The Dangers of Over-the-Counter Whiteners

Pearly whites appeal to the opposite sex and potential employers. But the over-the-counter bleaches people use to get that ever-sparklier smile can do long-term harm to your teeth, according to Adriana Manso, a clinical assistant professor of dentistry at UBC.

“Bleaching products can damage the enamel, and if that happens, it’s permanent, and that can expose your dentin, which is sensitive to hot and cold,” Manso said. “There are so many bleaching products available. They’re regulated, but people are tempted to apply these products without properly understanding the risks.”

Marketers have long targeted people’s insecurity over their teeth. Catchy slogans such as “You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent” and brand names like White and Shine, Close-Up, Ultra Brite and Macleans have a long history in the toothpaste market.

For 20 years or so now, you could have your dentist bleach your teeth. Over-the-counter whiteners are more recent. They were introduced — and regulated by the Food and Drugs Act — because people were self-administering harmful amounts of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide at home, Manso said.

Their instructions should be followed and your dentist consulted if you use over-the-counter whiteners, she said, because not everyone is a good candidate for bleaching.

As for whitening toothpastes, some contain hydrogen peroxide, Manso said, but many also have tiny abrasives that “sandpaper” your teeth. Over years of firm brushing, she said, they can remove enamel.

Are there safe ways to get white teeth? You can give up simple pleasures that darken teeth, but otherwise there’s no sense in bleaching, she said.

“If you drink coffee, red wine or tea, eat dark chocolate, you should drink some water after eating/drinking. That will wash away most of the dark pigment in your saliva.”And apples are nature’s tooth brush, Manso said. In the end, it comes down to common sense. “There’s really no natural way to make your teeth whiter,” Manso said. “But if you have good dental hygiene, if you brush and floss regularly, it won’t whiten your teeth but it will prevent discolouring.” – Gordon Mcintyre, Vancouver Province (Photo by Fotolia)