Is teeth whitening bad for you?

More and more people are searching for a quick and cheap way to whiten their teeth and give them a Hollywood smile. But there is a right way to do it.

Blame it on the slew of high-profile celebrities sporting perfect teeth but supermarket and pharmacy shelves are increasingly filled with products that promise whiter, brighter teeth.

The internet is also swamped with products from carbon-activated tooth polish to teeth-whitening pens.

But how do you whiten your teeth safely and effectively?

Why do teeth change colour?

Teeth lose their whiteness for many reasons.

Coffee, wine and some soft drinks can cause staining on the surface of teeth, as can tobacco or not enough brushing and flossing.

Some antibiotics and medical conditions can also discolour teeth.

Some people have naturally whiter teeth thanks to good genetics.

And ageing takes a toll as teeth lose the outer layer of enamel which exposes the yellow dentine layer underneath.

Why do we want whiter teeth?

Professor Laurie Walsh, of the Australian Dental Association, says social media is partly behind the growing number of Australians wanting whiter teeth.

“There’s a greater emphasis on appearance driven by Instagram. People look at celebrity images and feel dissatisfied,” he says.

Some research has also found that teeth that are less yellow make people appear younger and more attractive, too.

Teeth-whitening options

So how do you get the whiter, brighter smile?

Laurie advises people to be cautious with some over-the-counter products that can be harsh, such as charcoal products that abrade tooth enamel.

“The majority of charcoal pastes don’t contain fluoride and the risk of tooth decay goes up when you stop using fluoride,” he says.

Other whitening products include toothpastes, whitening strips, gels and light devices that activate gel to act on teeth.

Cosmetic salons also offer teeth whitening services, but regulations prevent non-dental professionals from using the higher-strength bleaching products available to dentists.

“Products used in dental practices have good clinical trial research to improve formulations and to show they work,” says Laurie.

“The chemistry in some imitation products is quite poor and there are issues with damage to the surface of teeth and to soft tissues, like gums.

“Unapproved bleaching products may not be delivered in a safe way either, so you get more around your mouth and if you swallow that it can damage the soft tissues of your mouth and throat.”

Taking care

Laurie says teeth whitening is a complex process and consultation with a dentist is the first step to ensuring it is done safely and effectively.

“It may be that you have a simple stain on the surface of a tooth that can be cleaned off using instruments,” Laurie says.

“You may not need bleaching but will only know that you if you see a professional who can assess your teeth.

“Just because a certain type of product or treatment worked for a Kardashian or a friend doesn’t mean it will work on you.”

Written by Sarah Marinos.