Dear Dr. Ellie,
My teeth have yellowed and I would like to bleach them, but I am afraid that it could damage my teeth. Is it safe, and what products are the best?
Miranda C., Charlotte, NC
Bleaching is a very popular trend. It is hard to look at any magazine or turn on the television without seeing celebrities with their hard-to-believe white teeth! Bleaching products are available over-the-counter and can be done by professionals. But what you should know is that hydrogen peroxide used in the bleaching products can irreversibly damage gum tissue. If you use the bleaching products, do not allow the hydrogen peroxide to touch the gums. Your gums may not grow back if damaged making you look years older.
Also, bleaching can damage the cells within a tooth. The living pulp within a tooth is inflamed when teeth are bleached. Bleaching can take between 2 and eight weeks to disappear, and this can increase the chance of damaging the living pulp. Also, remember that if you have fillings, these will not bleach. And if your fillings are older, the bleaching solution could get into your tooth and kill the nerve.
Here are some other facts about bleaching:
- Tooth enamel is porous it is normally protected by a protective layer
- The acid in bleaching agents is used to dissolve the protective layer, so that the bleach can get to the emamel and remove the discoloration
- Your teeth will whiten with bleaching, but they may also be weakened and be more vulnerable to staining
- Tooth sensitivity is a common complaint with bleaching.
If you use a bleaching treatment, use fluoride rinse to restrengthen your teeth afterward and look for those products endorsed by the American Dental Association.