For many, the beginning of a new year often comes with a personal to-do list: be more grateful, make a difference at work, clean out the garage. Nearly everybody has one, even if just in their head. Self-improvement is often the goal.
So, just as weight-loss programs and gyms look to capture your interest – and your cash – this season, tooth-whitening products lay on the marketing pretty thick, too: New year, new you! Removes years of set-in stains! Whiter teeth after just one use!
If that sounds too good to be true, you’re right.
Those whitening products in the oral care aisle at the grocery or drugstore make plenty of big claims, but science tells a different tale. One recent review of both over-the-counter (OTC) whitening products and smile whitening done by a dentist found the effectiveness of OTC products to be minimal.
Studies of whitening toothpastes, for instance, suggest that while they may help a bit with surface stains, “the whitening effect obtained seems not to be clinically significant.” They can also be too abrasive, potentially damaging tooth enamel, exposed dentin, and gum tissue.
Whitening mouth rinses, according to the literature, are even less effective. Whitening chewing gum does no better than regular gum. The researchers found no clinical reports at all for whitening dental floss.
But what about those whitening strips you see everywhere? Or kits with boil-and-bite trays you fill with whitening gel?
One 2019 study compared the effectiveness of OTC home whitening kits against a professional at-home kit provided by a dentist. All products were found effective for removing stains from enamel. However, the OTC kits were also found to damage tooth enamel. While the enamel on teeth bleached with the professional kit had the “same microscopic appearance as unbleached enamel,” those treated with the OTC products showed various irregularities.
Why should this be? The authors suggest it may be due to the lower pH – read: greater acidity – of the OTC products.
PH value contributes as an important factor in the reactions of the bleaching process; however, this low-pH bleaching solution leads to demineralization changes with erosion pattern, which is believed to occur irreversibly. In this present study, OTC bleaching products give lower pH measurement than the professionally prescribed bleaching agents which further leads to the erosive effect on enamel surface.
More, whitening done by a dentist office can give you better aesthetic results by making sure your final tooth shade isn’t too white but complements your skin tone for a naturally attractive look. And if whitening doesn’t appear to be a good option for you – smile brightening systems work only on natural tooth structure, not crowns, implants, or other dental work – we can provide other options for giving you the smile you want.
That can’t happen at a nail parlor, hairdresser, tanning salon, or other spot you may find offering smile whitening. Sure, these options may seem convenient, quick, and less expensive – but not all costs are financial.
Consider the recently viral Facebook post about a salon whitening gone wrong:
In reviewing those photos, Dr. Mark Wolff, dean at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine confirmed that the gums look like they “were burned by the whitening agent when the ‘protective gel’ was not properly placed.”
If you really want to save money on whitening, consider oral hygiene steps that may brighten your smile more naturally, like oil pulling or, as long as you don’t have crowns, veneers, or other tooth-colored dental work, activated charcoal.
Another solution may seem obvious: Avoid drinks that stain your teeth, such as coffee, soft drinks, and wine (yep, both red and white). But in terms of diet, know, too, that foods high in malic acid – strawberries, for instance, broccoli, apples, and more – may help reduce stains and have the added benefit of having a high antioxidant content.
Luckily for Áoife Wills, her dentist said her teeth haven’t been permanently damaged, but she, for one, is permanently done with salon whitening!
“Lesson learned only EVER let a dentist near your teeth.”