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Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

Teeth whitening has become a big business, from professional treatments at your dentist’s office to over-the-counter whitening strips and gels. There are a lot of options for creating a whiter, brighter smile; however it’s smart to do some research before jumping into whitening treatments.  

Tip #1: Visit Your Dentist First 

As with everything related to your oral health, it is important to consult with your dentist.  Have your dentist perform a routine cleaning, as well as check for cavities and any sign of gum disease.  (By the way, you may be surprised at how much whiter your teeth are after a thorough professional cleaning!) 

If you are given the all clear to start whitening your teeth, and you have decided to try out at-home treatments, ask your dentist which teeth whitening products they recommend and what kind of results you can expect given your individual situation and overall oral health. 

Tip #2: Do Some Research 

Don’t just grab the first teeth whitening product you see on the shelf – choose wisely and consult your dentist with any questions or concerns.  If you are going to do at-home whitening, it is good to understand that teeth whiteners contain peroxide, typically carbamide peroxide, in amounts anywhere from 10% to 20%. 

It is best to choose a product that is somewhere in between those percentages. If you notice that the product doesn’t cause any side effects (tooth sensitivity, etc.), but doesn’t provide the desired result, you can probably move to a product with a higher percentage of peroxide. And remember, if you have any questions, consult your dentist before starting any teeth whitening treatments. 

Tip #3 Follow Directions

First and foremost, don’t leave the strips or gels on longer than the directions specify. Leaving the whitening product on too long can lead to sore gums, extra sensitive teeth or other problems. If you’ve ever seen the episode of Friends where Ross leaves a teeth whitening product on for too long, you’ll know exactly why this is important! (And if you haven’t seen the episode, check it out. It is hilarious!)

Avoid soda, coffee, energy drinks and any other acidic beverages after you whiten your teeth.  The exact length of time you should avoid these beverages will be provided in the directions for the specific product. 

For the most part, if you follow the directions and get results you are happy with for that first treatment, a once-a-month touch-up session  should be enough. And when your teeth reach a shade you like, you should only need to repeat treatments once or twice a year. 

Tip #4 Watch for Side Effects 

It is fairly normal for your teeth to be a bit sensitive during or after a whitening treatment. However, the sensitivity should not last long.  If you have pain or extreme sensitivity during teeth whitening, stop the treatment immediately and call your dentist. 

If you are using a product that consists of gel-filled trays, you may experience gum irritation if the tray doesn’t fit properly. If this happens, it’s probably best to stop using that particular teeth whitening product.  

Tip #5 Know When Not to Whiten

Pregnant women or nursing moms should not use teeth whitening products. And neither should children under age 14, as the pulp in their teeth may not be fully formed until then. Teeth whitening for young kids can increase their likelihood of having tooth sensitivity and can make them prone to cavities and soreness.

In addition, be aware that porcelain or composite dental crowns don’t lighten up. So if you change the color of the teeth around them, you might have end up with teeth that are different shades of white. At that point, you may have to replace old crowns to even up your smile.