Tooth whitening is a great way to make a subtle difference to your smile without radical changes, and there's no doubt that crooked white teeth look better than straight yellow teeth. However, with beauty salons and high street bought kits all promising white, bright teeth at a fraction of the price of professional whitening carried out by a dentist, it is crucial that the public are aware of the potential risks and limitations.
As a dentist, one of my biggest concerns is the number of beauty salons that offer in-chair teeth whitening and at-home kits. Only dental professionals are legally allowed to carry out teeth whitening and allowing untrained individuals to provide this treatment can put your oral health at risk.
EU law states that the percentage of hydrogen peroxide allowed in tooth whitening or bleaching products should be no more than 6%, but with unregulated whitening you've no real idea about what is included in the solutions. If the peroxide level is too high, it can cause irrevocable damage to the nerves in your teeth, as well as damage to your gums. If it is too low, it probably won't have the ability to lighten your teeth.
Whilst Oil Pulling to whiten teeth has become increasingly popular with many celebrities endorsing the craze, there is actually no evidence to suggest that this method works. Oil pulling involves swishing a tablespoon of oil (usually coconut oil) around the mouth for 15-20 minutes; this then supposedly draws out toxins in your body and your mouth, improving your oral health and in turn, whitening teeth as stains are drawn out and removed.
If you are going to try this technique, make sure you do not substitute brushing or your regular visits to the dentist, as this method will not reverse tooth decay or help extensively to whiten teeth.
Whitening Strips and pens
Although these over-the-counter products are easy to order and relatively cheap to buy, when opting for whitening strips or pens, it's worth noting that most will have only a small percentage of hydrogen peroxide in the solution, so the effects will be minimal. It is unlikely using them will result in a significant improvement in the whiteness of your teeth so my advice is to use them only for the occasional quick fix. Furthermore, excessive use of whitening strips can cause a white streaking appearance and painful sensitivity to your teeth. So, if you are going to use whitening strips, then I would be cautious not to use them any more than a couple of times a year.
Over-the-counter UV Kits
Whitening kits sold in supermarkets can also be a waste of money as they either do not contain enough hydrogen peroxide to be effective, or do not use hydrogen peroxide at all. Those that do not contain hydrogen peroxide often use other ingredients such as Phosphoric acid which, if used incorrectly, can cause damage to tooth enamel and gums.
To effectively use accelerated UV whitening, I would always advise undergoing this treatment with the guidance of a qualified dental practitioner. This will give you more control over how white you want to go and help to manage sensitivity throughout treatment.
Bicarbonate of Soda Toothpaste
Bicarbonate of soda is a natural teeth whitener, so using toothpaste that contains this ingredient will help to whiten your teeth in the short-term. However, some of these toothpastes can be abrasive to the tooth's enamel and if used repeatedly over time they can scrub away the protective coating on your teeth, making them more sensitive and vulnerable to further wear. For this reason, I would limit use to once a week and if you experience any sensitivity, stop use altogether.
It's also worth highlighting that whitening success is very dependent on the individual, and only your dentist is qualified to advise you on the best method of treatment. The UK General Dental Council has deemed that tooth whitening is the "practice of dentistry" and therefore it should only be carried out by appropriately trained and registered dental professionals.
By Dr Peta Leigh, whitening specialist at elleven.