How Does Professional Teeth Whitening Differ From Home Kits & Remedies?

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When the Australian Dental Association was asked for comment on DIY teeth-whitening products, there was mention of a number of concerns it has raised in a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – the independent Commonwealth statutory authority enforcing a range of consumer legislation including the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The ACCC upholds fair trading standards, and is the national regulating body for the benefit of all Australians.

The ADA recognises that over-the-counter kits and remedies are the most popular route to non-dentist whitened teeth. 

Popular bleaching methods officially started sometime in the late 1980s. Decades earlier, dentists realised that the peroxide used as an oral antiseptic gel to treat gums had a side effect of whitening teeth. Development was spent finding a home-safe way of keeping gel on teeth longer, and with the innovative use of trays and thicker peroxide gels, the mass market of tooth-whitening opened.

One concern flagged by the Australian Dental Association is the accessibility of products that exceed acceptable levels of hydrogen peroxide.

It recommends that home teeth-whitening products not exceed 6% hydrogen peroxide.

Despite this professionally advised dilution, many available treatments are found to have levels as high as 16%, with carbamide peroxide at 44%. Carbamide peroxide is hydrogen peroxide at a ratio of 1:3; another whitening agent, and more H2O2.

Australian regulations limit the strength of DIY kits to 6% hydrogen and 18% carbamide peroxide. Nonetheless, one of the most popular kits, recommended by several Australian magazines, contains 35% carbamide peroxide and is readily available online from the US.

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How Does Professional Teeth Whitening Differ From Home Kits & Remedies?

Even if the price is great, never buy teeth whitening kits that have not passed Australian standards: they’ve not been deemed as safe for your teeth, and often long term damage is caused.

Overbleaching weakens tooth enamel, which affects the integrity of tooth structure. Its legacy is a higher risk of cavities and other general oral health issues.

The ADA also notified the ACCC of companies making false and misleading statements about the intensity of whitening consumers can expect.

Hydrogen peroxide is safe for most people when used correctly. However, it’s a compound that can be harmful if used too often, or in too high a concentration. It can cause corrosive damage to tooth enamel, and strong hydrogen peroxide is caustic; prolonged or frequent exposure can result in local tissue damage.

Up to 12 shades whiter is often claimed, and completely unreasonable. It carries with it an implication for the consumer to continue to overuse the product and increase the frequency of application, because the actual results can be nowhere near those that are promised.

These of exaggerations are not limited to the whitening outcomes; they extend to overlooking a safe usage schedule for these bleaching agents.

The Australian Dental Association is alarmed that some kit manufacturers recommend daily use until you’re happy with the results, with fortnightly or weekly treatments for ‘maintenance’.

This is excessive to the extreme; and seemingly dismisses the two side effects of teeth whitening: a temporary increase in tooth sensitivity, and mild irritation to the soft tissue of the mouth, particularly gums.

Professional dental whitening is at most once every three months – and most usually only once or twice a year.

Many home kit producers also sell whitening pens for daily use (“perfect for touch-ups and on the go teeth whitening”) and the ADA is aware of a possible surge in patients who have ultimately and unfortunately ruined, rather than restored their teeth. Excessive bleaching attempts with poorly formulated or over-acidic products can make enamel more porous.

This can result in a bluish tinge and brittle teeth – hardly the dazzling pearly whites you thought you were saving some money on having.

As well as trays, gels and pens, tooth-whitening methods include adhesive strips. Whitening pens may seem extremely convenient, but a kit without trays is much less effective. Of all methods, strips are the most likely to have the whitening agent nullified by normal saliva, which has an enzyme that breaks down peroxide to just water and oxygen.

Brush-on gels are typically the least regulated, and the amount applied the most subjective. Again they were found to be poorly performing, with the ADA expressing concern with higher incidences of irritation to gum (gingival) tissue because of the difficulty in avoiding direct contact. And although there is yet to be conclusive evidence, there are notions that peroxides may cause oral cancer in those already at risk: smokers and heavy drinkers.

The fit of boil-and-bite bleaching trays is an important in DIY teeth whitening. The tighter they fit, the less product is needed. Gel can ooze out; and while not toxic in small amounts, it has an unpleasant taste and as mentioned, there’s the risk of soft tissue damage. It’s imperative that these trays are also comfortable, so as not to cause excessive salivation or gagging.

Some whitening kits include moulding putty to make a dental impression that’s sent to the company to return custom-fitted trays, much like a dentist would make.

How much more effective these are in comparison to less expensive kits, very much depends on the skill of the consumer in the making of the mould, and the subsequent use of it.

A blue LED light in an over-the-counter teeth whitening kit is techno wizardry that looks the business, but does it work? Some studies find it increases the whitening effect of the gel, while others dispute this.

Generally, these small blue lights don’t provide much benefit because the gel lacks the two most vital elements: chromophores (absorbers) for photothermal action; and photosensitisers for photochemical activation.

Results are all about having the correct light absorbing compounds present in the gel, which is why the studies differ. With any home kit, teeth will initially look whiter, but this is often due to a dehydrating effect. As water is again taken up by the teeth, a change in colour occurs.

Clinical studies have shown this relapse occurs with every system on the market, regardless of price or process.
Although approved DIY kits are not as strong as the products dentists use, they’re often more acidic, which increases tooth and gum damage. The most sobering research is that they’re also used by people dentists wouldn’t do teeth whitening treatment on, because of dental issues they already have.

Any underlying disease must be treated first. If tooth whitening gel gets into cavities it can cause extreme pain and further damage to the tooth, and teeth with plaque and calculus won’t whiten.

To get the most from an over-the-counter bleaching treatment you need a professional clean first; and you might as well have the skill of your dentist whiten your teeth as well.


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The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional personal diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a dental or medical condition. Never disregard professional advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read or seen on the Site.

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