Teeth whitening has become one of the most common procedures performed in modern dentistry. However, as with any medical procedure there can be some side effects. Most are minor but the improper use of over the counter whitening products like peroxide gels can cause sensitivity, pain and even chemical burns.
How Can You Avoid These Side Effects and Still Whiten Your Teeth?
Buy a whitening gel from a well-reviewed and reputable company, preferably one that makes all its products in the USA, like my preferred brand does. Always follow the directions exactly as they are written, and do not overuse the whitening gel. Remember that adding more gel and overfilling the tray will not get you whiter teeth, but will expose your gums to potential chemical burns and irritation! Consider the option of using a low concentration peroxide gel and working your way up to the concentration needed to get the shade of white teeth you desire. Remember that even whitening at a dental office can result in painful or annoying side effects like increased sensitivity.
What Are The Side Effects Of Whitening Your Teeth?
The main side effect of teeth whitening is increased tooth sensitivity. This is the most commonly experienced downside of dental bleaching with peroxide. This means that you’ll experience some discomfort when your teeth are exposed to extreme temperatures, like when you eat ice cream or hot soup. Fortunately this is temporary, and will stop some time after you end your treatment course with whitening gel. Toothpastes that include peroxide for improved whitening do not use high enough concentrations of peroxide to cause this side effect in most people.
Gum irritation is the other most common side effect of whitening. This is caused by getting the powerful chemicals used in the whitening gels into contact with your gums. Most professional teeth whitening treatments at a dentist’s office will use custom fitted trays to hold the whitening gel in contact with your teeth, while keeping it away from your gums. Since at home whitening products use one size fits all trays, you can easily expose your gums to the bleaching agent by filling the tray with too much gel. Carefully follow the directions of the whitening gel you purchase exactly as they are written and do not apply more than a small teardrop-sized amount to the tray. This will help you avoid irritating your gums.
Less common and easily avoided side effects of teeth whitening gels include stomach irritation and nausea from swallowing the gel. Limiting the amount you use and simply avoiding drinking and eating while whitening will prevent this. Unfortunately, tooth sensitivity is somewhat harder to avoid for people susceptible to it.
Why Does Teeth Whitening Cause Increased Tooth Sensitivity?
Whitening gels that use peroxide to bleach the enamel of your teeth can also open up pores in the structure of your teeth, exposing the inner dentin layer to your foods and drink. Dentin is made up of tiny tubes called dentinal tubules, and peroxide causes a chemical reaction that opens up these tubes. This is what exposes the root nerve of your tooth to external temperature influences. Even cold winter air can cause painful sensitivity if you suffer from this side effect. The pain will pass as the tooth nerve and dentin warm or cool back towards body temperature, but the discomfort can be a great annoyance until then.
If you know you already suffer from sensitive teeth, use a good restorative toothpaste to improve the structure of your teeth and reduce sensitivity before beginning an at home whitening treatment. Consider using a whitening gel with a reduced concentration of peroxide to try to avoid the sensitivity side effect altogether, but be aware this will require more sessions to whiten your teeth.
Once you’ve gotten the whitening results you wanted to achieve and you discontinue use of the bleaching gel, the increased sensitivity will diminish and eventually cease. If the increased dental sensitivity doesn’t fade away quickly enough for you, simply begin using a restorative toothpaste that contains fluoride and NovaMin daily to lessen your tooth sensitivity. You’ll be able to once again eat and drink what you like without experiencing discomfort. Just keep in mind that you should avoid heavily pigmented foods to keep from staining your teeth once again, and follow up on the whitening gel treatment with a good whitening toothpaste to keep your new, improved smile looking great.
Why Does Teeth Whitening Cause Gum Irritation?
The high concentration of the powerful peroxide chemical found in teeth whitening products like gels and strips can cause painful chemical burns and irritation if the peroxide is exposed to the soft tissue of your gums. This gum irritation is usually temporary and will stop a few days after you discontinue use of the whitening gel. Always follow the directions of any whitening products you buy carefully to whiten your teeth safely and prevent side effects. The most important tip to prevent gum irritation is to make sure you only use the amount of gel specified in the directions and wipe away any excess that touches your gums. Usually all you will need is a small teardrop-sized amount per tooth.
The trays that are used with whitening gels can irritate gums all by themselves, as the over the counter versions are not individually fitted. The tray can rub up against the gums, irritating the sensitive tissue. Limiting the amount of time you wear the tray can reduce this annoyance, but it will take more sessions to whiten your teeth to your desired shade.
Different people have different reactions to the various levels of peroxide found in different whitening products. If you are concerned about the side effects of peroxide whitening, I recommend using whitening strips or gels containing a lower concentration of carbamide peroxide to avoid gum and tooth irritation. This allows you to work your way up to the concentration of peroxide you need to whiten your teeth to the level you want, without immediately purchasing the strongest peroxide product available, which is most likely to cause side effects.