Can whitening your teeth cause permanent damage?

Everyone wants a beautiful smile with perfectly shaped and sparkling white teeth. And it’s no wonder: your smile is the first thing a new acquaintance or a prospective employer notices about you! But the reality is, it’s nearly impossible to keep our teeth from becoming discolored over time. Thus, most people, either regularly or before special events, use teeth whitening products and services.

Nowadays, a wide variety of whitening gels and pastes, and bleaching and whitening kits are available over-the-counter. Some are more effective than others (we’re looking at you, “whitening” gum!) But many people ask us: are they safe? Can they permanently damage my teeth?

Before and after woman teeth whitening smile
A before-and-after comparison for what you can expect with in-office teeth whitening.

How do teeth whitening products work?

Most whitening products use the same active chemical ingredient: peroxide. (Whitening toothpastes are the exception: they typically don’t contain any whitening chemicals, only abrasives.) It will bleach virtually any material including your teeth and your gums. This chemical is available over-the-counter in the form of gels, paints, pastes, strips, etc.

Are teeth whitening products safe?

The short answer is, yes, but you must be careful. Remember you are dealing with a very strong chemical. Carbamide and hydrogen peroxide are safe (as long as used in appropriate doses) but they can cause damage otherwise.

Fortunately, there is really only one form of damage that you should be concerned with, and that is damage to the gums. When you use at-home whitening strips, they cover your teeth and gums. This is why these strips must be relatively weak. If they were stronger (and worked faster) they would burn your gums and be extremely uncomfortable. When you get custom-made trays, they are cut around your gums, so that the bleaching agent doesn’t rest on them. Additionally, when we do in-office whitening, we carefully place the bleaching agent on your teeth and completely avoid your gums.

What about damaging the enamel of my teeth?

It’s good that you’re thinking about caring for the enamel of your teeth. You likely know that once enamel is worn down, it cannot be recovered; it is permanently lost. Many people wonder whether teeth whitening can damage the enamel of your teeth. Fortunately, there is no evidence that teeth whitening damages your enamel. The truth is, your enamel wears down as you age, and you’re much more likely to speed this process up with: (a) acidic beverages like soda, (b) untreated acid-reflux disease, (c) bruxism (grinding), and (d) abrasive toothpastes.

One thing to keep in mind is that often people want to whitening their teeth in order to mask underlying dental issues. If you’ve tried to whiten your teeth at home but are having problems, you may already have issues with your enamel. Remember, whitening your teeth is not a substitute for ongoing, daily oral hygiene habits.

If you want to whiten your teeth, but want to make sure your enamel is in good shape, and your teeth are otherwise healthy, get in touch with us to schedule an exam and a professional in-office whitening session. A one-time professional whitening with daily brushing and flossing may be all you need to keep your smile bright (and healthy, too)!