Whitening Warning: Bleaching Blunders Can Have Painful Effects

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Floss Dental Sees 10% Spike in 'Bleach Burn'; Reminds Patients of Three Major Mistakes to Avoid When Whitening Teeth

It’s a painful mistake that hundreds of people make on an annual basis. The day before a family wedding, Anna Phillips was making plans to look her best in the formal photos. She bought standard over-the-counter whitening strips, popped them in her mouth and relaxed on her bed after dinner. Then—accidentally—she fell asleep.

“We see this kind of thing happen all the time,” says Floss Dentist Clark Steffens. “Sometimes the patients arrive in tears because of the severe pain.”

Annually, Americans spend $1.4 billion on over-the-counter whitening agents. Many, however, fail to follow the directions. Floss Dental has already seen approximately 10% more 'bleach burn' cases this compared to 2011

Anna woke up the next morning with throbbing teeth and gums; the gel had remained in place all night. “It was the worst oral pain I’ve ever experienced,” she says. “And I did it to myself!”

Most bleaching gels contain peroxide mixed with other chemicals. When the bleaching agent—even in its mildest concentration—is left in place for hours, the caustic chemicals can leach too deeply into tooth enamel, irritating nerve endings and gums. The longer the gel remains in place, the worse the irritation. “That’s the number one mistake made by people who try to do too much too quickly, or who accidentally leave the trays in too long,” says Dr. Steffens. “Leaving any bleaching agent in your mouth longer than 30 minutes is a major blunder.”

The second problem – less common – is attempting to apply a professional grade of bleach at home. “Only a trained dental hygienist or dentist should be applying the higher concentrations of oral bleach,” says Dr. Steffens. “We have to take real precautions and monitor the process in a clinical setting.” Generally speaking, the dental industry divides bleaching compounds into two categories: one for over-the-counter use, and the second (higher concentration) is only for use in dental practices, to be applied by technicians with the appropriate training. Most dentists regard anything with 20% or higher concentration of peroxide as a professional-grade bleaching agent.

The third blunder is consuming certain dark liquids or foods immediately after bleaching. The chemical compounds in most bleach temporarily open the pores in tooth enamel. So, if a dark food is consumed shortly after the bleach has been applied, it has a greater likelihood of staining teeth. Steffens says patients should completely refrain from dark food for the first twelve hours after bleaching, and limit dark foods as much as possible thereafter. “The major culprits are coffee, red wine, blueberries and chocolate,” says Steffens, “all the good stuff.”

Steffens is an Associate with FLOSS Dentistry in Dallas. FLOSS is a full-service general and cosmetic dental practice with a dozen locations in North Texas, Austin and Houston. Learn more at flossdental.com.

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Nicole Stickman
Floss Dental
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