Is Whitening Toothpaste Bad for Your Teeth?

Here's what you need to know about this type of toothpaste and how it should be used.

There are many products on the market that help with different aspects of oral health. From anti-cavity toothpaste to mouth rinses, a lot of options are available for taking care of your teeth, gums, and breath.

When it comes to teeth whiteners, the range of formulations may leave you wondering about which method to use. Toothpaste, mouthwashes, whitening pens, whitening strips, and whitening trays all claim to improve the color of your teeth. Whitening toothpaste is the method people select most often, according to a 2018 study published in Ayu.

However, you may have wondered if this type of toothpaste is safe for your teeth and gums if you use it daily. Here's what you need to know about whitening toothpastes.

How Does Whitening Toothpaste Work?

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

Extrinsic stains are due to food and beverage consumption (e.g., dark fruit and teas), environmental factors, or behaviors like tobacco use. Intrinsic stains are the result of internal tooth coloration from the tooth enamel (the hard outer part of the tooth per the ADA) or dentin (hard tissue inside the tooth). These types of stains can come about by factors such as aging, genetic disorders, or antibiotic use during childhood.

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 actual brightening effect is mostly due to the mechanical abrasives that scrub away stains, as noted in the 2018 Ayu article. Of note, the abrasives that you are most likely to find in the ingredients list of teeth-whitening products, according to a June 2021 Frontiers in Dental Medicine study, are "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 an August 2019 Dentistry Journal study. These agents include:

  • Surfactants (as 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)

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

How Safe Is It to Use Whitening Toothpaste All the Time?

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

The ADA has recommended that you brush your teeth for two minutes two times per day. For whitening toothpaste specifically, the product should not be used more often than the label indicates (e.g., once or twice daily for six weeks) or your dentist advises. Furthermore, researchers from a July 2014 International Journal of Dental Hygiene study recommended that stronger whitening toothpaste should only be used for a maximum of four weeks.

However, these toothpastes can still damage the tooth enamel over time if you rely on them too much. Researchers of a March 2022 review published in F1000Research found that whitening toothpastes can minimize the enamel's mineral content, resulting in rougher teeth surfaces and lower levels of teeth hardness. Using whitening toothpastes with abrasives could cause issues with teeth roughness and hardness in just one week of use—according to a March 2018 study in the Nigerian Journal of Clinical Practice.

Additionally, the peroxide (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) that whitening toothpastes contain can lead to teeth sensitivity. According to the ADA, tooth sensitivity is a result of peroxide getting past the enamel to the dentin and causing nerve irritation in your teeth. The ADA also noted that overusing whiteners, in general, can be irritating for gums, known as gingival irritation. The peroxide content in bleaching gels for whitening trays may lead to burns and ulcers on the gum's tissues, per a February 2022 study published in Clinical Oral Investigations.

Researchers of the April 2018 Ayu study further indicated that 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.

Other Information To Know About Teeth Whitening

There are some products that 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 (known also as tooth decay, which is enamel damage).

If you're unhappy with the color of your teeth after using whitening toothpaste or other OTC methods, you can opt to have your teeth professionally whitened by your dentist, which might include whitening gel trays or power bleaching (a process that uses solutions consisting of hydrogen peroxide and water). Of note, you'll be more 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, keep in mind that the ADA has recommended that you talk to your dentist before using any teeth-whitening products; that way, you can determine the best option for you.

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