Are Whitening Toothpastes Bad for Your Teeth?

Are Whitening Toothpastes Bad for Your Teeth?

Everybody wants a dazzling smile, and whitening toothpastes have long advertised themselves as an easy, economical means of achieving this goal. But are they ultimately bad for your tooth enamel? Recently, there’s been some debate — even among dentists — as to whether long-term use of whitening toothpaste is detrimental to the integrity of your teeth. Although we want you to read this blog post, we’ll cut to the chase with our position on the issue: Whitening toothpastes can be used safely, as long as you monitor for tooth sensitivity.

However, this is an important question with a few angles to consider — which is why we at NK Family Dental want you to keep reading!

How Whitening Toothpastes Work

There are two types of stains that cause your teeth to be dull or discolored — extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic stains are on the tooth enamel. They are caused by the consumption of certain foods and beverages — such as red wine, teas, dark fruits, etc. — and tobacco use. Intrinsic stains result from internal tooth coloration from the dentin, which is the hard tissue inside the tooth. Intrinsic stains can be caused by aging, genetic disorders, or antibiotic use — such as tetracycline — during childhood.

Conventional whitening toothpaste contains abrasives and bleaching agents such as silica, pyrophosphates, hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which remove the extrinsic stains, thereby lightening the tooth color.

Some whitening toothpastes contain the chemical blue covarine, which adheres to the surface of the teeth and creates an optical illusion that can make teeth appear less yellow. When used twice a day, whitening toothpaste can take from two to six weeks to make teeth appear whiter. Whitening toothpastes that contain blue covarine can have an immediate effect.

Possible Risks of Using Whitening Toothpastes

As mentioned earlier, whitening toothpaste is generally safe when used according to label directions or as advised by your dentist. But there are other factors to consider. Those who have intrinsic stains can damage their enamel through overly vigorous brushing, believing that if they brush hard enough and use the maximum strength whitening toothpaste they’ll succeed in lightening the shade of their teeth.

Adults ages 50 years and over who are starting to notice yellowing often assume their enamel is discolored, when in fact the yellowed dentin is showing through because tooth enamel is wearing off. Using a whitening toothpaste can further erode the already-thin remaining enamel — thereby making the problem even worse.

According to Dr. Ryan Reeves of Beyond Exceptional Dentistry, the gradual wearing away of enamel is the primary culprit of yellowish teeth in people who are middle-age-plus.

“The enamel is worn away by eating, acid from bacteria, and even by brushing. This thinner enamel is not only less white — it shows more of the yellowy dentin beneath — it’s less smooth, so it doesn’t have the same luster that a more youthful smile does.”

For this reason, we encourage consulting with your dentist before using a whitening toothpaste — especially if you’re an older adult. If you schedule regular twice yearly examinations and cleanings, this is the ideal opportunity for you to bring up concerns about the color of your teeth, and ask your dentist if using a whitening toothpaste is an appropriate treatment. For those with intrinsic stains — which not even a professional in-office teeth whitening treatment can remove — your dentist may recommend composite bonding, veneers or dental crowns as a long-lasting cosmetic solution that will give you the bright smile you want.

Moreover, according to health, “The peroxide in whitening toothpaste can lead to teeth sensitivity. High peroxide content has been linked to instances of tooth sensitivity. Other problems caused by whitening toothpaste may include circumoral dermatitis (inflamed skin around your mouth) and mucosal irritation (irritation of the mucus membranes in your mouth).”

Also be aware that research has found that whitening toothpaste can minimize the enamel’s mineral content, resulting in rough teeth surfaces and low levels of tooth hardness. Brushing too hard or using a very hard bristle toothbrush can exacerbate potential enamel damage — which can happen with any type of toothpaste. Make sure you use the correct amount of pressure when brushing, and select a toothbrush with the proper bristle hardness.

Activated charcoal toothpaste for whitening teeth has been gaining a good amount of popularity through social media. This is one type of whitening toothpaste we advise against using. Although activated charcoal toothpaste may help remove surface stains, clinical studies of the efficacy (effectiveness) of such toothpastes are lacking, so no one can yet definitively claim that charcoal toothpaste whitens or cleans your teeth better than any other toothpaste. In addition, the widespread belief that charcoal toothpaste “detoxifies” your mouth is more pseudoscience than science. 

Moreover, our blog post — “Should You Use Charcoal Toothpaste?” — lists and explains the downsides of such toothpastes, which include the following:

  • Charcoal toothpaste is too abrasive for regular use.
  • Most brands don’t contain fluoride — which helps keep tooth enamel strong and protects against cavities.
  • Charcoal toothpaste can stain teeth.
  • Its long-term effects on dental restorations — such as veneers, crowns and bridges — are still unknown.

Precautions for Using Whitening Toothpastes

As mentioned earlier, developing tooth sensitivity can result from long-term use of whitening toothpastes. Major toothpaste brands offer whitening toothpastes in several different formulations, which can make the selection process confusing. Those containing a high level of hydrogen peroxide will work faster. However, most whitening toothpastes don’t disclose their percentage of hydrogen peroxide.

Whichever brand/formulation you choose, follow label instructions for use, and do not use longer than recommended — if such a recommendation is provided. Be aware if your teeth become sensitive. If so, discontinue use. If your teeth are already sensitive, there are brands formulated to whiten sensitive teeth.

The Take-Home Message

Whitening toothpastes can be effective in removing surface stains from tooth enamel. However, a twice-yearly cleaning by your dentist will do the same, while also polishing your teeth. Whitening toothpastes could be useful if you regularly consume foods and beverages that stain teeth — but as with all things, moderation is key.

Because major toothpaste brands offer several formulations for whitening toothpaste, making an informed choice about the type best for you may be difficult. Rather than relying on marketing hype, ask your dentist if you could benefit from a whitening toothpaste — and if so, which type of formulation is most suitable. Use as directed, and discontinue use if your teeth become sensitive to temperature and/or hurt during brushing and flossing. Schedule an appointment with your dentist to confirm that sensitivity is the cause of discomfort, as it could be a symptom of a more serious condition.

The best way that your natural teeth can achieve their whitest shade possible is an in-office or take-home professional whitening procedure performed by your dentist. NK Family Dental is proud to offer Zoom and Opalescence teeth whitening treatments. Each of these excellent, proven treatments is administered by different means. We will recommend the treatment best suited to your situation and aesthetic goals based upon your consultation.

We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.

At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.

Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.

We serve the neighborhoods of Logan Square, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Wicker Park with the dedication that’s earned us the reputation as the Best Dentist in Chicago!

Schedule your visit through ZocDoc, or contact us directly. We look forward to treating you soon! 


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