In many ways, teeth whitening is the optimal procedure for a brighter smile: it’s quick, non-invasive, and highly effective on surface stains. Years of discoloration from food and drink can often be reduced in a single office visit, making teeth whitening the first choice of cosmetic treatment for many patients.
Still, no procedure is without its side effects, and to this end, we encourage our Charleston patients to be aware of what to expect. For those considering our whitening treatment, whether at our office or at home, keep the following side effects and risks in mind.
The gel used in whitening treatment typically comprises hydrogen peroxide or a comparable bleaching agent. While the concentration is not high enough to pose any risks to one’s teeth or general health from a single treatment, patients do tend to experience increased sensitivity in their teeth afterward. This sensitivity does not normally last more than a day or two, but during that time, it’s common for patients to experience some level of discomfort.
The degree of sensitivity varies widely from patient to patient. Some people may only notice it at certain times, such as when eating a hot meal or drinking a cold beverage. Others may experience a more consistent ache or pain. The level of sensitivity is often increased if patients already have sensitive teeth prior to treatment, have worn enamel, or have previous restorative dental work.
The same ingredient responsible for tooth sensitivity can also result in irritation of the gums. Since gum tissue is more sensitive than enamel, any contact with the whitening gel may cause temporary chemical burns. These burns appear as light discoloration, and cause the gums to become irritated for a short while. For larger burns, gum tissue may become inflamed and more prone to bleeding. Depending on the degree of exposure, these effects may disappear within hours or days, leaving no permanent harm.
By visiting your cosmetic dentist for a professional whitening session, as opposed to using an over-the-counter product, you can greatly reduce the risk of burns. Professional treatment utilizes a customized tray to fit your teeth, as well as a protective barrier to protect gums from stray gel. Through careful placement of the whitening trays and application of the gel, your dentist can minimize the chance of any irritation.
After getting whitening treatment, some patients are so pleased with their results that they immediately wish to repeat the procedure. Although multiple whitening sessions can possibly brighten teeth to a greater degree, each subsequent treatment poses an increasing risk to teeth. As hydrogen peroxide works its way into teeth to remove stains, it also weakens the enamel. With repeated exposure to the gel, patients may find their enamel slowly wearing away.
If a significant layer of enamel is eventually removed as a result of whitening, teeth can become permanently sensitive and discolored from the exposed dentin tissue. To remedy this, patients must have their teeth permanently covered with restorations such as porcelain veneers. To avoid this risk altogether, use teeth whitening sparingly, and speak with your dentist if you intend on undergoing more than one whitening session.
Teeth whitening can be a rewarding way to enhance your smile. To learn more about this procedure or our other cosmetic treatments for discoloration, contact our office. We welcome your questions and are eager to get you started on your new smile.