Over-the-counter teeth whitening products: Are they safe?

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Over-the-counter teeth whitening products: Are they safe?

Question

Are over-the-counter teeth whitening products safe? How do their results compare with whitening products used in a dentist's office?

Larry
Arizona

Answer

When used as directed on healthy teeth, over-the-counter (OTC) teeth whitening products are generally safe and effective. Side effects are few — and usually temporary — but may include:

  • Sensitive teeth
  • Gum irritation

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), "teeth whitening" is any process that makes teeth appear whiter — either by lightening teeth or by removing stain and discoloration from teeth. There are two types of teeth whitening products available for use at home:

  • Whitening toothpastes. All toothpastes contain mild abrasives that help remove surface stains on teeth. But "whitening" toothpastes have gentle chemical or polishing agents that provide additional surface stain removal. These products contain no bleach.
  • Peroxide-based whiteners or bleaching agents, including whitening gels and strips. These products bleach teeth — which means they actually change the natural tooth color — helping to remove deep and surface stains. Over-the-counter whiteners usually contain a lower strength of bleaching agent than do products used in your dentist's office. For this reason, they must be used longer to achieve the desired effect. But they are also cheaper.

No matter which product you use, whitening isn't permanent and the process will need to be repeated periodically if you want to maintain the lighter color. Whitening effects from OTC products typically last several months. But this can vary depending on:

  • Your current and desired tooth color
  • Foods and beverages you consume
  • How well you take care of your teeth (oral hygiene)

Teeth whitening products are not recommended for:

  • Pregnant women or women who are breast-feeding
  • Children younger than age 16
  • People with sensitive teeth or peroxide allergy
  • People with gum disease or worn tooth enamel

Keep in mind that teeth whitening products will not work on crowns, veneers or exposed roots. When choosing an over-the-counter whitener, look for products with the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. These products meet the ADA standards for safety and effectiveness. The ADA also recommends that you consult your dentist before using teeth whitening products.

Last Updated: 01/04/2006
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