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Explainer: What teeth whitening can and cannot do

Published on Mon 27 Mar 2023 at 04:31

While teeth whitening products can help enhance the appearance of the teeth, they cannot really improve oral hygiene. 

By Pratibha

Teeth whitening is a popular dental trend that has given rise to a plethora of over-the-counter (OTC) products, such as teeth whitening kits, strips, liquid, essence, you name it! The billion-dollar question is: Do they improve oral hygiene?

To answer that question, we need to understand what tooth whitening products actually do. These products, typically, contain either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Both are bleaching agents that help in deep cleaning the stains on the enamel layer, caused either by coffee habits or smoking. They may also penetrate into the dentin layer, which contains stains caused by age, antibiotics, genetics, etc.  

While teeth whitening products can help enhance the appearance of the teeth, the fact of the matter is that they cannot really improve oral hygiene. “OTC teeth whitening products are purely cosmetic,” asserts Dr Anila Neelakandan, a periodontist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Other than brightening the teeth by a few shades, teeth whitening does not add any health benefits.

In fact, those aspiring for dreamy pearly whites may be surprised to know that human teeth are not meant to be flawlessly white. Teeth colour changes with factors such as age and dietary habits; yellow or creamy coloured teeth need not be considered unhealthy. These are just part of the natural erosion of the enamel layer. Similar to how we grow out of our “milk teeth” (called so for their milky white appearance). After all, our teeth are the first frontier for breaking down all our food intake!

In case you are considering opting for teeth whitening, it’s best to consult a doctor first. If you have extensive staining, it could sometimes be indicative of an underlying health problem. Besides, it’s recommended to go for professional teeth whitening instead of OTC teeth whitening products as they could damage the gums and enamel, if used incorrectly. 

“If you suffer from tooth sensitivity, the procedure is not recommended as it can increase the sensitivity,” warns the periodontist.