We at West Kendall Dental Associates have a special teeth whitening program called Whitening for Life. Individuals who are a part of this program receive free whitening for as long as they are a patient here. Twice a year, we give them a free bleaching kit to ensure they have the dazzling white smile they deserve for life. When you come in for your initial visit, ask how you can join this special program.
Although more than a third of adults worry that professional teeth whitening will damage their enamel, research suggests that their fears are unfounded. “There’s overwhelming evidence that, when used as directed, bleaching does not cause permanent damage to the teeth or gums,” says Edmond R. Hewlett, DDS, consumer advisor for the ADA and an associate professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry (and Schlater-Hewlett’s husband).
Studies have shown that it’s safe to undergo a course of bleaching a dentist-prescribed night guard, or a single in-office power-bleaching session—once or twice a year. But dentists are less confident about the safety of using the chemicals as simply another part of a daily routine.
In addition to tooth sensitivity, we have seen side effects that include gum irritation, bluish enamel, uneven whiteness, and—if the chemical manages to seep into a cracked tooth or an unfilled cavity—painful internal damage that can lead to a root canal. Except for that last one, side effects of teeth whitening products usually clear up within a couple of weeks, provided you stop using the chemicals.
Unfortunately, many people don’t stop when they should. “Ten years ago, people weren’t even aware of bleaching,” says Irwin Smigel, DDS, president of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics. “Now every dentist I know has had to cut off at least one patient because of over bleaching. People come in with great, great pain, and I can see immediately from the color of their teeth and the irritation along the gums that they’ve been bleaching too often.”
The urge to keep whitening may spring from the fact that teeth stubbornly refuse to maintain their same sparkling brightness for long. “Once you stop with the bleach, it regresses—your teeth start returning to their original color,” says Smigel. “Very few people are happy with the color once it starts regressing, so they’ll do teeth whitening again and again.” Dental laboratories are working to keep pace by creating new caps, fillings, and crowns in ever-brighter shades.
For some individuals, the pursuit of blindingly white teeth can become a true obsession. “There’s anorexia nervosa among certain people who desperately want to be thin, and there’s also a similar syndrome for people whose teeth are never white enough,” says John W. Siegal, DDS, a New York City dentist. This can go so far as to be classified as a form of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)—a distorted view of one’s features that becomes so consuming that it interrupts daily functioning and requires psychiatric treatment—says Katharine A. Phillips, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Brown Medical School.
In a study she conducted of 200 individuals with BDD, 59 of them, or nearly one-third, were found to be excessively focused on the appearance of their teeth and bleached compulsively as a result, regardless of uncomfortable side effects.
“I can see how addiction happens,” says Laurie Hardjowirogo, 54, a graphic designer from Manhattan. She first whitened her teeth 5 years ago, when her dentist made her a custom-fit bleaching tray. She touches them up once a month (most dentists recommend touch-ups every 4 to 6 months).
Call to schedule you appointment and sign up for our special on teeth whitening.