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Risks of Teeth Whitening

Millions of Americans choose to have their teeth whitened every year. When one chooses to whiten their teeth, they are taking a huge step in improving their appearance, confidence, and smile. While the procedure is a fairly simple one, there are a few risks that must be taken into consideration before committing to the procedure.

Why get your teeth whitened?

Whitening your teeth becomes necessary because of teeth discoloration. Tooth darkening is a natural process that happens to everyone over time. There are certain factors that can contribute to the quickening of the process however. People who use tobacco, drink coffee, tea, and wine can have an increased risk of accelerating the discoloration of teeth. Some medications can also cause teeth to discolor faster than normal. Regular cleanings by your dentist can usually treat the stains at their onset and can prevent accelerated discoloration. However, if you have gone long periods of time in between regular cleanings, the stains may be too set for normal dental cleaning to work effectively. When this is the case, it may be time to consider the risks and benefits of teeth whitening.

What are the risks?

There are a few inherent risks in having your teeth whitened either professionally or at home. The most common side effect associated with the procedure is tooth sensitivity. The temporary softening of the enamel of the tooth causes this sensitivity. The tooth’s enamel is the hard outer covering of the tooth that protects the dentin. The dentin has nerves in it and when are exposed by the softening of the enamel can cause sensitivity.

The sensitivity caused by the softening of the enamel is generally temporary and can be treated. If your dentist has told that you have or are at increased risk for tooth sensitivity, the best course of treatment is to address the sensitivity prior to whitening. If the procedure does cause sensitivity, the most common treatments are:

  • Over the counter pain relievers such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen.
  • Changing toothpastes to a desensitizing one that contains potassium nitrate,such as Sensodyne.
  • Seeing a dentist in order to have a specific tooth sensitivity product prescribed such as an MI paste in order to block the exposed dentin.
  • If possible, wear the whitening trays for shorter periods of time or use less gel during sessions.

A few other causes of sensitivity from the procedure include the orthodontic force placed on your teeth from the whitening trays and chemical burns on the gums. Similar to wearing braces, the whitening trays can cause sensitivity from the pressure applied from the tray. Although these trays do not move your teeth like braces do, they do apply pressure which can make your teeth sore. Regarding the chemical burns, the old adage you get what you pay for applies. In some cases, the trays can be poorly made and cause leakage of the gel, which can in turn burn the gums. Additionally, although rare, in some cases, the procedure can cause damage to the roots of the tooth making further dental procedures necessary. If you experience any one of these symptoms you should seek out advice from your dentist.

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