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Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Chhaya Chauhan

(GDC Number: 83940)

Is teeth whitening safe?

In this post we are mostly discussing teeth whitening in the sense of professional bleaching, which involves high strength chemicals being used to whiten your teeth.

This type of teeth whitening is safe if carried out by a qualified dental professional.

However, it is very dangerous if it is not carried out by a dental professional — it can severely damage your teeth and have lifelong consequences.

To emphasise this point, I’ve put together this short video:

Dentist made teeth whitening trays explained

Some at-home teeth whitening products that you can buy online or in the shops (such as whitening kits or toothpastes) are also safe, but only if you buy the right ones and use them correctly. However, their effectiveness is limited compared to professional whitening.

In the sections below we’ll run through some advice on how to whiten your teeth safely, and how to avoid problems.

To understand what a professional procedure involves, see our page on professional teeth whitening and its costs.

We also recommend checking out our teeth whitening hub page, which covers the topic in detail from start to finish.

Video – is teeth whitening safe?

This is a common question that crops up, which is why we’ve dedicated an article to it.

The safest way to whiten your teeth is with the assistance and oversight of a dental professional.

I’ve also created the video below so that I can explain in person:

Is teeth whitening safe?

When isn’t teeth whitening safe?

There are many instances in which teeth whitening is not safe:

  • If someone that is not legally qualified to administer treatment applies high strength gel to your teeth, e.g a beauty technician
  • If a fake dentist completes the procedure
  • If you have underlying dental issues (such as gum disease or tooth decay) that have not been addressed first
  • If you buy a counterfeit product and use it on yourself
  • If you incorrectly use a legitimate product on yourself
  • If you use whitening products too often
  • If you’re included on the list below.

We cover each of the above points in more detail below.

Who should not undergo teeth whitening

  • Pregnant or lactating women — the effects of hydrogen peroxide are unknown. If hydrogen peroxide crosses the placenta or into the breastmilk it could be harmful for the baby. There is no research to show either way but medical professionals err on the side of caution and recommend tooth whitening after baby is born or breastfeeding is finished. See our post on teeth whitening when pregnant or breastfeeding for more information.
  • Anyone with poor enamel or decalcification — hydrogen peroxide works on the enamel of the tooth. Poor enamel doesn’t whiten well and causes tooth sensitivity.
  • Anyone with gum disease or gums in a poor condition. These patients are likely to have exposed dentine and roots which will lead to tooth sensitivity
  • People with braces — having braces can make your teeth painful. Whitening your teeth at the same time can make it worse. See our post on whitening with braces for more info.
  • Anyone who has recently had oral surgery — there is likely to be an open wound. It is not recommended to have hydrogen peroxide seep into the wound.
  • Anyone with tooth decay or exposed roots — these problems should be sorted first. Direct contact with hydrogen peroxide will be painful
  • People with open cavities — direct contact with hydrogen peroxide will be painful
  • Anyone with a history of allergic reactions to peroxide products
  • Anyone under the age of 18

What’s the safest way to whiten your teeth

The safest (and most effective) way to whiten your teeth is to go to the dentist.

We are not saying this because we have dentists as part of our team here at Electric Teeth.

In actual fact, it would be more profitable for us to recommend online products and earn affiliate and advertising revenue.

But we would rather provide safe and correct information around teeth whitening — it is a confusing and potentially dangerous topic.

Whether you are interested in having your teeth bleached using peroxide or trying an over-the-counter kit or toothpaste to use at home, it’s still better to see your dentist first.

They will be more than happy to talk to you about whitening, even if you want to try an at-home method first.

Is Teeth Whitening Safe? 1

Steps to take to ensure safe teeth whitening

  • Watch the video at the bottom of this list that tells you what to do if you want to begin teeth whitening
  • See our teeth whitening hub page so that you can understand teeth whitening fully. We’ve covered the topic in detail
  • Have a check up and speak to your dentist before you use any sort of whitening product or undergo any procedure
  • If you do not already have a dentist, find a reputable one
  • Any qualified and licensed dentist will have a GDC number. Usually this is visible on their website, but if not they should be happy to provide it upon request. You can check their number on the GDC website.
  • Always look for a website rather than just a social media page, or a standalone advert
  • Remember, it is vitally important to have a regular dental check up before having a whitening treatment. If the person offering you whitening cannot offer you a dental check up, do not let them whiten your teeth.
  • If you’re buying something online or in the shops, don’t assume that seals of approval that say things like ‘BDA-approved’ or ‘FDA-approved’ are legitimate — this is something that has been faked in the past.
  • Go with your gut — if there is something that doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to change your mind
  • If there’s something you’re strongly considering and you’re not sure about it, get in touch with us here and we’ll take a look for you.
How to begin teeth whitening

Things to avoid

  • Anything that seems to good to be true. If it’s a lot cheaper than usual, it’s probably for a reason. See our page on whitening costs to get a rough idea of how much things should cost.
  • Anyone or anything that is putting pressure on you make a decision quickly
  • Anyone or anything that you can verify from more than one source, e.g the GDC register and a company website.

What can happen if teeth whitening goes wrong?

  • You may be hospitalised
  • You may lose some of your teeth — they could crack or chip away if the incorrect chemicals are used
  • You may end up with lifelong sensitivity — hot and cold food / drinks will no longer be enjoyable
  • The soft tissue in your mouth could be burned and you may end up with ulcers and swelling for weeks or even months
  • The discomfort from a bad procedure could last for weeks or months, meaning time off work or worse
Is Teeth Whitening Safe? 2

When teeth whitening isn’t safe – more detail

If someone untrained whitens your teeth

In the UK, there are strict laws around tooth whitening.

Tooth whitening is a dental procedure that can only be carried out after an examination by a dentist (although the procedure may be undertaken by another member of the dental team, under prescription from a dentist).

There is also a minimum age limit of 18 years old, and strict rules around the strength of the chemicals that can be used. Even a dentist can only provide products that release a maximum of 6% hydrogen peroxide – this is for the patient’s safety, and is a lower level than is available elsewhere in the world.

Here is a video from the British dental association explaining this.

There have been cases in the news recently whereby people who are not qualified are offering cheap whitening services.

This is dangerous for several reasons:

  • The individual is not trained to take the correct precautions with the whitening procedure
  • The individual is not a dentist and therefore cannot give you the required check up before whitening your teeth
  • Either knowingly or unknowingly, the individual may be using a higher strength peroxide than is safe

Hydrogen peroxide (the chemical agent used to bleach teeth), can be extremely dangerous when used incorrectly — it could ruin your teeth for life.

Indeed there are cases where people have had whitening administered by someone unqualified to do so and it has caused severe damage to their teeth.

Is Teeth Whitening Safe? 3

If a fake dentist whitens your teeth

In a similar vein to the previous section, you may believe you are having your teeth whitened by a legitimate dentist, but it is actually a fraudster posing as a dentist.

This was covered in a recent episode of Fake Britain, where a fake dentist was performing illegal teeth whitening on Oxford Street in London.

This goes to show that even a busy location, which may in itself make someone seem legitimate, cannot necessarily be trusted.

See the steps we list here to check whether or not a dentist is legitimate.

If you have underlying dental issues

If you have any underlying dental issues such as tooth decay, an abscess or even gum disease, it is important to get these addressed before you begin tooth whitening.

This is why it’s important to see your dentist before having any whitening done.

Even if you were to use an over-the-counter product that has a low concentration of peroxide, it could still become very painful if you have any existing conditions.

If you buy a counterfeit product and use it on yourself

Gel replacements

When you have professional bleaching, a dentist makes custom made trays for you to use at home. This is safe provided that they have made the trays specifically for you and shown you how to use them.

When the dentist gives you the trays to take home, they will also give you the whitening gel that goes in the tray.

It is only legal for dentists to dispense these gels. As we’ve mentioned above there are strict rules in the UK about what strength gels can be dispensed.

Sometimes you can find gels available to buy online, but in the UK this is illegal and you may be sold a counterfeit product that has the wrong mixture of chemicals on it.

We cover this in more detail here.

Whitening kits

Last year the TV Programme Fake Britain looked at fake teeth whitening products.

It discovered that a set of fraudsters had been selling fake whitening kits for the best part of a decade.

One lady had purchased the fake kit at an agricultural show, and was left in severe pain and had ulcers for a week after using it.

The kit included fake claims such as “used by leading dentists throughout Europe” to help gain the confidence of unsuspecting customers.

This wasn’t the first time Fake Britain had covered teeth whitening. They had previously covered this case where the perpetrator repeatedly sold fake teeth whitening kits over the space of several years, and was eventually sent to jail.

When they Trading Standards tested the products being sold they found the hydrogen peroxide strength was over 10% — the legal limit in the UK is 6%.

This was especially dangerous considering the trays being sold with the kit were one-size-fits-all and would not have been custom-fitted to the customers teeth.

These products contain stamps that said ‘FDA-approved’ and ‘EU-approved’ in order to make them appear legitimate and trusted, but this couldn’t be further from the truth — they were completely illegal and unsafe.

Chemicals from such kits have been found to contain carcinogenic chemicals, and some of them have so much acid in them they can dissolve the enamel of your teeth.

There have even been examples of fake products using chemicals that are so strong, they are the same as those used to clean swimming pools. You definitely do not want to be putting that into your mouth!

You could be forgiven for thinking that such products could not exist thanks to the UK legal system and organisations such as Trading Standards.

Indeed those systems and organisations do a good job of protecting consumers, but it can take a long time to shut fraudulent companies and individuals down and new ones pop up all the time, so you also need to be vigilant yourself.

If you incorrectly use a legitimate product on yourself

Even if a product is legitimate, it can still be dangerous if used incorrectly.

The chemical agent used for bleaching, hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, can cause serious issues if used incorrectly

If you’re using a high strength whitening gel, it’s important a dentist has shown you how to use it, and provided a tray that has been custom made for your teeth.

If you use whitening products too often

With any whitening product, you need to make sure you don’t use it too often.

With professional tray whitening, your dentist will inform you how long to use the trays for, and then how often you can use them to top up your whitening.

With over-the-counter products, such as whitening kits or toothpastes, you also need to make sure you do not use these too often.

Whitening toothpaste can remove stains because of its abrasive nature, but using this for too long could damage your teeth. See our post on the best whitening toothpaste for more information on this.

Even with over-the-counter whitening kits, the way some of these work is by dehydrating your teeth. This makes them look white temporarily, but long term this can actually damage your teeth and cause the opposite effect of yellow teeth / more stained teeth. We’ve covered this in more detail in our article on the best whitening options.

Take away message: don’t take risks with your teeth

You’ve only got one set of teeth, don’t take risks with them for the sake of a quick fix or to save a bit of money.

Bad teeth whitening could end up costing you a lot more in the long run. For some people, it has ruined their life.

If you’re looking at a whitening product or service you’re not sure about, see the steps we have listed to ensure safe teeth whitening, or get in touch with us here.

About Dr Chhaya Chauhan, BDS (Lond)

Chhaya is a general family dentist based in Essex. She graduated from Barts and The London school of Medicine and Dentistry in 2004 and completed her vocational training year in Peterborough. Since graduating she has completed her diploma exams and was awarded the MJDF from the prestigious Royal College of Surgeons in London.

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