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Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

Alyssa Hill Headshot
Written by
Alyssa Hill
Medically Reviewed by 
Dr. Erica Anand
9 Sources Cited

Key Takeaways

  • Teeth become stained for various reasons
  • Staining can be both intrinsic and extrinsic
  • Teeth whitening is mostly safe, but it’s important to follow professional expertise
  • Bleaching is safer than whitening via abrasion (baking soda)
  • Ranging from most to least safe, teeth whitening options include:
    • In-office professional teeth whitening
    • Take-home professional teeth whitening
    • LED teeth whitening
    • Whitening toothpaste and mouthwash
    • Whitening gel
    • Whitening strips
    • Activated charcoal products (research is currently limited)

What Causes Teeth Staining?

Over time, your teeth can lose their brilliant white sheen, appearing more yellow or “stained.” This is known as teeth staining or tooth discoloration, and there are various reasons why it occurs.

These causes break down into two broad categories: extrinsic tooth discoloration and intrinsic tooth discoloration.

Extrinsic tooth discoloration is mainly caused by foods, drinks, and other substances like: 

  • Coffee and tea
  • Alcoholic beverages such as red wine
  • Tomatoes
  • Colas
  • Berries and fruit juices
  • Anything with vinegar or soy sauce
  • Curry
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking tobacco

Extrinsic discoloration can be treated with a variety of teeth whitening products.

Intrinsic tooth discoloration is staining that’s embedded inside a tooth rather than on its surface. 

Causes include:

  • Illness
  • Aging
  • Certain medications
  • Damage to the tooth
  • Tooth decay
  • Fluorosis (caused by excessive fluoride)
  • Amalgam dental restorations
  • Genetics
  • Chemotherapy and radiation

Intrinsic staining is harder to treat. Rather than over-the-counter products, the best option here is either professional whitening treatment or to conceal the stained teeth with veneers

In the case of tooth decay or trauma, dental crowns, implants, or fillings may be needed.

Is Teeth Whitening Treatment Safe?

The safety of teeth whitening depends on:

  • The type and quantity of whitening agents that are used 
  • The length of time the teeth are exposed to those ingredients

The three most common ingredients used in teeth whitening are baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and carbamide peroxide. 

Here’s how they work:

  • Baking soda removes surface stains from teeth, making them look whiter.
  • Hydrogen peroxide goes below the surface of your teeth, oxidizing the stains deep within to break them down. This is known as bleaching.
  • Carbamide peroxide is similar to hydrogen peroxide but doesn’t break down stains quite as fast, allowing it to stay on teeth longer.

Baking soda can remove superficial stains, but some dental professionals worry it can damage enamel because it’s abrasive.6 Unlike baking soda, bleaching agents like peroxide aren’t abrasive. Research shows that these agents are safe and effective, especially when used according to professional guidance.3

However, there are still some risks to be aware of. 

One common side effect of tooth-bleaching is sensitivity. This is because peroxide reaches the inner layers of teeth, exposing tubules that make them less hydrated and more sensitive. Once teeth are re-hydrated, they typically lose sensitivity. But the duration of sensitivity depends on the concentration of peroxide used. 

Tooth sensitivity is a normal part of the bleaching process and is usually temporary. But some dental professionals fear that enamel in this softened state is more vulnerable to erosion when baking soda is used.6

Once enamel is lost, it can’t be restored.

The risk of enamel loss and other side effects depends on the type of teeth whitening product and how it’s used. 

Read on to learn more about various teeth whitening treatments.

7 Common Teeth Whitening Treatments

When done according to professional guidance, it’s possible to safely whiten teeth using a variety of methods:

1. Professional Teeth Whitening 

One of the best ways to safely whiten teeth is to go see a dental professional. They’re qualified to use higher levels of peroxide safely because they can isolate the teeth. 

This also means that results are faster and more dramatic while also being safer.

There are several different professional whitening treatments available, including:

All of these in-office procedures involve a dentist who applies the whitening gel to your teeth. A special light may also be used to provide faster, more vibrant results.

In-office whitening results last a long time and require minimal upkeep (a few times a year). However, treatment can cost hundreds of dollars per session. 

2. Take-Home Whitening Treatment

Take-home whitening treatments are also available. 

To begin, you need to visit a dentist, who will take molds of your teeth. You'll then receive six months' worth of custom whitening trays and gel, which you can apply at home before going to bed. 

Both professional and take-home whitening are ideal for intrinsic staining. 

3. LED Teeth Whitening 

This involves applying a bleaching agent to the teeth and then using an LED or light-emitting diode

The blue light from the LED alone doesn’t whiten teeth, but it causes a chemical reaction when it contacts the bleaching agent. This reaction allows the LED to penetrate the enamel, which is believed to accelerate the whitening process.

An LED light is often included in at-home teeth whitening kits and may be used in professional teeth whitening. 

4. Teeth Whitening Strips 

Whitening strips are made of a thin, flexible plastic substance that adheres to your teeth. They’re usually coated with lower concentrations of peroxide gel. The strips are left on your teeth for up to 30 minutes, allowing the peroxide to penetrate the enamel. 

5. Whitening Toothpaste & Mouthwash

Teeth whitening toothpaste contains low amounts of abrasives and bleaching agents. It can slightly reduce surface stains. 

Mouthwash can then be used to prevent new stains from forming.

6. Whitening Gel

At-home whitening gels contain between 5 and 10 percent hydrogen peroxide or 35 percent carbamide peroxide. They oxidize your teeth to remove both extrinsic and intrinsic stains. 

They’re not as powerful as in-office treatments but can be used to keep your teeth white after professional treatment.

One example of an innovative whitening gel is Crest Whitening Emulsions.

7. Activated Charcoal Products

Charcoal has long been used as a way to flush toxins from the body, but its use in teeth whitening products is relatively new. 

Charcoal can be found in a variety of teeth whitening products, such as the Burst toothbrush, as well as toothpaste, gels, and mouthwashes.

Note: There is currently no evidence proving charcoal is safe to use on enamel.

Potential Side Effects of Teeth Whitening

The primary side effects of teeth whitening are teeth sensitivity and gum inflammation.

Other side effects include:

  • Possible damage to dental restorations
  • Gum inflammation
  • Increased tooth discoloration due to enamel erosion
  • Higher risk of tooth damage or decay
  • Damage to the dental pulp (if peroxide is applied to a cracked tooth)

Other Safety Considerations of Teeth Whitening 

Here are some other things to consider when considering a teeth whitening treatment:

  • Look for the Seal of Acceptance by the American Dental Association (ADA)
  • Follow the instructions on how to properly use the product
  • Listen to what your dentist says regarding what whitening treatment is right for you
  • If you experience unpleasant side effects, tell your dentist

When it comes to teeth whitening, avoid use of the following:

  • Homemade peroxide-based teeth whitening solutions
  • Any at-home product with more than 10% hydrogen peroxide
  • Baking soda and hydrogen peroxide paste
  • Lemon and baking soda
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Oil pulling

Our Teeth Whitening Recommendations

In-office professional teeth whitening is the safest whitening method. However, it’s also expensive, with a single treatment costing anywhere between $500 to $1,400.

If price is an issue, you can try at-home teeth whitening. The best method here is LED teeth whitening.

Two options here include:

After getting LED treatment, NewMouth recommends using whitening strips, toothpaste, and gels for maintaining your teeth’s color.

Last updated on April 26, 2022
9 Sources Cited
Last updated on April 26, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. American Dental Association. “ADA Seal.www.ada.org.
  2. American Dental Association. “Whitening.www.ada.org.
  3. Carey, Clifton M. “Tooth whitening: what we now know.The journal of evidence-based dental practice.
  4. Cleveland Clinic “Is Teeth Whitening Safe?Cleveland Clinic.
  5. Crest. “What is the Difference Between Whitening and Bleaching?www.dentalcare.com.
  6. Epple, Matthias et al. “A Critical Review of Modern Concepts for Teeth Whitening.Dentistry journal.
  7. Ghassemi, A et al. “Effectiveness of a new dentifrice with baking soda and peroxide in removing extrinsic stain and whitening teeth.The Journal of clinical dentistry.
  8. Kleber, C J et al. “In vitro tooth whitening by a sodium bicarbonate/peroxide dentifrice.The Journal of clinical dentistry.
  9. Philips. “Is Teeth Whitening Safe? - Teeth Whitening Side Effects.www.philips.com.au.
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