The Risks Of Teeth Whitening: Are They Worth It?

The Risks Of Teeth Whitening: Are They Worth It? By Dr. Jon ( Junyi ) Ho | September 9, 2022

Teeth whitening has grown popular with many people because it can help improve their smiles, boosting their confidence. If you are one of those wanting to have whiter teeth through this treatment, you might need to know the risks that come with it.

Read on to understand each of these risks better to determine if this is the right procedure for you.

What Is Teeth Whitening?

What Is Teeth Whitening?

In simple words, teeth whitening is a dental cosmetic treatment that aims to remove or reduce your tooth stains and discolourations, giving you a brighter smile. Note that no matter how white your teeth were when you were born, they can become yellow, brown, orange or darken due to consuming too much dark food or beverages, smoking, certain medications, tooth trauma, medical conditions and ageing.

There are two major methods of teeth whitening, such as:

  • In-office or in-chair teeth whitening. This is done by a dentist or licensed dental hygienist in a dental clinic, using a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide—the major active ingredient in tooth whitening. It also involves using LED lights or a blue light system to speed up the whitening process. This can take one hour or more to complete. You will see that your teeth are two to eight shades whiter after your first session. However, you may need to undergo more sessions if you have severe teeth discolourations and stains.
  • At-home teeth whitening. As the name suggests, at-home whitening can be done by you at home, using teeth whitening products prescribed by your dentist or purchased from your local pharmacy or online. These can be take-home custom-tray teeth whitening kits and over-the-counter products, such as peroxide-based gels, strips, rinses, or toothpaste. At-home whitening also takes a longer period of time to see results, has increased risks, and can only reduce or remove surface stains.

Are There Risks Associated With Teeth Whitening?

Though teeth whitening is non-invasive, it still comes with risks. These include:

1. Gum Or Gingival Irritation

Your gums can be irritated when the whitening gel or peroxide comes into contact with them. This can result in swollen, red, and tender gums. In some cases, it can also lead to gum recession, which means your gums are pulled back from your teeth, exposing more of your tooth structure. Nevertheless, it is a rare occurrence.

2. Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity is the most common side effect of teeth whitening. Your teeth may become sensitive and painful to hot or cold food or drinks for a few days after the treatment. Sometimes, it can last up to two weeks. However, this is normal and should eventually subside.

3. Allergic Reactions

Another risk associated with teeth whitening is allergic reactions. You may be allergic to the hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide used in the bleaching gel. Allergic reactions can cause burns to the gums and swelling on your teeth, gums, and lips, that can give you discomfort for a few days. If you experience this, it is important to inform your dentist and stop the treatment immediately.

4. Stomach Or Throat Pain

In rare cases, people who undergo teeth whitening may experience stomach or throat pain after swallowing the gel used during the treatment.

5. Uneven Whitening

Teeth whitening can also cause uneven whitening results, especially with at-home treatments. Some of your teeth may become whiter, but others may also appear darker. Sometimes, it can also lead to white spots on your teeth. This can happen if you don’t follow the instructions properly and fail to apply the bleaching agent correctly.

How Long Can You Expect Negative Side Effects Of Teeth Whitening To Last?

If you experience any of the risks above following your procedure, you can expect them to last a few days. For instance, tooth sensitivity should last 24 to 48 hours after treatment. Gum irritation can persist for one to several days.

It must be noted that every patient is different. Some people may experience side effects from the procedure for a longer or shorter duration of time. However, if it takes weeks or more for the side effects to subside, you should see your dentist.

Why Do You Experience Pain After Teeth Whitening?

The temporary pain you experience right after your treatment is mainly caused by the hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide used in the bleaching gel. During the procedure, these chemicals enter your enamel and dentin, which are the inner layers of your teeth. This can cause your nerve endings to become irritated, leading to pain and sensitivity.

What Is The Safest Way To Whiten Teeth?

What Is The Safest Way To Whiten Teeth?

Aside from being the most effective teeth whitening method, professional teeth whitening done by a dentist is known to be the safest way to whiten your teeth. They take precautionary measures to protect your gums and teeth by using a gum shield or dental dam. They can also monitor the amount of time that your teeth are exposed to these chemicals. Ultimately, they are skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable enough to know what they are doing.

For example, if you whiten your teeth at home using over-the-counter whitening trays, there’s a possibility that you won’t be able to fit the tray snugly against your teeth. As a result, the bleaching gel leaks and reaches your gums.

There are also those who overuse whitening products, hoping that they can achieve results faster. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Over-whitening your teeth can lead to harm and complications. That’s why it’s essential to strictly follow the instructions provided for at-home whitening methods.

Can Teeth Whitening Cause Cavities?

Currently, there are no studies that show a direct link between teeth whitening and cavities. However, there is some evidence of enamel damage with the overuse of whitening products. Still, more research needs to be done to confirm this.

If safety is your concern, know that teeth whitening procedures done by a qualified dentist are safe. They use appropriate concentrations of bleaching agents, which are monitored and supervised. This is to ensure that your enamel won’t be damaged and be prone to developing cavities.

Does Teeth Whitening Affect Fillings?

Dental fillings do not react with hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, so they will not be affected by the teeth whitening treatment. This is because these materials are made of different substances and respond differently compared to your natural teeth.

Who Shouldn't Get Their Teeth Whitened?

People who have the following conditions may not be recommended to have their teeth whitened:

People With Other Dental Procedures Done

If you have had other dental treatments, such as bonding, veneers, or crowns, it is best to consider alternatives to achieve a brighter smile. This is because the different materials used in these procedures are not porous like your natural teeth and will not respond to the bleaching agents. As a result, your teeth may have a different shade than your bonding, veneers, or crowns.

Women Who Are Pregnant Or Lactating

Though there are no specific studies to prove that teeth whitening is not safe for these women, there is also no research that claims it is safe for them and their babies. That’s why dentists recommend waiting until they are done with pregnancy and lactation before getting their teeth whitened.

Children Under The Age Of 16

Dentists don’t recommend teeth whitening for children under the age of 16. Their tooth enamel is still developing and can be more easily damaged by the bleaching agents. In addition, their pulp chambers are also larger, making them more prone to tooth sensitivity.

People With Unrealistic Expectations

If you have unrealistic expectations about teeth whitening, such as thinking it will make your teeth look perfect, you may be disappointed with the results. It is important to remember that teeth whitening can make your teeth a few shades lighter, but it’s not permanent. This procedure cannot address other imperfections in your teeth, such as misshapen teeth. Plus, you need to practise good oral hygiene to maintain your results.

People With Oral Issues

If you have sensitive teeth, gum disease, or other mouth problems, you may not be an ideal candidate for this treatment. However, if you still want to whiten your teeth, your dentist will address these issues and ensure that you are not at risk for complications before performing the procedure.

What Treatment Options Are Available For Them?

Your dentist may recommend other cosmetic dental procedures to help lighten your discoloured teeth, such as:

  • Dental veneers. This involves placing thin porcelain shells over your teeth to cover any discolourations and imperfections.
  • Dental bonding. Tooth bonding uses a tooth-coloured resin applied to your teeth and hardened with a special light. This procedure can help improve the appearance of your teeth and make them look whiter.
  • Crowns. Dental crowns are caps placed over your teeth to cover them completely, making your teeth appear whiter. This is because you can choose the colour of your crown.

Final Thoughts

Teeth whitening is one of the most sought-after cosmetic procedures in dentistry because it can help boost your confidence by lightening the colour of your teeth, encouraging you to smile more often. However, risks are involved, especially with an at-home teeth whitening treatment. For in-office teeth whitening, your dentist will take the necessary steps to minimise the risks and prioritise your safety. In other words, teeth whitening done by a dental professional is advantageous as it is safer and more effective.

If you have been wanting to have your teeth whitened but are scared of the potential risks, let us assess you and see if you are a good candidate for this treatment. If you have any oral issues, we can help address them before the procedure.

At Darch Dental Care, we have a team of dentists with several years of experience providing teeth whitening treatments. They are gentle and skilled, ensuring to protect your teeth and gums to avoid any risks. We also offer custom-made at-home whitening kits if that’s your preference. At your appointment, we will discuss all the information you need and answer any questions you may have. So, we can help you make an informed decision.

Call us now at 08 9515 4892 to schedule a consultation!

Dr. Jon ( Junyi ) Ho

Dr. Jon is a Perth-based dentist who graduated with a Bachelor of Dental Science in 2005 from the University of Western Australia. He has worked at a range of dental practices, including being a partner and principal dentist for a group of five dental surgeries in Sydney. Dr. Jon has been practising for over a decade in the northern suburbs of Perth. He provides treatment for patients in Darch, Madeley, Landsdale, Kingsway, Kingsley, Marangaroo, Alexander Heights, Wangara, Ellenbrook, and others.

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