Is Tooth Whitening Safe?

Pros and Cons for teeth whitening
17 Jan 2019

If you’ve been nervous knowing your teeth could use a little brightening, you are not alone. Yellowing and tooth discolouration are a fact of life that affects most of us. If you have noticed your teeth are not as white as they used to be, but have been worried about the safety of whitening, here is an overview of the methods, effectiveness, and side effects to help you make an informed decision on what type of whitening is right for you.

The Truth About Tooth Colour

The truth is that no one truly has pure white teeth naturally. The natural colour of teeth can vary greatly, but usually tends to be within a spectrum of greyish-yellow shades. We tend to share similar tooth colour to our parents, staining aside. Although we might see small children with white baby teeth, once our adult teeth come in they will begin to darken. This is because your teeth are exposed to a number of staining foods and drinks, not to mention in some cases smoking. All of these things add up and stain the surface of your teeth.

There are other factors at play that can affect the appearance of your tooth colour. Skin tone, whether you wear make-up, and even sometimes what you are wearing can add contrasts that will deepen or brighten the colour of your teeth. The darker your skin tone, the more the contrast, which can make your teeth appear brighter.

So, although no one is born with naturally white teeth, we all seem to want that white, bright smile. And to get that smile, you need to whiten your teeth.

The “Danger” of Disappointing Results

Tooth whiteners are actually considered a cosmetic treatment as they are not a necessity. That means when you see commercials on TV for whiteners with people flashing those pearly whites, they are not necessarily a true reflection of the results everyone can expect. Because it is not a dental treatment, the advertisers are not regulated by Health Canada, allowing them to add a bit of over-the-top whiteness to their models’ teeth. It’s important to keep this in mind so you do not approach whitening with unrealistic expectations.

That said, there are two types of teeth whiteners that will get varying results:

  1. Surface Whiteners: As the name implies, these products are designed to remove surface stains using special abrasives. They are available as toothpastes, which are limited to the amount of whiteness they can provide as they are limited to attacking surface stains. They also work well to help maintain a white smile following bleaching treatments.
  2. Bleaches: Also true to their name, bleaching products are peroxide-based and not only remove surface stains, but also alter the colour of teeth. Because of this, it is important to speak to us first to make sure that your particular tooth discolouration is suitable for bleaching treatments. Bleaching will not work on restorations such as crowns, so you want to ensure you don’t end up with natural white teeth and a discoloured restoration.

The Danger of Over-the-Counter Products

There are a few bleaching options available, including over-the-counter and professional whiteners. Over-the-counter teeth whitening products can do a respectable job, but they do have challenges. Although they use the same chemicals as professional teeth whitening products, it is a lower concentration, which means they are not as powerful. From a safety standpoint, despite not being as powerful, they can cause teeth sensitivity which can become quite uncomfortable. As well, the application of the bleaching solution tends to be a little uneven; this can lead to striping, which can be just as bad or worse than the original yellowing. We always advise patients to speak to us before making any decisions on the best whitening options for them.

When it comes to preserving your smile, you have to be certain you are using the right type of whitener to keep it white and natural. Over-the-counter treatments use “vital bleaching,” which is used for your natural teeth. If you have teeth that have root canals, or other restorative procedures, vital bleaching cannot be used. You have to consider these risks when attempting to use home bleaching products as they can leave your restorations yellow.

The Safety of Professional Whitening

Professional whitening is handled in the office with the supervision of a dentist. These treatments can be performed in the office, but can also include take-home kits. These whitening treatments are the safest for a number of reasons:

  • They are performed only if we deem it suitable for your current dental health.
  • Precautions are taken to ensure safe application to reduce tooth sensitivity issues from developing.
  • We apply them to ensure you see even results.
  • Home kits are created using customized trays for easy, even application at home.
  • Home kits are designed to avoid the whitening solution reaching sensitive areas along the gum line.


For the most part, teeth whitening is safe, but once all is said and done, the main concerns include:

  • Teeth sensitivity: As mentioned, these treatments can lead to sensitivity usually following your first or second treatment. It is not uncommon for you to see the discomfort lessen. If you do experience sensitivity, we can recommend products containing potassium nitrate and sodium fluoride gel to help keep things comfortable.
  • Irritated gums: Along with sensitive teeth, you might have irritation in your gums. This should not last long and lessen once the treatment is complete.
  • Maintenance: Teeth whitening is never permanent. We will recommend proper maintenance to help fight further staining. What you eat and drink, whether or not you smoke, and your oral hygiene habits will all determine how long you can keep your teeth white. We can discuss a maintenance plan to help prolong your results, such as avoiding smoking and drinking staining beverages like tea and coffee. Depending on your lifestyle, you might have to repeat the whitening process as required.
  • Whitening products are designed for your natural teeth. If you have implants, crowns, bridges, or dentures, we can discuss your options to provide you with alternative cosmetic treatments to achieve the white smile you deserve.

If you are interested in learning more about the best whitening option for you, call Guelph Family Dentistry at (888) 250-8819 or contact us here.

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Dr. Omar Al-Azzawi
Dr. Omar Al-Azzawi

Dr. Omar got his BDS degree in 2002 from the University of Baghdad. He has also completed a master degree in Prosthetic Dentistry from the University of Malaya, Malaysia in 2009. Dr. Omar got his DDS in 2013 in Canada after passing the National Dental Examination Board of Canada (NDEB) exams. Read More

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