Let’s face it, for many of us, our pearly whites have become more of a faint yellow. Age, our eating and drinking habits, and tobacco usage can lead to tooth discoloration. Even among those who take very special care of their teeth, it’s impossible to keep that white color we all had when we were kids. Many people are therefore interested in whitening their teeth, hoping to revitalize their smile. Teeth whitening, especially when supervised by a dentist, is a safe and effective procedure with very few long-term risks. In most cases, side effects and other issues are caused by improper use of the whitening product or excessive whitening. We take a look at what those effects can be if you over whiten.

What is tooth whitening?
Tooth whitening lightens teeth and helps to remove stains and discoloration. Whitening is among the most popular cosmetic dental procedures because it can greatly improve how your teeth look, and how you feel about your smile. Most dentists perform tooth whitening. Whitening is not a one-time procedure. It will need to be repeated from time to time if you want to maintain the brighter color.

What are my whitening options?
Talk to your dentist before starting. If you are a candidate, there are four ways to put the shine back in your smile:

  • Stain Removal Toothpastes: All toothpastes help remove surface stain through the action of mild abrasives that scrub the teeth. Look for whitening toothpastes that have earned the ADA Seal of Acceptance for stain removal (it will tell you on the package). These toothpastes have additional polishing agents that are safe for your teeth and provide stain removal effectiveness. Unlike bleaches, these types of ADA-Accepted products do not change the color of teeth because they can only remove stains on the surface.
  • In-Office Bleaching: This procedure is called chairside bleaching and usually requires only one office visit. The dentist will apply either a protective gel to your gums or a rubber shield to protect your gums. Bleach is then applied to the teeth.
  • At-Home Bleaching from Your Dentist: Your dentist can provide you with a custom-made tray for at-home whitening. In this case, the dentist will give you instructions on how to place the bleaching solution in the tray and for what length of time. This may be a preferred option if you feel more comfortable whitening in your own home at a slower pace, but still with the guidance of a dentist. Out-of-office bleaching can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. 
  • Over-the-Counter Bleaching Products: You may see different options online or in your local grocery store, such as toothpastes or strips that whiten by bleaching your teeth. The concentration of the bleaching agent in these products is lower than what your dentist would use in the office. If you are thinking about using an over-the-counter bleaching kit, discuss options with your dentist.

What happens when you over whiten?
When you use teeth whitening products too much, you could be damaging your teeth. Although teeth whitening rarely causes long term damage, temporary sensitivity is not uncommon. If you experience any discomfort following your treatment, your dentist can help you minimize irritation in the future. But even products approved by the American Dental Association (ADA) are hazardous when used excessively, and could lead to the following problems:

  • Increased tooth sensitivity: Overusing whitening products can cause your teeth to become more sensitive to cold and hot temperatures, making it unpleasant for you to consume certain foods and beverages. For most patients, sensitivity dissipates within a few days of treatment. While there is no way to predict who may develop the condition, some patients face a higher risk for post-whitening sensitivity. You are more likely to experience this side effect if you:
    • Already have sensitive teeth
    • Notice changes in the sensitivity of your teeth following a hygienic cleaning
    • Experience sensitivity following brushing, flossing, or fluoride treatments

Your dentist can recommend techniques to minimize sensitivity for future treatments. Gentle cleansing products and toothpastes can manage and decrease discomfort. Some dentists also offer desensitizing products for whitening patients. If you experience irritation, you should abstain from touch-up treatments until otherwise instructed by your dentist.

  • Gum irritation: Over-the-counter whitening products that contain peroxide can irritate your gums, causing redness and sensitivity. These products can also irritate your throat and the inside of your mouth when they are overused. It often occurs when an ill-fitting bleaching tray is used, there is a failure of the protective barrier during in-office treatment or from overuse of a whitening agent. When designed correctly, at-home whitening trays prevent the bleaching gel from coming into contact with your gum tissue. Your dentist can create a custom-made tray to reduce the chance of irritation.
  • Loss of tooth enamel: Tooth enamel helps protect your teeth from decay. Using teeth whitening products too much can erode tooth enamel, leaving you with a higher risk of tooth decay.
  • Translucent appearance: Applying peroxide-based whitening products too much can leave your teeth with a translucent appearance, rather than a white one. This can cause them to appear discolored, especially around the edges, which is irreversible.

What is the safest way to teeth whiten?
Some of the effects of overusing whitening products, such as tooth sensitivity and gum irritation, typically go away when you stop using these products. Tooth enamel loss is a more serious effect, however, making it important to avoid this problem in the first place. Instead of using whitening products on your own at home, consider having teeth whitening done professionally. Your teeth will be much safer in the hands of an experienced professional. Keep in mind that professional whitening services—such as in-office whitening or at-home whitening with customized bleaching trays—are also more effective than over-the-counter whitening products. In many cases, the results also last longer, so you will not need to have whitening treatments done as often.

Do you have any questions about over whitening? Call Westermeier Martin Dental Care to schedule an appointment with your dentist 716-508-4547.