The Truth About Using Hydrogen Peroxide for Teeth Whitening
You can blame it on Hollywood or Instagram, but it’s undeniable—everyone wants a bright, white smile. This has led to an explosion of teeth whitening solution options or “bleaching” products, and many of them contain hydrogen peroxide.
“Hydrogen peroxide has actually been used in teeth bleaching products and oral care products like toothpaste and mouthwash for decades,” dentist and Waterpik spokesperson Chris Strandburg, DDS, tells Health.
But is hydrogen peroxide really safe, and—for those who’re on a quest for the perfect Hollywood smile—how effective is it as a teeth whitener? Our Melbourne teeth whitening dental professionals are here to help and provide some more context and clarity to these questions about whitening teeth.
What is hydrogen peroxide, and how does it make teeth whiter?
Hydrogen peroxide is an acidic chemical compound with the formula H₂O₂, and in its pure form, it’s a very pale blue liquid. Oral care products aside, hydrogen peroxide is often used as a household cleaner, bleaching agent, or antiseptic, or products for bleaching hair.
Although hydrogen peroxide has only one more oxygen molecule than water (that’s the H₂ part of its chemical formula), it has very different properties. It’s a powerful oxidizer in high concentrations and can be corrosive to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. For this reason, store bought hydrogen peroxide products needs to be used with caution on people and animals.
It’s hydrogen peroxide’s strong bleaching properties that make it a common ingredient in tooth whitening products, such as whitening pens. “Hydrogen peroxide brightens and whitens the teeth via a chemical process, by breaking down the stains from polymers into monomers via an oxidation process,” UK dentist Dr Lisa Creaven, co-founder of Spotlight Oral Care, tells Health. “In teeth whitening products, it works to dissolve stains, so teeth are gradually and safely whitened without damaging tooth health.”
But because hydrogen peroxide is a potent natural bleaching agent, it’s typically diluted with a whitening product, such as baking soda, to prevent damage to the enamel and gums.
How safe is it to put hydrogen peroxide on your teeth?
When regulated and controlled, carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening is completely safe, both in toothpaste and other products, like a gel that is squeezed into a rubber tray that wraps around the user’s teeth, or teeth whitening strips. These products allow the hydrogen peroxide to come in close contact with the tooth surface; where it breaks down stains and brightens the overall shade of the tooth. “Hydrogen peroxide has a long track record of safety for bleaching teeth without significantly affecting the strength of tooth enamel,” Dr Strandburg says.
However, it is possible to overdo it on hydrogen peroxide whiten teeth procedures and cause damage to your teeth’s enamel surface and gums over time, increasing tooth sensitivity. Teeth products containing hydrogen peroxide, such as hydrogen peroxide tooth paste, typically contain hydrogen peroxide concentrations of the compound from 3% to 20%—even higher in the dentist’s office. Most toothpaste and mouthwashes, for example, contain a lower hydrogen peroxide concentration, which makes the bleaching properties weaker and therefore safer for long-term use. In these situations, hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening has another role to play—helping to kill the bad bacteria that contributes to inflamed gums diseases, which results in improved gum health.
Teeth bleaching strips, teeth whitening kits, or gels, however, contain hydrogen peroxide in higher amounts, and so should be used less frequently. “Prolonged hydrogen peroxide teeth whitening and bleaching with these can damage your teeth, in particular teeth that are sensitive.”