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.