Image courtesy of Highmoor Dental.

In 2018, about 40.5 million people in the United States used some form of whitening product. However, a recent study has revealed a dark truth behind teeth whitening strips -- they can actually harm your teeth. That being said, if you’re considering having your teeth whitened, skip the drugstore products and visit a professional. In this article, we’re going to cover two main points:

  • How Do Whitening Strips Harm Teeth?
  • Why You Should Always Go to a Professional

How Do Whitening Strips Harm Teeth?

The Three Layers of a Tooth

To begin, we’re going to go over a tooth’s three layers so that you can best understand how whitening strips harm teeth. 

  1. Enamel → the outermost, hardest layer that protects the inner layers
  2. Dentin → the middle layer containing 90-95 percent percent of collagen, a protein that binds teeth together
  3. Pulp → the innermost layer made mainly of connective tissue
Two diagrams of a tooth are shown. One shows the outside view, and another shows the inside view, labeling all parts of the tooth.
The hydrogen peroxide in store-bought whitening strips and rinses damages not only the enamel, but also the dentin. What if it even made its way to the pulp cavity? Image courtesy of Carifree.

The Harmful Ingredients of Whitening Products

The main ingredient of whitening products is hydrogen peroxide, which is also the main ingredient of bleach.

A recent study led by Kelly Keenan, an associate professor of chemistry at Stockton University in New Jersey, has shown how hydrogen peroxide can penetrate the dentin layer of a tooth. Keenan and her team placed whitening strips on extracted human teeth from cadavers and recorded their observations.

The team compared the teeth to a control group of teeth that had not been whitened. What they found was a decreased level of proteins, mainly collagen, in the teeth that had been given the whitening strips. Keenan said she would like to look further into if the damage caused by whitening strips is permanent or if it might be reversible.

Other Effects of Whitening Products

Some people who use store-bought whitening products experience side effects, like tooth sensitivity. In one study conducted by Hasson et al., a range of 8 to 41 percent of people experienced tooth sensitivity.

A woman prepares to place a whitening strip on her teeth.
Improper placing of your whitening strip may cause unpleasant side effects. Image courtesy of The Washington Post.

Another common side effect is gingival irritation, which occurs as a result of hydrogen peroxide coming in contact with the gums. This can happen if you don’t place the whitening strip properly on your teeth. If you accidentally swallow some of the whitening product, this can cause irritation of your throat and can even make you nauseated. 

Dental crowns, bridges, implants, and porcelain veneers will not whiten. If people with any of these dental implants use whitening strips or rinses, they have to understand that the implants will not change color. Speaking of rinses, long-term use of a whitening teeth rinse can deplete the amount of helpful bacteria in your mouth. 

Why You Should Always Go to a Professional

If you accidentally sliced your finger while cooking, you wouldn’t attempt to stitch yourself. Instead, you’d go to a professional, as you are certain they know what they’re doing. So, why would you attempt to whiten your teeth on your own?

While the two scenarios are a little bit different in terms of extremity, the point remains -- always go to a professional for the important things. 

A woman smiles as she looks at the color options for her teeth.
Having your teeth whitened professionally means that you will receive the safest, most advanced treatment possible. Image courtesy of USA Today.

Longer Lasting Results

People who use store-bought whitening products often notice their teeth don’t stay whiter for that long. In fact, some people see this happen in as little as a week. Why put in all that effort for just a week of results?

When you get your teeth whitened professionally, you’ll notice your teeth stay whiter for longer. Results can even last up to three years! People who don’t use tobacco products or consume food or drinks that have the potential to stain teeth -- like tea, coffee, and red wine -- are more likely to have their results last this long. And, naturally, proper oral hygiene practices are always important.

Personalized Care with the Best Products

Store-bought whitening kits are not personalized, but everyone’s teeth are different. Getting your teeth professionally whitened means that you will receive the treatment right for you and you alone. Your dentist will also use the safest, most up-to-date procedures, techniques, and products out there. 

When you visit a dentist who knows how to professionally whiten teeth, like Elizabeth Wakim and her staff, you know you will be in good hands. Your teeth are essential for eating, speaking, keeping your jaw strong, and plenty of other everyday functions. Why not treat them as best as you can?