All of us like the thought of having a mouth full of glistening white teeth. Along with being a sign of good oral health, whiter teeth can enhance your appearance and boost your self-confidence, among other benefits. Plus, you’re likely to smile more often when you have a set of shining ivories to back it up, and smiling comes with its own set of physical, mental, and emotional benefits. But are we risking our health when using whitening agents?
That brings us to how one can achieve a darling smile with whiter teeth. Since you use toothpaste on a daily basis anyway, shouldn’t you use whitening toothpaste so that you can kill two birds with one stone—better oral hygiene and whiter teeth?
The answer is yes and no. Whitening toothpaste can remove certain amounts of surface stains from your teeth. However, if used incorrectly, it can also damage the enamel of your teeth in the process. Therefore, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into when you pick that tube of whitening toothpaste off the shelf.
To decide if whitening toothpaste is right for you, it’s worth considering a few factors: how it works, how to use it, what damaged enamel entails, and what alternatives there are to achieve whiter teeth.
How Whitening Toothpaste Works
Most toothpaste has gentle abrasives, fluoride, and other ingredients to keep cavities and gum disease at bay. Whitening toothpaste typically has more abrasives, similar ingredients, plus low levels of bleaching chemicals. Some of the most commonly used of these mild abrasives include hydrated aluminum oxides, silica, magnesium carbonate, calcium carbonate, and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). These abrasives work to scrub surface stains caused by coffee, tea, tobacco, and so on.
Additionally, common bleaching agents used in whitening toothpaste include hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. These chemicals usually come in such a low dose that the whitening toothpaste is unlikely to cause sensitivity or irritation. However, any brightening of the teeth is relatively minor and takes a significant amount of time.
How to Use Whitening Toothpaste
It’s likely that how you use whitening toothpaste is more important than if you use it. Any ADA-approved whitening toothpaste you find on the market is considered safe for teeth, as long as you apply proper brushing techniques and frequencies.
For instance, it’s advisable to use a soft-bristle brush and not to brush too vigorously. Also, you should never brush your teeth more than the toothpaste label or your dentist suggests. Some people may feel the need to scrub harder than necessary, thinking that it will help remove more stains, when in fact this can lead to the erosion of your enamel.
What Happens When Your Enamel is Damaged
Enamel is a substance on the outer layer of your teeth, and it’s your teeth’s first line of defense against chemicals from food, drink, and bodily fluids. Fortunately, it’s also the toughest tissue your body has. Nonetheless, it can still experience wear and tear over time, especially if you fail to brush regularly (or brush too hard and frequently with whitening toothpaste). Once the enamel has eroded, it cannot grow back, but proper dental hygiene can prevent erosion from escalating.
Short-term symptoms of tooth enamel erosion include discoloration, heightened sensitivity, and cracks. Long-term erosion can lead to stains, rough edges, and shiny spots on your teeth. The most advanced enamel erosion can result in severe tooth decay and fractured teeth.
Alternatives to Whitening Toothpaste
Whitening toothpaste, when used properly, can make teeth appear slightly whiter over time. But it’s important to remember that it can only remove stains on the surface of your teeth and that the results will likely not be very noticeable.
If you want your smile to be significantly brighter and reduce the risk of enamel erosion, you are better off to go with a teeth-whitening system. You have two primary options here: over-the-counter products (e.g., gel trays, strips) or those administered by your dentist. Whitening gel can be especially effective, as it flows through the enamel tubules to reach the dentin—the tissue beneath the enamel that absorbs most of a stain.
Both over-the-counter and dentist-administered whitening systems contain higher concentrations of peroxide than whitening toothpaste, and either can provide more noticeable results. Generally speaking, over-the-counter products have 5-15% peroxide and professional dental-strength products have 25-40%. Before choosing a whitening product, be sure to consult your dentist.
ADA-approved whitening toothpaste may not be harmful in and of itself, but it can lead to enamel erosion if not applied properly, and it likely won’t yield the results you’re looking for. When it comes down to it, there are safer, more effective options on the market worth considering. Come by South Charlotte Dentistry to discuss your options with our team!