. Home kits don’t follow the same process, and their active ingredients are generally combinations of hydrogen peroxide and/or varieties of bleach (to chemically remove stains and whiten the enamel) or abrasive pastes (to grind the stained layer of enamel off the tooth).
- Wait 6 months between treatments. As we’ve said, excessive brushing and over-bleaching can remove enamel and hurt your teeth over time. If you choose to use over-the-counter whitening products, please follow directions and consult your dentist about which products are best for you.
- Buy brand names you can trust and be skeptical of home remedies. Remember the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Crest, Colgate and other big names in oral care have been doing this a long time whereas bloggers and online retailers have less of an obligation to protect consumers. Use your best judgment and at least talk to your dentist before trying popular DIY whitening ideas like coconut oil pulling, brushing with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing apple cider vinegar on your teeth.
- Take care of your overall health. Acidic foods like pickles and citrus fruits can wear down enamel. And an unhealthy diet can contribute to unhealthy teeth and gums. So if you’re interested in a brighter smile, invest some time in your overall health. Drink water. Don’t smoke. Get some exercise. And don’t forget to floss. Because—believe it or not—flossing cleans more surface area of your teeth than brushing does.
- Invest in an electric toothbrush (and a water flosser too). For best results, we recommend you take the leap into the 21st century and invest in an electric toothbrush and water flosser, which have both been shown to improve oral health. Our practices recommend Sonicare toothbrushes and WaterPik flossers, and we offer discounts to our patients. All you have to do is ask!