Are teeth whitening strips safe?

As an alternative to costly teeth whitening procedures at the dentist’s office, many people have turned to at-home dental whitening strips to achieve a bright, celebrity-style smile in a shorter time frame. Although the efficiency of at-home whitening strips has its own share of debate, most people are concerned about the safety of the products that promise a whiter smile without the higher price.

What might give you a hint about the safety as well as the efficacy of over-the-counter dental whitening strips is an understanding of how they work. According to the American Dental Association, teeth whitening strips are made from polyethylene and are coated with a chemical called carbamide, more commonly known as hydrogen peroxide.

As the hydrogen peroxide is broken down, oxygen comes in contact with the enamel and bleaches any discoloration of the tooth. The process does not alter the structure of the tooth in any way, but does have the potential to weaken enamel if used too frequently.

A 2008 study conducted by researchers at The Procter & Gamble Company, examined the safety of 12 months continuous use of 6 percent hydrogen peroxide whitening strips, using a placebo control group to eliminate error. The study randomly assigned 80 adults to receive one of two treatments: whitening strips coated with 6 percent hydrogen peroxide or placebo strips.

Each group wore the strips for 5 minutes, every day, for a 12-month period. The researchers collected evidence on the safety of the treatment through oral status interviews and oral examinations at various points in the 12-month process.

The findings revealed that tooth sensitivity was reported by 10 percent of participants in the group given the hydrogen peroxide strips and 5 percent of the participants in the placebo group. There were no reports of oral irritation in the hydrogen peroxide group and approximately 3 percent reported irritation from the placebo group; and the occurrence of observed oral irritation was similar between the two groups.

Based upon these results, researches concluded that the use of hydrogen peroxide whitening strips over a 12-month period revealed a similar safety profile as the use of placebo strips.

In other words, the study found that dental whitening strips are almost as safe for the teeth as abstaining from using whitening strips at all. However, the study also revealed that continued use can lead to tooth sensitivity and minor irritation and users should consult their Boston dentists before prolonged use.

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