Searching for a sparkling smile this festive season – Is teeth whitening safe?

In the ‘Insta-perfect’, ‘I’m a celebrity’ world that we find ourselves in, where ‘Turkey Teeth’ is on the rise, the pursuit of a dazzling, sparkling white smile is increasingly popular. With the promise of brighter and whiter teeth, many people are investing in teeth whitening, with growing numbers buying various kits to use at home, such as strips, gels, pens, paints or powders.

A 2021 report by Mintel found that the pandemic spurred 11% of 16-24 year old’s to take teeth whitening into their own hands, purchasing online teeth whitening strips/ kits. Although these kits that you can purchase online are usually cheaper than dentist-administered professional whitening, the question begs – are they safe for your dental health? To make matters worse, some international sellers are posing as UK-based sites and selling whitening products with illegal ingredients to UK consumers.

Home teeth whitening

So let’s focus first on home whitening kits, and how they work. Teeth whitening is achieved using a chemical agent called hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide (bleaching agents). The amount of the active ingredient that is legally allowed in over the counter dental products in the UK is 0.1% hydrogen peroxide (or 0.3% carbamide peroxide), which is too little to have an immediately noticeable effect. The gold standard for achieving whiter teeth is either hydrogen peroxide up to 6% or carbamide peroxide in 10-16% concentration, which can only be carried out by a dentist, or a home kit prescribed by a dentist. It is illegal to administer home teeth whitening unless you are a GDC registered dentist or a dental care professional working under the prescription of a dentist.

Because the levels of peroxide in online kits are not always regulated, and therefore could be any percentage of chemical agents, there is a risk of causing damage to your teeth compared to safely prescribed in-practice dentist whitening, or home whitening given to you by your dentist.

The peroxide in teeth whitening products can damage the cells of the gums if held in contact for too long, causing chemical burns. Tooth sensitivity and gum irritation is a risk with any sensitivity to whitening, but can be worsened by overuse of the whitening chemicals. This can feel like short sharp pain when consuming hot or cold foods and drinks, particularly shortly after the whitening agents are applied. In worse cases the peroxide can wear away tooth enamel and irritate the dental nerves.

It's important to keep in mind that whitening products can cause pain for patients with cavities, exposed roots or badly worn enamel, and therefore a clinical dental health examination before whitening is important. Keep in mind that teeth containing dental crowns and fillings cannot be whitened, so you may require additional work if you expect all your teeth to match after whitening.

Teeth whitening with your dentist

Opting to invest in teeth whitening with your dentist is arguable the safest choice. Your dentist can assess your oral health and discuss whether teeth whitening is safe for you, or which procedure is best for your teeth. As crowns and fillings can’t be whitened, your dentist will be better positioned to advise on the options for ensuring that all the teeth with crowns or fillings match. You may need to have fillings or crowns replaced for the best results.

Typically in-practice whitening procedures take less time, and yield much better results than online kits. Dentists use different methods for teeth whitening such as varied strength whitening products, ultraviolet light boosting and laser teeth whitening. If you prefer home teeth whitening, which takes a little longer but can be more cost effective, your dentist can provide you with safe and dentist recommended home teeth whitening options – the most common being teeth whitening trays, where a mould or scan is taken of your teeth, filled with the whitening gel and worn for around an hour at home each day for 2 weeks. 

Alternatively you might choose an overnight option with a gentler product. Your dentist will be able to advise you on the different techniques so that you can choose the right one for you, your teeth and your budget. Although opting for teeth whitening with your dentist can be a little more expensive, it is worth weighing up the benefits of safer and more successful whitening results.

How to keep a whiter, brighter smile

As well as using a whitening treatment, you can keep your smile looking fresh and bright by incorporating these 5 simple steps into your oral care routine:

  • Avoid, or keep to a minimum, foods like curry and berries, as well as beverages such as coffee and red wine that are known to stain teeth
  • Have a glass of water or rinse your mouth out after eating
  • Plaque attracts stains, so keep brushing and flossing regularly to remove any build up
  • Avoid smoking, vaping and chewing tobacco which can stain teeth
  • Visit your hygienist for a scale and polish at least once or twice a year

WIN our Christmas whitening competition and feel dazzling this festive season

Dreaming of a whiter smile this winter? It’s Christmas, and Christmas is a time of giving, which is why we are offering you the chance to win tailor-made teeth whitening, making it easier than ever to achieve your dream smile*.

One lucky winner will receive whitening treatment with their local Portman practice, but that’s not all! They will also win a Love to Shop voucher worth £100, so you have even more of an excuse to show off your new sparkling smile. You don’t have to be registered as a patient with a Portman practice, this competition is open to everyone, so why not invite your family and friends to get involved too? It’s free to enter using our online form.

However you’re spending the festive season this year, we hope that you have a wonderful time. Check your local Portman practice for opening times during late December and early January.

*Terms and conditions apply