The Risks of Obsessive Over-The-Counter Teeth Whitening


Consumers are inundated daily with lots of information and advertisements about over-the-counter teeth whitening or teeth bleaching treatments.  But are they safe in the long term?

Americans plunk down a chunk of change when it comes to teeth whitening products – approximately 1.4 billion dollars in 2007 alone.  And let’s not forget that teeth whitening treatments are the number one requested cosmetic service by people between the ages of 40 and 60 according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

Within the last ten years, teeth whitening or teeth bleaching methods have gotten more popular than ever.  Even advertisers have convinced us that this is the one absolute way to achieve a celebrity-watt smile with little inconvenience.

But some people have become so excessive in pursuit of the perfect white smile, that they can’t stop using over the counter teeth bleaching kits.  This unhealthy obsession with teeth whitening has coined the term ‘bleachorexia.”  Some patients have abused this readily available option so much that dental professionals have termed them ‘bleach junkies.’

What are some effects of long term use of OTC teeth whitening and bleaching products?

Excessive use of over-the-counter teeth bleaching products can result in some serious side effects including:

Tooth sensitivity:  Patients who use OTC whitening products to excess notice that their teeth become extremely sensitive, especially when eating cold or hot foods.  Some people may also be allergic to hydrogen peroxide, which is the main ingredient in teeth bleaching kits.

Gum irritation:  This side effect occurs when instructions provided with the OTC teeth bleaching kit are not followed or are misunderstood.  Gum irritation can happen when gums come into direct contact with the bleaching tray solution.  Because bleaching trays purchased over the counter are not customized to the right shape and size of a patient’s mouth; it can lead to leakage or overspill onto the gums or gumline.  Generally, in these situations the pain dissipates when the amount of peroxide is lowered, which is impossible to do with over the counter kits, or when using the products is stopped for a few days.

Zingers:  This is a term given to sharp pains that occur in the teeth after bleaching.  Sometimes this pain can last for several minutes.  The hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, the two most active ingredients within a teeth bleaching kit, may be too high. These kits have a bleaching agent strength of anywhere between 10 to 22 percent carbamide peroxide, which is the equivalent to 3 percent hydrogen peroxide.  But since these teeth whitening products are marketed for continuous use, some people may do it more often than is otherwise recommended.

Bluish translucent teeth enamel: This side effect is harmless, but that Technicolor look can become permanent.

Uneven whiteness:  This side effect occurs because it’s difficult to match the ‘right shade’ from an OTC teeth bleaching kit with previous dental work like bonding, porcelain veneers or dental crowns.  Sometimes teeth that are stained brown or black cannot be bleached.  Teeth stained a bluish-gray from medications like tetracycline do not respond well to teeth whitening procedures, either. In those cases, porcelain veneers or some other cosmetic dental treatment might be a better option.

Why you need to consult with Your Dentist about Teeth Whitening?

Any teeth or bleaching procedure comes with some risks.  It’s also important to know that the ADA has not granted its seal of approval on any OTC teeth bleaching method.  Why?  At the end of the day, only your dentist can say whether or not you’re the perfect patient for teeth whitening.

For instance, you may have a small fissure or crack in a tooth’s enamel or a filling, and the bleaching agent may eventually work its way into the pulp of the tooth.  It can cause severe pain and possibly an unplanned treatment to correct.

Under supervision of your dentist, the bleaching agent can be lowered if you experience extreme sensitivity or a burning sensation.  At the very least, you can make an appointment to check if everything is going as expected.  Something you just can’t do with over the counter products.

Also, teeth bleaching procedures are not recommended if you have gum recession or suffer from gum disease.  These OTC teeth whitening products can be uncomfortable or ineffective for anyone who has either of these conditions.

Teeth whitening procedures done under the supervision and guidance of a dentist is the best way to minimize your risks.  If you choose to pursue OTC treatments, check with your dentist to be sure you have a healthy mouth from the start.   They can give you the low down on what you can expect from the many teeth whitening or teeth bleaching options available today.



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