Have you or a family member tried OTC (over-the-counter) teeth whitening solutions and found that the results are very uneven? Sometimes your teeth can end up looking like piano keys – long white vertical strips on teeth (ivory keys) with shorter dark areas (dark keys) in between. This uneven and unnatural appearance is a major reason that people turn to a cosmetic dentist to get truly professional-looking results. Some newer options for teeth whitening (strong OTC bleaches, services provided in shopping malls) can carry short-term or long-term risks to your oral health.
Why Over-the-Counter Products Usually Fail
There are two main reasons for the lackluster results of over-the-counter whitening strips.
- Your teeth are not flat surfaces – they have contours on the sides, and the area where tooth meets gum also creates an uneven surface. Because whitening strips don’t fit these contours, the bleaching agent doesn’t make good contact with or produce good results in those recessed areas.
- Many over-the-counter products contain a relatively mild bleaching agent. (Stronger OTC agents have recently become available. Continue reading to learn about the risks involved with those.) Because strips don’t fit snugly, that also allows saliva to penetrate and dilute the bleaching agent. Saliva can penetrate more in some spots than others, once again contributing to irregular and unattractive whitening results.
Over-the-counter products that provide trays (whether “standard” or somewhat moldable) were marketed as a way to overcome the problems with loose-fitting strips. Their ability to conform to the exact shape of your teeth remains limited, though. Those who have one or more teeth that are slightly misaligned may find that over-the counter tray systems highlight the misalignment by causing those teeth to be lighter or darker than the surrounding teeth.
Risks That Go Beyond Appearance
There are three primary oral health risks associated with using stronger bleaches at home or having services provided in a mall by someone who doesn’t understand or properly guard against the risks inherent in the services they provide.
- Strong bleaching agents are far more likely to provide gum irritation. That’s the very reason that the first OTC whitening strips used mild bleaching agents. With the OTC “boil-and-bite” type of bleaching trays, stronger bleaching agents are often provided. Unfortunately, the resulting “custom” trays that are produced can actually increase gum exposure to the bleaching agent, making irritation far more likely.
- Overuse of whitening agents (too frequent or too strong) can cause tooth enamel deterioration. Tooth sensitivity can also result, but will usually go away with time unless damage to the enamel has occurred. Tooth enamel damage is serious – it leaves the very teeth you’re whitening prone to decay and other forms of damage because the teeth’s natural, resilient coating is no longer there to protect the softer, inner tooth structure.
- Some tooth whitening services use UV (ultraviolet) light to speed or enhance the whitening process. If you use sunscreen on your skin, you know the risks of too much UV light exposure. You don’t have to feel a burn to have experienced UV light gum exposure that could cause long-term oral health issues to develop.
At RCCD, we can offer you quick, immediate teeth-whitening results or custom-fitted trays that will allow you to perform ongoing at-home treatments. We can also help you understand the type of results to expect before you produce do-it-yourself results you will live to regret. Your natural tooth color is a factor in how much your teeth can safely be whitened, and you have to consider how any restorative work (fillings, crowns, veneers) will be affected by the bleaching process, too. That’s why going to an experienced cosmetic dentist makes good sense when you’re trying to enhance your smile. We can explain all the options, including veneers and other treatments that may be necessary to produce the results you’re expecting. You can count on us to provide a plan that fits within your time, convenience, and budgetary constraints while still preserving your oral health.