“You charge too much for whitening; I am just going to do it myself at home”

Every now and then I hear a patient say that when we quote them for in-office tooth whitening procedure.  And yes, professional tooth whitening is expensive when compared to the tricks that you can find online to do it at home.  We’ve heard of all kinds of different at-home or do-it-yourself whitening tricks that our patients have tried.  The challenge in watching or hearing about many of these is that people don’t understand the longterm effects of many of these methods and by trying them at home, you can cause future damage that will result in much more expensive dental work in order to repair. Here are a few of the most common ones.

Charcoal

There are plenty of blogs talking about the use of charcoal to whiten teeth.  Activated charcoal, because of its ability to absorb well, was once used as a remedy for poison.  Recently, it’s been promoted as a DIY whitening agent.  As much as it may have a very limited effect temporarily with very minor stains, it won’t give the the powerful whitening you expect from professional whitening products.

Another issue with charcoal is that i’s abrasive.  This is my main concern.  If used on a routine basis, it can wear away your enamel and cause irreversible damage and result in very expensive dental work to properly restore.  In addition, once enamel wears away, your teeth are not only more prone to sensitivity, cavities, and breakdown or chipping, but also appear darker and darker since the layer below enamel, known as dentin, is much darker than enamel.  So essentially, instead of whitening, you are darkening and making things much worse long-term.

Home Made Whitening Formulas

I’ve seen a few patients that have actually tried this at home themselves: a combination of some sort of acid found at home (like apple cider vinegar or lemon juice) and baking soda.  Now really think about this equation:

Acid + Abrasive =  _____________

If you add acid to your teeth, you will etch them and open up the tubules making enamel more porous and wear it away over time.  As you then add baking soda to this equation, which is abrasive, not only have you etched and worn at your enamel, now you are going to scrub at it like you do with an SOS pad!  What do you get?  Say Bye Bye Enamel!

Aluminum Foil Wrap

When I heard about this one, I was really shocked.  I had someone tell me that they found this online and tried it: she applied a paste of water, salt, and baking soda to her teeth then wrapped it all with aluminum foil.  This is not only damaging to your teeth, but the aluminum foil can cause a chemical reaction in your mouth.  If you have fillings or crowns in your mouth that may contain any metal, the two different metals (your filling or crown and the aluminum, when they come together in a moist environment (your mouth) create something like a battery in your mouth. This stimulates nerve endings in your teeth and can cause pain and sensitivity.  Between that and the damage by the abrasives of the paste mixture, this can result in an emergency visit to your dentist, and end up in more dental work needed than you signed up for.

Store bought Whitening Strips

Most patients we talk to that choose to buy store-bought whitening kits rather than have the professional whitening we offer done at our office use whitening strips.  Most whitening strips typically contain hydrogen peroxide as the main active ingredient.  But the percentage of the active ingredient is much lower in the store bought kits as compared to the professional one because it can cause severe irritation to your gums so that people who buy these kits don’t hurt their gums in the process.  Over-the-counter anything is usually made with lower dosage or lower potency to protect people from harming themselves.  This is why, if you need something stronger, you need a prescription to get it.  Same goes for whitening kits.  Over-the-counter whitening kits have a low percentage of the whitening agent.  That sounds good… at first.  But that lower percentage also results in a much slower whitening process so you have to keep wearing the strips much longer.  So why is this a problem?

Over-use or incorrect use can cause long-term damage.  A study, led by Kelly Keenan, an associate profession of chemistry at Stockton University, looked at how over-the-counter whitening strips damage one of the layers of teeth.  In their study, Kennan and team have discovered that hydrogen peroxide, when used over and over again, causes the collagen in dentin (the part of tooth under your enamel) to fragment, which leads to collagen loss in that layer.  So over time, using whitening strips will result in damage to the dentin of your teeth and destroy your teeth from the inside out.

So why is this not a concern for me when it comes to professional whitening in-office?  There are a few reasons.  First, the percentage of active ingredient in professional products is much higher than store bought, so the time required to achieve results is fast.  That means your dentin is only exposed for a short time, yet the whitening effect is exponentially greater.  In addition, the whitening that results from professional products is long-term and so you don’t have to keep doing it.  The best analogy I’ve heard to compare one time exposure to a professional whitening product vs continuous exposure to over-the-counter is similar to smoking.  If you are exposed to one cigarette, chances are it will not impact you in the future; but if you are smoking daily, then the outcome may be very different.

Second, the professional products are very carefully applied by a professional (dentist or hygienist) who are trained and skilled at isolating your gums, ensuring a sterile environment, and protecting your mouth and tongue, from any exposure to the active ingredient.  That means that not only are we applying it to your teeth and nothing else (where whitening strips are worn with no isolation and so your gums, tongue and cheeks are exposed to the active ingredient), you will also not ingest any of the active ingredient.  Not possible with whitening strips, where you are constantly swallowing as the chemicals leak out into your mouth.  YUCK!

here is the link to that study: https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1096/fasebj.2018.32.1_supplement.530.27