Is Whitening Toothpaste Bad for Your Teeth?

Whitening toothpaste is fine to use daily if you follow the label or the dentist's instructions.

Many products on the market are available to help with different aspects of oral health. From anti-cavity toothpaste to mouth rinses, many options take care of your teeth, gums, and breath.

When it comes to teeth whiteners, the range of formulations may leave you wondering what method to use. Toothpaste, mouthwashes, whitening pens, whitening strips, and whitening trays all claim to improve the color of your teeth. But according to a study published in 2018 in Ayu, whitening toothpaste is one of the most popular whitening methods.

If you use it daily, you may wonder whether that type of toothpaste is safe for your teeth and gums. Well, here's what you need to know about how whitening toothpaste works, the risks, and recommendations for using the product.

How Does Whitening Toothpaste Work?

Whitening toothpaste (as well as other whitening products) essentially removes stains on and within your teeth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), those stains can be extrinsic, intrinsic, or both.

Extrinsic stains are due to food and beverage consumption (like dark fruit and teas), environmental factors, or lifestyle behaviors (like tobacco use). On the other hand, intrinsic stains result from internal tooth coloration from the tooth enamel (the hard outer part of the tooth, per the ADA) or dentin (the hard tissue inside the tooth). They can come from aging, genetic disorders, or antibiotic use during childhood.

Whitening Toothpaste Ingredients

Like any good toothpaste, most whitening blends have fluoride as the active ingredient. Fluoride works to prevent cavities and gum disease but doesn't whiten your teeth. The brightening effect is primarily due to the mechanical abrasives that scrub away stains, as noted in the 2018 Ayu study. 

Of note, the abrasives you most likely find in the ingredients list of whitening products, according to a study published in June 2021 in Frontiers in Dental Medicine, include: "Hydrated silica, calcium carbonate, dicalcium phosphate dihydrate, calcium pyrophosphate, alumina, perlite, nanohydroxyapatite, diamond powder, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and, more recently, charcoal."

Whitening toothpaste may also contain different types of whitening agents, according to another study published in August 2019 in the Dentistry Journal. Those whitening agents include:

  • Surfactants (also known as surface-active agents)
  • Antiredeposition agents (prevent teeth discoloration after whitening)
  • Colorants (dyes that make teeth white)
  • Peroxides (bleaching agents that may be the active ingredient in whitening products)

Even if it contains peroxides, whitening toothpaste works better on the surface rather than on internal stains. Also, only natural teeth can be whitened, not crowns or implants.

Are Whitening Toothpastes Safe?

Whitening toothpaste is generally safe for daily use: The safest and most effective whitening toothpaste and other whitening products will have the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

According to the ADA, you should brush your teeth twice daily for two minutes. And specifically, for whitening toothpaste, you should not use the product more often than the label indicates (for example, once or twice daily for six weeks) or as your dentist advises. 

Furthermore, in one study published in July 2014 in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene, researchers recommended that you only use strong whitening toothpaste for a maximum of four weeks.

However, that's not to say that whitening toothpaste comes without risks. The most common risks of overusing whitening toothpaste until damaging the tooth enamel and irritating sensitive gums and teeth.

Damaging the Tooth Enamel

Whitening toothpaste may damage the tooth enamel over time if you rely on them too frequently. In a study published in March 2022 in F1000Research, researchers found that whitening toothpaste can minimize the enamel's mineral content. 

That resulted in rougher teeth surfaces and lower levels of teeth hardness than usual. Using whitening toothpaste with abrasives may also cause teeth roughness and hardness issues in just one week of use—according to another study published in March 2018 in the Nigerian Journal of Clinical Practice.

Irritating Sensitive Gums and Teeth

Overusing whiteners can generally be irritating for gums, known as gingival irritation.

Additionally, the peroxide (typically, hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) that whitening toothpaste contains can lead to teeth sensitivity. Per the ADA, tooth sensitivity results from peroxide getting past the enamel to the dentin and irritating the nerves in your teeth. The peroxide content in bleaching gels for whitening trays may lead to burns and ulcers on the gum's tissues, per one study published in February 2022 in Clinical Oral Investigations.

Other problems, such as mucosal irritation (irritation of the mucus membranes in the mouth), ulcers, and circumoral dermatitis (inflamed skin around the mouth), can also occur with the use of whitening toothpaste.

Recommendations for Teeth Whitening

Some products contain charcoal as well as coal powders that are marketed for teeth whitening. However, research does not look favorable regarding the efficacy of charcoal or coal powder products in terms of whitening, per the June 2021 Frontiers in Dental Medicine study. 

Instead, the researchers identified the two substances as potential causes of dental caries (also known as tooth decay, which is enamel damage).

So, if you're unhappy with the color of your teeth after using whitening toothpaste or other over-the-counter methods, ask your dentist about having them whiten your teeth professionally. That might include whitening gel trays or power bleaching (a process that uses solutions consisting of hydrogen peroxide and water).

Of note, you're likely to get better teeth-whitening results when the whitening is done professionally, as suggested by the June 2021 Frontiers in Dental Medicine article.

Finally, remember to consult your dentist before using teeth-whitening products. That way, they can help determine the best option for you.

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