According to the American Dental Association (ADA), both over-the-counter (OTC) and whitening products you buy from the dentist are mostly safe and effective. Some products are even eligible for the ADA Seal of Acceptance. However, the ADA recommends a dental consultation before self-treating in order to avoid exacerbating any existing problems with teeth and gums, or covering up tooth darkening that would help a dental professional in finding potential problems [source: ADA].
In addition, the ADA also acknowledges that whitening agents can cause gum irritation and tooth pain and sensitivity, all of which usually go away when treatment ends and can be relieved with OTC pain relievers or topical numbing gels.
Another consideration before whitening is whether or not your teeth will respond to whitening strips or another method of bleaching. Dentists can look at tooth discoloration and recommend the best whitening method. Gray and brown tinged teeth won't respond as well, and sometimes not at all, to whitening strips, while yellow-stained tooth surfaces likely will improve with bleaching [source: ADA].
One other important consideration is how well consumers follow the application recommendations and instructions when using whitening strips. If applied incorrectly or pushed into the gums, extreme sensitivity and soreness may result. Using the strips too often and for too long also can damage tooth enamel and lead to underlying tissue damage below the gums.
Some dentists report that individuals can overuse whitening products because they like the results so much and keep applying layer after layer hoping for whiter and whiter teeth. When used in excess, however, teeth can become porous and enamel can break down. Just as when people bleach their hair within reason, a lightening effect changes the hair but doesn't make it break and fall out. Using too much bleach and processing for too long, however, will cause millions of stress points in the hair strands, as well as weakening at the scalp -- not to mention dryness and breakage of the hair itself. When tooth-whitening products are overused, the surfaces of teeth and the surrounding gums can be similarly weakened and broken down. Teeth can even become almost translucent rather than white, so heeding the recommendations of a dentist and the instructions for the product is advisable [source: Mapes].
Are there safer or more natural ways to get the whitening without whitening strips? We'll look at some options next.