White teeth shout youth, beauty and health, which is why one in five Australian adults have whitened their teeth in the last 12 months. But other statistics from the Australian Dental Association's 2021 Consumer Survey of 25,000 Aussies show many aren't taking the safest route to get those pearly whites.
Only one in three adults did this safely, under the supervision of a dental professional, either in-chair or take-home. The rest used a kit bought online, used over-the-counter products or used a service from a non-dental professional.
Not going to a dentist can result in several problems for consumers, with ADA members reporting seeing the results of DIY efforts in their surgeries. A common problem with overseas products bought online is they contain more than the legal limit of 6 per cent hydrogen peroxide. This level of the key ingredient can result in damage to the gums or excessive teeth sensitivity.
Emeritus professor Laurie Walsh, the ADA's teeth whitening expert, said another common mistake was not getting teeth checked first. "If you don't see a dentist beforehand, you won't know if you have untreated tooth decay, exposed roots, leaking fillings, cracks or issues that can cause pain during bleaching," Professor Walsh said. "A poor fitting tray means more bleach leaking from the tray and the burning gums and soft tissues of the mouth."
Whitening kits from a supermarket or pharmacy often have too little peroxide, wasting time and money. They may have flavours such as citric acid that softens the tooth enamel.
"A trip to the dentist rather than opting for an over-the-counter product or treatment by a non-dental professional will also leave consumers more informed," Professor Walsh said. "Your dentist will explain the side effects with tooth whitening that everyone considering this treatment needs to be aware of."
The main side effects include tooth sensitivity, gum irritation and multi-coloured teeth. Teeth are porous, and the peroxide bleaching agent can make them more sensitive to the cold. Gums can be irritated or slightly ulcerated from the peroxide in the bleaching.
You can get multi-coloured teeth with DIY whitening procedures, where there is no consideration of fillings, veneers or crowns. These materials don't change colour. The only way to rectify this is to replace the fillings, crowns, or other dental fillings, which is time-consuming, invasive and expensive.
Rather than risk irreversible damage, dentists discuss options, advise whether you or your family member is suited for teeth whitening, and supervise the process. Visit ada.org.au/Find-a-Dentist.
Information courtesy of the Australian Dental Association.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.