The Negative Effects of Bleaching Teeth

When something is commonplace, it is assumed to be safe – correct? Many people believe if whitening teeth were bad, someone would step in and stop the sale of bleaching products. The whitening industry has been growing rapidly over the past 10 years and currently generates over $11 billion a year. It is no wonder that we now have a huge turf fight, with dentistry trying to stop non-dentists from whitening teeth in malls and beauty parlors. Both sides are taking their cases to court, with non-dentists claiming that to make whitening a dentist-only treatment is giving dentists the monopoly in this lucrative business. You, my friends, have the teeth that everyone wants to bleach!

It is interesting that both sides claim the risks from bleaching “are minimal”. The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry admits there is a problem of sensitivity after bleaching and hold this as one reason it should be a dentist-only treatment. The AACD admit that bleaching a decayed tooth can kill the nerve and result in the need for a root canal or extraction. I hope to help you get beyond the noise about who should get the money and help you learn the truth: the fact that researchers are ringing an alarm bell and telling us about the danger from bleaching teeth. But no one is listening– at least, not yet.

Deleterious effects

A short time ago an Englishman was jailed for 16 months for selling tooth-whitening products that contained peroxide 103 times stronger than is allowed by the U.K. legal limit. The Irish Dental Association warns about tooth whitening and the European Commission has regulated the use of hydrogen peroxide to allow only qualified dentists to whiten teeth. Products containing more than 6% hydrogen peroxide are illegal to use in the U.K, even by dentists.

white strips35% hydrogen peroxide is used in most US bleaching products, both in office and also in home-applied products. A 2012 study shows that this concentration of peroxide can cause changes in the tooth enamel that make it rough and a loss of strength and phosphate content in deeper layers.

This study, published in the Journal of Dental Research, included men and women 18-25 who had good teeth, but needed extractions. Test subjects had bleached their teeth once per week with 35% H2O2 per the manufacturer’s instructions. At the end of the study, the teeth were extracted and viewed under a microscope. Deep porosities were seen and the dentin had an increase in enzymes that break down collagen and disrupt the organic matrix. “The bleaching agent could potentially trigger biological and/or mechanical responses,” the study warns. “Dentists should be aware that sensitivity after bleaching is due to an inflammation in the pulp that can progress to undesirable pathology.”

What this means is that the researchers saw molecular changes following the bleaching, and that it also had a dramatic impact on the inner live pulp. As a result of these findings, the researchers expressed concern about the common characterization of tooth whitening. They wrote: “despite reports that bleaching has been considered absolutely safe, analysis of our data shows that 35% H2O2 as a bleaching agent … can be clinically adverse in the long-term and/or after recurring bleaching treatments.” If you have read my chapter on whitening in Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye, you will be familiar with my warnings about bleaching which are similar.

Researchers in this field optimistically hope their study information will reach patients. “We would like to demonstrate that in-office bleaching is far from a (safe) cosmetic procedure, and it would be great if clinicians could explain better to patients the pros and cons ….”

No reversal of damage

The researchers are naïve, and the marketing folks at the whitening-product companies have an easy task, since everyone wants white teeth. Most people are unaware of any dangers, or they believe that any problems can be reversed by tooth-strengthening pastes. The fact is that these can only give a temporary benefit (for 7-14 days) after which time the tooth-weakness returns. A 2013 study showed that re-mineralizing pastes did not help tooth enamel recover its micro-hardness after dental-office teeth whitening (with 35% to 38% hydrogen peroxide), Acta Odontologica Scandinavica (March 2013, Vol. 71:2, pp. 343-348).Microhardness change of enamel due to bleaching with in-office bleaching gels of different acidity Juliana G. Magalhães, Ângela R. K. Marimoto, Carlos R. G. Torres, Clovis Pagani, Symone C. Teixeira, and Daphne C. Barcellos

Damage to fillings

Another problem is that hydrogen peroxide (even at dilute concentration) may release mercury from silver fillings and cause them to deteriorate (possibly allowing toxins into your digestive system or body). At the end of every day, dental office waste drains are cleaned with a variety of different products. In 2006 a study evaluated these drain-cleaners, and one fascinating result of the study was that some of the cleaning products (including peroxide) caused mercury vapor to be released from discarded pieces of silver filling found down the drains. A more specific study should be designed before conclusions are drawn, but it seems important to know if peroxide causes deterioration of silver fillings. 

Naturally white teeth

4402072If you want naturally white teeth there are some important things to know. First of all tooth enamel has no color, it is translucent, which means that you can see through it like clear glass. Tooth enamel is not white, and the only way to make clear glass white is to etch, scratch, and abrade it.

The color of a tooth is created by the way that light reflects off its surface. The structure at a microscopic level is a myriad of crystals packed inside a honeycomb of collagen. The more densely these crystals are packed, the more light reflects from the enamel, making the tooth appear whiter. If the crystal shape is spherical, as occurs when it forms under correct conditions, the tooth surface will be shinier and this makes the tooth appear whiter.

So enamel crystals need to be densely packed and created in good conditions for teeth to appear whiter. Acidic conditions dissolve enamel crystals, and roughen the outer surface to make it thinner. When enamel is weak or thin, the underlying dentin shows through – giving teeth a yellowish or brownish tone.

Drinking acidic drinks can make enamel weaker, especially if you sip acidic drinks. When teeth are weaker, they are more porous, and will appear darker in color. Any dark foods or drinks can stain softened teeth, which is why tea and coffee have the reputation for staining teeth. These drinks don’t stain strong hard enamel – but easily stain acid-softened teeth or teeth that have just been damaged by bleaching!

Strengthen and protect your teeth from acidity and they will stay healthier, whiter and brighter. I recommend Zellies or some kind of 100% xylitol after meals and drinks to limit acidic damage from eating and drinking. Use the Zellies Complete Mouth Care System to help enamel become stronger and more acid resistant – so teeth of all ages will brighten and naturally whiten as they become harder, shinier and healthier – the exact opposite from the detrimental effects of whitening and bleaching! In most cases people see teeth whiten for up to 2 years on the System.

Learn More:

How Sipping & Snacking Are Weakening Your Teeth
Change Your pH and Improve Your Teeth & Gums
Q&A with Dr. Ellie: Damage caused by bleaching treatment


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About the Author Dr. Ellie

My passion is educating people about oral health. For decades I’ve worked with patients of all ages, in different countries, in high and low-risk communities, and from every walk of life. I’ve seen the same results over and over again –people who transformed their oral health – sometimes in days or weeks, even after they had suffered years of pain and frustration. It’s never too late, and my ways will give you the key to a lifetime of improved oral health.

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