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Does Whitening Your Teeth Have Side Effects?

What is the number one most requested cosmetic procedure in America today? If you guessed Botox injection, you're wrong.

Teeth-whitening procedures are actually the number one requested cosmetic service in the United States today. Americans reportedly spent over a million dollars on over-the-counter teeth-whitening products within the last year. Those figures do not take into account the number of people who seek whitening procedures from a dental professional.

Tooth whitening is the process by which bleach, or another chemical agent, is applied to a person's teeth in order to help remove stains and discoloration, making them appear brighter. The procedure can be done in a dentist's office, or at home using special over-the-counter whitening kits.

Tooth-whitening procedures work best on surface, or extrinsic, stains. Those are the kinds of stains which are produced by drinking too many dark-colored drinks (coffee, tea, red wines, and cola), smoking or chewing tobacco, or through the aging process. It is possible for teeth to have what is known as an intrinsic stain. That is a stain that actually occurs within the tooth itself. These kinds of stains can be caused by a number of things: overuse of fluoride products as a child, usage of antibiotics in children under age 8 and use of antibiotics by a mother who is in the second half of her pregnancy. Various forms of trauma also can result in intrinsic stains. Tooth-whitening procedures do not have a great track record when it comes to handling intrinsic stains.

While the end result can be pleasing to the eye, there still are questions concerning the safety of tooth-whitening procedures, especially if they are repeatedly performed.

The two most commonly-occurring side effects from tooth whitening products and procedures are increase in tooth sensitivity and irritation of the mouth and gums. Both side effects are generally temporary and will disappear within a few days, but can be quite painful to endure while present.

Another risk of overusing tooth-whitening products is the onset of early decay. Most products - whether the kind used by a dental professional or the over-the-counter variety - are intended to be used just once annually. Using them more frequently can soften the enamel on teeth, which can make the tooth more susceptible to decay.

Softened enamel also can cause another serious problem: the thinning out of the tooth. Some people who overuse tooth-whitening products actually thin out the layers of their teeth, making them more prone to breakage and other serious issues.

So how does one know if a tooth-whitening procedure or product is safe?

Most bleaching products used in dental offices consist of 10 percent carbamide and/or 35 percent hydrogen peroxide. Those products have been tested and approved as safe by the American Dental Association (ADA). While many over-the-counter products have sought the ADA's seal of approval, none have received it. Does that mean all over-the-counter products are unsafe? No. However, the ADA does not endorse any at-home products because it believes that a professional dentist should be consulted before any procedure is performed.

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