According to statistics, cosmetic teeth whitening is a $3.2 billion global industry, with people striving to achieve that perfect, bright, white smile. However, with the variety of whitening products available over the counter and the easy access, some people are taking teeth whitening to the extreme. This extreme obsession with achieving the whitest teeth possible is now classified as a body dysmorphic disorder called bleachorexia. While teeth whitening, whether done through your dentist or at home, is a safe treatment, it is essential that you follow the instructions and guidelines and not use more than directed. But how do you know when you are whitening your teeth too much?
What is Bleachorexia?
Bleachorexia is defined as an unhealthy obsession with whitening your teeth and can lead to severe damage to your teeth and gums. Despite effective whitening results with normal treatments, people with bleachorexia do not see the results they desire and continue using teeth whitening products over and over, greatly exceeding the recommended use by the product and their dentist. In addition, many will also combine a variety of different whitening products, such as at-home whitening kits, toothpaste, strips, and mouthwashes.
This excessive use of bleaching products leads to damage and erosion of the teeth, extreme tooth sensitivity, and irritation of the gingiva, or gums.
Treatment for bleachorexia focuses on stopping any whitening treatment, as well as educating the patient on the realistic expectations associated with tooth whitening.
Many Factors Play a Role in the Whiteness of Your Teeth
When it comes to your teeth, your shade depends on a variety of different factors. To begin with, your natural tooth color depends on the structure and density of the tissues within your teeth. This is why some people are born with whiter teeth than others. The dentin within your teeth is what makes up your tooth color, however, the outer enamel places the shade over that color, and this is what is affected by lifestyle changes and discoloration. As you age, your enamel wears down and those stains can begin to affect the dentin. Stains within the dentin are irreversible and not affected by tooth whitening products.
- Extrinsic discoloration – This form of discoloration comes from outside factors, such as drinking coffee, wine, and dark sodas, as well as things like certain foods and smoking.
- Intrinsic discoloration – Intrinsic discoloration occurs when the inner structure of the tooth darkens or develops a yellow tint. This is often caused by excessive fluoride exposure as a child, the use of tetracycline antibiotics during pregnancy, or the childhood use of these antibiotics.
- Age-related discoloration – This is a combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic discoloration. Your dentin naturally yellows with age. In addition, your enamel thins, resulting in more of the dentin color showing through. Tooth damage, such as chips or injuries, can also cause discoloration to the tooth.
Teeth whitening products only target the enamel and do not address any yellowing or discoloration in the dentin. That is why some people may not feel they achieve their desired whiteness when teeth whitening. Unfortunately, repeated use of whitening products on teeth where it is the dentin causing discoloration can actually result in the appearance of additional discoloration. As the enamel thins, the discoloration can become more prominent.
Signs You are Over-Whitening
Using teeth whitening products too often or not as directed can cause damage to your teeth. Some signs that you may be overusing products can include:
- Increased tooth sensitivity – Tooth sensitivity is a common side effect of tooth whitening, but usually goes away quickly. If you notice your teeth are sensitive to hot or cold temperatures all the time, chances are you may be whitening too much and should see your dentist.
- Gum irritation – Again, gum irritation can occur with whitening but typically resolves within a few hours. Excessive use of whitening products can cause prolonged redness, sensitivity, and bleeding of the gums. In severe cases, the gum tissue may experience sloughing.
- Loss of tooth enamel – Excessive use of whitening products can slowly begin eroding your tooth enamel. This can actually increase the appearance of tooth discoloration as the dentin begins to show through. This also increases the risk of tooth decay.
- Translucent appearance – Enamel erosion can eventually lead to a translucent appearance, especially around the edges of your teeth where the dentin does not extend. Unfortunately, once your enamel is gone, you have no way of restoring it. Translucent enamel can often result in a blue or blue-gray tooth appearance.
Maintaining Your Smile Between Treatments
Often people overuse whitening products when it comes to maintaining their smile. While a whitening treatment lets them achieve their desired shade, a few weeks later they notice that stains are returning so it must be time for another treatment. This overuse is when damage can happen. Instead of excessive whitening, some behavioral changes can help you maintain your brighter and whiter smile until the safe time comes for another whitening treatment.
Taking care of your teeth in between teeth whitening treatments can help reduce the risk of additional staining and discoloration. Tips include:
- Avoid common staining foods and beverages – This includes things like coffee, tea, red wine, and blueberries. Other items that can stain teeth include mustard and spices such as curry and cumin. While avoiding these items may not be possible, there is still something you can do to minimize their staining effects. After eating or drinking, always thoroughly brush your teeth.
- Consider using a straw – When drinking coffee, tea, or red wine, consider using a straw. When you do this, the liquid bypasses the front teeth, reducing the risk of staining.
- Refrain from smoking – Smoking causes yellow stains to appear on your teeth. Stopping the habit will help keep your teeth pearly white.
- Regular dental visits and cleanings – Regular dental cleanings can help polish away surface stains, reducing the need for more frequent whitening.
- Whitening toothpaste – Use a gentle whitening toothpaste without peroxide as directed in between bleaching treatments. The mild abrasives in whitening toothpaste can help remove surface stains before they contribute to yellowing.
- Wear a brighter lipstick – If you want to make your teeth look brighter and whiter, consider changing up your lipstick. Colors with orange and brown shades can make your teeth appear to have a yellowish tint while blue and pink based colors make your teeth appear whiter.
- Cosmetic dentistry – If teeth whitening doesn’t get you the results you desire, consider talking to your dentist about veneers. These shell-like covers go over your teeth, changing the color and appearance.
Teeth Whitening is Safe When Done Correctly
Whitening your teeth is a safe and effective treatment option when it comes to delivering a brighter and whiter smile, as long as you follow the instructions and guidelines. This is true whether you are having professional whitening treatments or using at-home whitening products. Following the instructions during treatment reduces the risk of irritation and sensitivity while following the guidelines for frequency of use reduces the risk of over-whitening complications.
At SportingSmiles, we offer professional level tooth whitening gel along with our custom-fit whitening trays. The use of custom-fit trays helps to reduce the risk of gum exposure by making sure the gel stays in contact with your teeth while avoiding your gums.
Before starting any whitening treatments, you should see your dentist in order to ensure you have no underlying dental problems and to remove all plaque and tartar from your teeth. Your dentist can also evaluate your tooth discoloration and let you know if it is from surface stains or problems with your dentin that whitening will not address.
Going into tooth whitening with realistic expectations helps to reduce the risk of overuse. Your goal should be to achieve a brighter smile, not a blinding one. For those “Friends” fans, remember the episode where Ross over-bleached his teeth and developed that blinding white smile? Over-whitening like that can lead to enamel loss and irreversible dental damage.
Teeth whitening is safe and effective in moderation, but if you are bleaching all the time, you may be doing more harm than good. At SportingSmiles, our teeth whitening products come with clear instructions, and our professional staff are here to answer any questions or concerns you may have. Contact us today.