Alvin H. Danenberg, DDS • Nutritional Periodontist
October 23, 2017
Emily sent me an email with this question, “What can I do to get my teeth really white, really fast?”
My quick answer was, “Emily, you might want to consider an in-office, teeth-whitening procedure that uses a peroxide gel and a proprietary blue light to quickly and effectively whiten your teeth.”
But, if Emily wrote, “What do you think of teeth-whitening, and should I do it?”, I would have a whole lot more to say.
Why Whiten Your Teeth?
Teeth have a natural color. Chalk-white, which is the goal of some people, is not a natural tooth color. But, some people have teeth that are naturally darker than other’s teeth. Also, teeth can stain for a variety of reasons. Most “darker” teeth can be lightened with “teeth-whitening” techniques. So, why do you want your teeth whiter?
Certainly, if a person wants to get a “brighter and whiter smile” for a special occasion like a wedding picture, then (for all the right reasons) have your teeth whitened with an in-office, teeth-whitening procedure that will produce a beautiful result relatively quickly. (Your mouth should be examined by a dentist to be sure it is healthy before this procedure is done.) If you just want a brighter smile than you currently have, teeth-whitening also may be for you.
However, these bleaching procedures will only lighten natural teeth. They will not change the color of existing filings, crowns, or veneers. So, after you lightened your natural teeth with a bleaching procedure, any “artificial” surfaces on your teeth would look “darker” compared to the natural teeth.
If you want a “brighter and whiter smile” all the time for your natural teeth, you may need to repeatedly “touch up” your newly-created white smile possibly with bleaching trays & gels or bleaching strips. I will discuss a potential problem with frequently repeated “touch up” measures later in this article.
Natural Ways to Whiten Teeth
There are some natural ways to whiten teeth. Baking soda made into a paste with filtered water could be used with a toothbrush. The paste should be applied to the enamel of the teeth and scrubbed with your toothbrush for a few minutes and then rinsed off with water. The baking soda is salty-tasting and slightly abrasive. It could be used a couple times a week. It will remove some stain on the surface of the enamel, but it will not get the teeth as white as a chemical procedure done in a dental office or with at-home chemical whiteners. Be aware: if you aggressively brushed this baking soda paste into the gum surface or exposed root surface, it could be too abrasive and cause irritation to the gums and sensitivity to the root surface.
Another method would be to mash one strawberry into a small bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Use this paste as I described in the previous directions for the baking soda paste technique. Strawberries contain malic acid, which has stain-removing qualities. This paste also could cause irritation and sensitivity as I described above.
There have been anecdotal reports using activated charcoal. However, activated charcoal is a “binding agent”, which has been shown to attach to various beneficial nutrients and interfere with their absorption into your body. Also, there is no clinical research to substantiate the broad claims made by companies marketing charcoal toothpastes. So, I would not recommend activated charcoal on a daily basis.
Teeth-Whitening is Not Permanent
Any whitening procedure will not last. Natural foods that have staining capabilities like tea, coffee, red wine, blueberries, and the like will continue to stain the enamel of the teeth. So, if these stains cannot be removed by normal brushing or the natural teeth-whitening methods I described above, then additional “teeth-whitening” chemical procedures may need to be repeated indefinitely.
Potential Harm to Teeth & Gums
Peroxides used in the chemical whitening procedures could weaken the enamel. However, eating nutrient-dense foods will allow natural remineralization of any damaged enamel surface. It is possible that peroxides could cause significant gum irritation or root sensitivity. Most of these uncomfortable side effects will resolve in a short period of time. Rarely, these side effects could last a long time.
Potential Harm to Overall Body Health
Peroxides may be a problem. A recent medical article was published in the Australian Dental Journal in March 2017. This is the first research study that investigated the systemic effects of 9% peroxide whitening gels placed into bleaching trays and then inserted on the upper and lower teeth in the experimental group. The trays were worn by 23 subjects in this study as I described for 30 minutes each night for 14 consecutive days. Blood samples were taken before the study began and then after the 14-day trial. The blood tests showed a significant increase in three specific biomarkers for systemic oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is a chronic process in the body that could contribute to disease in virtually every organ. Excessive oxidative stress leads to chronic inflammation, which can lead to many various chronic diseases over time. The cause of the observed oxidative stress in this study was probably due to peroxide that was either (1) swallowed and then entered the gut or (2) permeated through the gum tissues and then entered the systemic circulation.
Here is my concern: Frequent and long-term use of at-home bleaching protocols using peroxides might eventually lead to chronic diseases as a result of oxidative stress created by peroxide. Like most things in life, moderation may be the critical key.
There is no health benefit to whitening teeth. This is a purely cosmetic procedure that creates a purely cosmetic result. However, this result is highly beneficial to a person’s self-esteem, which is essential. But a few caveats remain:
- Teeth-whitening protocols can cause tooth root sensitivity and gum irritation that is usually short-lived, but in rare cases may last a long time.
- Whitening is not permanent. Eating foods that stain the teeth will darken the shade of your “pearly whites”, which will require more “teeth-whitening procedures” to return them to a whiter shade.
- Teeth-whitening will not “whiten” existing dental fillings, crowns, or veneers.
- Using peroxide gels in trays or strips on a repeated basis over a long time may actually cause significant harm to your body’s immune system and result in various chronic diseases.
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Thanks for helping me learn more about teeth-whitening. It’s kind of good to know that you may need a touch up every now and then to keep your teeth white. I’m kind of interested to learn how often this can be done, like if it’s once a month or something like that.