These days, teeth whitening is more popular—and accessible—than ever. Not only do most dental practices offer professional whitening, but many stores now sell at-home teeth whitening kits that you can use on your own time. While this accessibility means more affordability, it also leaves it open for potential teeth-harming mistakes. That’s not to say that achieving a reality TV star-esque smile isn’t impossible to DIY yourself—it just means you have to do your homework. We asked dentists to share the top teeth whitening mistakes they often see, and how you can avoid them.
Using whitening toothpaste daily
Over-the-counter whitening toothpaste provides an almost instant brighter smile, but while the immediate result is nice, it may also cause some damage when used for long periods, according to Jennifer Berg, RDH, a dental hygienist in Chicago, Ill. “This type of toothpaste, including charcoal toothpastes, usually contains abrasives to create that polished effect,” explains Berg. Continued use of abrasive toothpaste can remove tooth enamel and cause gum recession, exposing the root surface of the tooth and leading to painful tooth wear. Instead, Berg recommends using a multi-purpose toothpaste with fluoride on a daily basis.
Not talking to your dentist before whitening
Although it’s easy to be impulsive when seeking a whiter smile, it’s best to consult with your dentist before experimenting with any sort of bleaching methods. Your dentist will decide if you are a good candidate for whitening, and if so, they can guide you into the best whitening treatment for you. “Not seeking guidance from your dentist before bleaching can have long-term negative effects,” says Berg. “People who have tooth-colored fillings or restorations (including crowns and veneers) in their ‘smile zone’ should limit the whitening they do.” That’s because crowns, veneers, and fillings are made of either porcelain or composite materials which, unlike enamel, will not whiten and may look darker in comparison to natural teeth after whitening. Better to be safe and talk to your dentist first.
Overusing whitening strips
Whitening strips are a simple and inexpensive way to brighten your smile, but just like whitening toothpaste, prolonged usage isn’t good for your pearly whites. The same goes for leaving the strips on longer than recommended. According to Berg, prolonged usage can hurt your gums, increase tooth sensitivity, and cause bright splotches to appear. Always make sure to follow the directions that come with your whitening strips.
Using one-size-fits-all whitening trays
As tempting as it is to buy the over-the-counter trays, custom-made bleaching trays work best, says Berg. “Everyone’s mouth is different. Using a tray that isn’t custom to your mouth can cause leakage of the whitening product chemicals, which can lead to tooth damage and gum irritation. Additionally, saliva can deactivate the whitening properties in the peroxide.”
Unfortunately, the whitening trays sold in stores and online are usually one-size-fits-all, which can make teeth whitening unsafe and unpredictable. It’s best to go to a professional when it comes to whitening trays; doing this will avoid any unpleasant repercussions of using ill-fitting trays.
Not brushing or flossing beforehand
Whitening your teeth should always be an addition to your oral care routine, not a replacement. Plaque and bits of food left on your tooth’s surface can interfere with the brightening process, so prepping your tooth’s surface before whitening will reap the best results. “Tf there is residue on your teeth, it will prevent the whitening product from seeping into your tooth’s enamel and down to the stains,” says Berg.
Eating acidic fruits to whiten teeth
According to Michael Gulizio, DMD, MS, cosmetic dentist and co-founder of Core Smiles, this is a “really, really bad idea.” “Acidic fruits have a low pH, which means that they are very effective in dissolving dental enamel,” he says. “Once enamel has been lost, it won’t grow back. The erosive process that dissolves tooth enamel can cause tooth sensitivity, dental cavity, and ultimately gum tissue recession.”
Treating it like a one-time thing
Like brushing your teeth, teeth whitening must be implemented regularly in order to maintain the whitest smile. “If you recently had a whitening done, you likely have obtained the ‘whitest-white’ possible,” says Steven Cordoves, DDS, cosmetic dentist and other co-founder of Core Smiles. “However, if you consume a lot of red wine, coffee, tea, and/or tobacco on a regular basis, you may need to whiten more often. The bottom line is to trust your dental professional’s advice; he or she knows your teeth and how often you should be whitening them.”