Teeth whitening can lead to permanent damage, says UBC professor

Dec 20 2017, 3:29 am

Teeth whitening is now an $11 billion industry, with more and more people opting for a whiter smile than ever before. Technology, too, is gaining traction with both hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide being the predominant treatment options, either at the dentist or at home. But what benefit you see from brighter teeth now may not serve you well in the long term.

One UBC Dentistry professor is warning patients that teeth whitening may be causing permanent damage.

“Bleaching products can have multiple side effects such as damaging the dental enamel, causing irritation to the gums, tooth sensitivity and more,” says Adriana Manso, clinical assistant professor in the Faculty of Dentistry at UBC. “Some of these effects are lasting; for example the damage to the dental enamel is permanent and irreversible.”

Enamel is the outside shell that protects the softer material of the teeth from damage. It is said to be the hardest material in the human body, but can be eroded or chipped when exposed to acidic food, sugar, or bleach products. A thinning of the enamel eventually causes permanent teeth sensitivity and pain and puts the teeth at risk of discolourization, indentation, gum infections, and other painful and expensive complications.

Much of this damage comes from over-using or abusing the at-home whitening kits available at almost any drug store. While some products, like Crest’s 3D White Whitestrips, say they are “enamel-safe”, others pose more risk. Manso says there are reports of significant enamel damage associated with over-the-counter bleaching products, likely due to customers over-bleaching themselves.

Even after using teeth-whitening products a couple times, customers might experience painful teeth sensitivity when consuming hot or cold drinks or food. Writing off the pain as an expected side effect of whitening is not something users should be privy to, says Manso.

“It is important to highlight that high sensitivity is not a good sign and the pain is your ‘red flag’ that something is going beyond the limits.”

Alternatives to bleaching include cutting out the habits or behaviours that cause teeth to stain in the first place. Drinking coffee, tea, or red wine, and smoking are some of the biggest culprits for staining that can be avoided.

“It makes no sense to have your teeth bleached if you are not willing to change your habits that cause discolouration. This only creates more demand for bleaching and leads to overuse of bleaching products,” she adds.

Manso recommends discussing how to best whiten your teeth with your dentist before going out and purchasing an at-home product. She also dissuades users from bleaching as frequent as once a year and avoiding using teeth-whitening products on teenagers and children as their young permeable teeth are most susceptible to damage.

Have you had any bad experiences whitening your teeth?

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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