50 Shades of White

By Dr. Wendy AuClair Clark

As a Dentist, I feel it is important to share my voice and expertise with people online, regardless of if they are my patient. The internet can be an overwhelming place filled with vast amounts of important information, as well as misleading information. I find this to be especially true when looking for health related information.

The quest for the whitest possible smile has taken off in recent years, sparking a boost in Over-the-Counter remedies as well as professional in-office laser treatments. For the most part, bleaching has been a cost effective way to enhance the general appearance of the smile, leaving many people feeling brighter and more confident.
Recently when browsing the web I found a story posted on abcnews, Bleachorexia: When Teeth Are Never White Enough, which I felt could cause confusion for people about the safety of bleaching. If used properly, tooth bleaching is safe and effective…in moderation. With dental bleaching and whitening products being so readily available without the supervision of a dentist, some people overuse and abuse them. This can result in the permanent loss of enamel, particularly in conjunction with abrasive whitening toothpastes, and long-term tooth sensitivity.

What you may not know, is that there may be additional BENEFITS to bleaching in addition to a brighter smile – bleaching your teeth may actually help fight cavities! (Read More) The bacteria that cause decay (caries) thrive when the pH of your mouth is slightly acidic, which happens when you eat or drink. There is evidence that a 10% carbamide peroxide bleaching gel in a custom tray can help elevate the pH, which helps fight decay. There is also some evidence that the same regimen can help keep plaque from forming on the teeth, which may help prevent gingivitis.

On the other hand, bleaching is not for everybody. The main side effect for any bleaching is post-bleaching sensitivity, which can be significant in patients that already have sensitivity for other reasons. Also, most bleach products work by releasing some amount of free radicals. While I have not read anything that directly relates the free radicals from tooth bleaching to any harmful health side effects, some people want to avoid these due to any potential risk. Also, certain discolorations can actually become more prominent with bleach.

It is important to weigh the costs and benefits before embarking on any cosmetic transformation such as bleaching. I encourage you to contact your dentist if you have any questions or concerns about information you find online or in the news. Please feel free to email me with questions you would like answered or topics you would like covered in my next blog post!


1.Lazarchik, David, and Van Haywood. "Use of Tray-Applied 10 Percent Carbamide Peroxide Gels for Improving Oral Health in Patients with Special-Care Needs." JADA. 141. (2010): 639-46.