10 Common Tooth Whitening Mistakes

Tooth whitening is surging in popularity. This is the process where stained or discoloured teeth are lightened. Done properly, it is safe, effective and easy to do. However, tooth whitening done incorrectly can cause irreversible damage to teeth and gums. Read on to find out where people go wrong and how you can safely and effectively brighten your smile.


1. Assuming that you can whiten your teeth

Everyone’s doing it, so it’ll work for you too, right? Well, not everyone is the same. And not all teeth are the same. Some people’s teeth won’t whiten well. Other people may have false teeth, veneers, crowns or visible white fillings. These will not whiten. Many people are not sure which teeth in their mouth actually contain porcelain or filling material. Only your dentist will be able to tell you if whitening is suitable for you, and how you can work it around other dental work.

Fillings that have not lightened with tooth whitening.

Let your dentist know you are thinking about whitening your teeth. They will do a thorough assessment regarding the colour of your teeth and cause of any discolouration. Although tooth whitening is generally safe and effective for most people, it doesn’t suit everyone.

The dentist will talk through your treatment options, weighing up the risks and benefits. If tooth whitening is suitable for you, they can recommend which type is best.

They will also take your medical history into account. Some people can develop allergies to tooth whitening. In addition, you shouldn’t use tooth whitening products while pregnant or breastfeeding.

To make sure tooth whitening is the most effective and done in the safest way, it is best carried out by a dental professional.


2. Not getting an overall check and clean by the dentist before you start

Any underlying disease must be treated first. If tooth whitening gel goes into cavities it can cause extreme pain and damage. It can also irritate gums. Make sure your teeth and gums are healthy first.

Teeth covered in plaque and calculus (the hard deposit that builds up on your teeth) will not whiten effectively. To get the most out of your tooth whitening treatment, get a professional clean first, to make sure all stains and build up are removed.

In addition, your dental professional will give you advice on how to care for your teeth and maintain your beautiful smile.

Make sure to get a check-up and professional
clean before you start tooth whitening.


3. Not Maintaining Your Oral Health

Make sure you brush and floss before you put your tooth whitening trays in. Removing plaque and food particles from around and in-between your teeth will mean the gels can penetrate more effectively for the best results.


4. Buying ‘whitening’ toothpaste

The only product proven to lighten the colour of teeth is hydrogen peroxide. The majority of whitening toothpastes actually just contain abrasives. These are aimed to scratch off surface stains. They may remove some staining, but they won’t actually lighten the colour of your teeth. In addition, some can be too abrasive and actually damage the tooth surface.

Colgate’s Optic White contains a small percentage of hygrogen peroxide. This may not lighten very dark teeth, but is very effective on those that have already undergone tooth whitening procedures and want to maintain their white smile.

Beware of ‘whitening’ toothpastes.


5. Buying products online

There are many dental products available online. However, these are not well regulated. When you buy a whitening product from your dentist, or they carry out the treatment for you, they are bound by strict guidelines and only certain approved products can be used.

There is a well known do-it-yourself whitening brand out there that actually contains an industrial strength bleach. Not something that you should be putting in your mouth. This can cause severe burns and damage the teeth.

Colgate – one of the professional
whitening brands available from
your dentist.


So what if you’ve had whitening by the dentist in the past, and you just want to buy some more whitening product? You recognise the same brand online at a fraction of the price. Seems like a good deal, right?

Not so fast! The products supplied by your dentist are bought from regulated dental suppliers. The tooth whitening companies, eg. Coglate, Opalescence, PolaWhite only sell their products to these companies. Therefore, if you find these brands online they have come via another route. There are counterfeit products out there. Just because the packaging says one thing, doesn’t mean that is what is in the product. In addition, there is no regulation on how these products are stored and transported. Tooth whitening gels have a fairly short shelf life and have to be stored at appropriate temperatures. They might get to you out of date, or could have been damaged by high heat where they were stored. This means they won’t be effective.


6. Buying from the pharmacist or having it done in a salon

Some products sold in stores may not have high enough strength of the active ingredient, or may contain ingredients not proven to whiten teeth.

Hydrogen peroxide is the only chemical that is proven to effectively whiten teeth. In small quantities it can be effective for those that have already undergone tooth whitening.

Would tooth whitening work for this person?
Only a dental professional will be able to
advise you properly.


But what about salons that advertise ‘dental grade’ tooth whitening. While the products may be stronger, the staff are not appropriately trained to be able to provide this service safely. They can’t assess for other problems that may cause issues with tooth whitening E.g. tooth decay, high risk of tooth sensitivity, risk of allergy or why the teeth are discoloured in the first place. This means products may not work, or could damage teeth.


7. Not getting custom-fitted trays

Custom-fitted tooth whitening trays hold the tooth whitening gel close to the teeth for maximum effectiveness. It also keeps the gel off the gums. The gel can burn the gums if not contained properly within the trays. In addition, poorly fitting trays or ‘off the shelf’ ones means that more gel will escape out which will be swallowed and can irritate the throat.

Custom-fitted trays ensure the whitening
product goes where it is meant to.


8. Trying out home remedies

People try all kind of things to whiten their teeth at home. Many think that because these things are not toxic, they must be safe. First of all, they won’t work. Second of all, they can be really damaging to teeth.

A common one we’ve heard of is bicarbonate of soda with lemon juice. This is one of the worst things you can do. The lemon juice is so acidic it will soften the enamel. The enamel is the hard outer coating of the teeth. This is actually what gives the teeth their ‘white’ colour. The underlying dentine is darker. The bicarbonate is very abrasive. So it will wear away the teeth. Separately they are bad enough, but combine them and you will soften the enamel and then abrade it away. As the enamel thins, the darker dentine shows through and not only is the protective layer of the teeth gone, you  will actually end up darker teeth! The underlying dentine is very sensitive to hot/cold and is more prone to tooth decay.

Good for cleaning your home, but not your teeth!


9. Not following directions

Make sure you are using the products as directed. Putting in extra gel, or wearing for longer, thinking it will happen quicker won’t work. Too much product will leak over on to gums and cause damage. Leaving it in longer won’t actually mean it works quicker. I did see a case of a patient who was advised 30 minutes per day, but wore it overnight and it actually caused devastating irreversible damage to his teeth.

Don’t eat or drink while you have the product in your mouth. This will reduce the effect of the whitening. In addition, during the course of tooth whitening, don’t consume heavily coloured foods and drinks, eg. Red wine or black coffee. Don’t smoke while tooth whitening either – this is very staining of the teeth and will reduce effectiveness.


10. Overdoing it

Some people love their white teeth so much and get hooked on whitening. Don’t take it too far. Teeth can actually end up looking worse as they lose their lustre. This is why it’s important to keep seeing your dentist and check-in for reviews so they can monitor how you are going.

Healthy white smile.


In summary, tooth whitening is simple, effective and safe when done properly and supervised by a dental professional. It can massively improve the appearance of your smile.

Thinking of whitening your teeth? Contact us to find out more.

If you would like to read further.