Over the past 50 years, teeth whitening has become increasingly popular and is now considered an essential beauty standard in most Western countries. It’s easy to see why, on first impressions a white smile can say a lot about how a person cares for themselves and can make them appear friendlier and even more confident. Today, when you think of teeth whitening, you’re probably familiar with the use of hydrogen peroxide and you might be wondering will hydrogen peroxide whiten teeth? We take a look at all the facts and discover some of the things you should be careful of.
The history of Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide has been commonly used ever since it’s discovery back in 1818. It’s a clear liquid chemical compound, made from a combination of hydrogen and water. You can find peroxide in an array of household cleaning products or even in your hair dye. It was commonly used as a medical antiseptic for cuts and scrapes, however, research has since found that using hydrogen peroxide on wounds in a high concentration can result in chronic inflammation, so it’s important to look at the percentage you are using.
Hydrogen Peroxide is a small molecule that works its way down into the tooth enamel and creates an oxidation reaction, this breaks apart the staining compounds. For this reason, hydrogen peroxide is commonly used for in-chair teeth whitening procedures and is even included in at-home teeth whitening products.
Other uses for Hydrogen Peroxide:
- Killing mould
- Removing deep clothing stains
- Bleaching hair
- Deep cleaning your toilet
- Brightening white clothing
- Teeth whitening
This readily available liquid can be found in brown bottles from your local supermarket or department store and is relatively inexpensive. So why are people using it on their teeth?
Is Hydrogen Peroxide teeth whitening safe?
Whilst Hydrogen Peroxide based whitening products are widely available, it’s not all good news. Common side effects of hydrogen peroxide treatments include irritated and inflamed gums as well as tooth and gum sensitivity.
Tooth sensitivity is of high concern when whitening your teeth as it can range from mild to chronic, lasting pain. A number of clinical trials have compared the performance of high and low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and its effect on sensitivity and found that tooth sensitivity and gum irritation is more common when the concentration and time is increased. However, even low concentrations of peroxide used over many nights can lead to sensitivity.
In fact, the USDA warns that getting hydrogen peroxide on your skin may cause irritation, burning and blistering. An In Vitro study found that higher concentrations of peroxide result in increased damage to the tooth’s surface. It also showed that using products containing hydrogen peroxide for longer periods of time would also increase the damage caused to the enamel. This suggests that you will need low concentrations to ensure no serious side effects, although the concentration of hydrogen peroxide in store-bought teeth whitening Kits can be up to 10% in some countries and many dentists provide 40% solutions.
For this reason, there are regulations in place around the concentration of hydrogen peroxide in teeth whitening products. In the UK, you can’t offer formulations with more than 0.1% unless you’re a dentist. However, some products claim to be free of hydrogen peroxide and instead contain carbamide peroxide, this ingredient breaks down into hydrogen peroxide and urea compounds (keep an eye on this in the ingredients list).
Peroxide-free teeth whitening alternatives
Hydrogen peroxide is a common household chemical that can be safely used for a variety of cleaning purposes. Although once commonly used to disinfect wounds, it isn’t recommended for that purpose today and you will need to be extremely careful when looking at using hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening.
Luckily, there are peroxide-free teeth whitening alternatives that are much more cost-effective than whitening at a dentist. A gel formula containing PAP uses the same oxidation process as hydrogen peroxide to rid stains, without the associated sensitivity or enamel damage. A teeth whitening kit that includes other protective ingredients such as Hydroxyapatite and Potassium Nitrate will also assist in remineralising your teeth whilst providing sensitivity protection. As always, if you are predisposed to sensitivity, you should consult with your dentist prior to any whitening treatment.