Top Four Problems Caused by DIY Teeth Whitening

Cosmetic dentistry is increasing in demand, and when it comes to how our teeth look, the brightness and whiteness of our smiles are high up on the list. Since the 1980’s the popularity of teeth whitening has increased and with today’s social media feeds awash with ‘perfect’ smiles, the temptation of taking matters into your own hands can seem an appealing cheaper alternative to professional costs, and the market for do-it-yourself kits is buoyant.

Group of happy women smiling with bright white teeth

Popular DIY teeth whitening trends have included an array of products including:

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Fruit peels
  • Kaolin clay
  • Baking soda
  • Activated charcoal

With the lure of desired effects at a low cost, it’s important to understand both the short and long-term effects of using home whitening methods before you take the plunge.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that your teeth are stained by a variety of foods and drinks every day, these can include:

  • Tea and coffee
  • Red wine
  • Fruit juices
  • Tomato-based sauces
  • Berries and some root vegetables such as beetroot

Some stains may be more stubborn than others and require more than scaling or polishing treatments to remove them. There are some simple things you can do to help minimise staining from ensuring you visit your dentist or hygienist frequently, brushing your teeth regularly as recommended by your dentist, trying to limit certain foods or looking for alternatives.

Young male dental patient having teeth professionally cleaned.

For example, if you are a heavy tea drinker, trying to substitute some cups for herbal teas can help reduce the number of tannins you are consuming. Even rinsing your mouth out with water after eating or drinking something that may stain your teeth could help to minimise this further.

Now it won’t surprise you to learn that professional teeth whitening or bleaching products contain stronger materials than those available to the general public purchase, and therefore require expert consultation and administration. The benefits can result in not just whiter teeth but improvements to your oral and digestive health as well as strengthening your enamel.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for DIY products as outlined in my top four reasons not to whiten your teeth at home:

1. Teeth Erosion

The chemicals contained in DIY whitening products can lead to the destruction of your tooth’s structure, leaving them sensitive and in extreme cases, painful. Dental erosion is the loss of the surface of your tooth, which can be washed away by the chemicals and acids in whitening products.

DIY tooth whitening product.

Unfortunately, there is no way to ‘restore’ tooth enamel, as enamel isn’t made up of living cells, therefore any damage sustained to the enamel on your teeth is permanent. The appearance of erosion usually shows up as hollows in the teeth and wearing of the tooth surface and biting edges. Erosion, therefore, exposes the dentine underneath, which is much darker and yellower in colour than your enamel, the exact opposite effect that teeth whitening is supposed to achieve.

2. Tooth Abrasion

Tooth abrasion in some cases can help with the removal of discolouration from your teeth and can be found in certain kinds of toothpaste or treatments offered by your dentist. However, tooth abrasion can also be an unwanted side effect of some DIY tooth whitening products, such as activated charcoal.

Tooth abrasion is where your teeth start to lose enamel due to an external force other than usual brushing or chewing. The loss of enamel can lead to tooth sensitivity due to exposed nerve endings and sadly the damage can’t be reversed.

Example of tooth abrasion.

Tooth abrasion appears as a visible wedge or V-shaped indentation between the tooth and gum line and is often discoloured. Tooth abrasion can be repaired by your dentist with fillings that can help keep the area free of bacteria and food particles getting lodged in the gaps.

3. Affects to Your Dental Health

Your dental health is as unique as you are and when it comes to whitening your teeth, one size doesn’t fit all. When it comes to off the shelf bleaching or whitening products it can be very difficult to understand just how they will impact your oral health, and as such can result in a range of unwanted and painful side effects from:

  • Sensitivity
  • Tooth erosion
  • Tooth abrasion
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Gum swelling

Woman experiencing dental pain.

If you have pre-existing conditions such as gingivitis or periodontitis, harsh chemicals can further exacerbate these conditions and lead to increased injury or even delay of treatment for these conditions. Equally, if you have existing cavities, these may suffer additional trauma and become even more painful than they already are.

4. Prolonged Use Leading to Soft Tissue Damage

Healthy gums act like a seal and protective layer whilst supporting the structure of your teeth. Soft tissue damage can be caused when using DIY whitening kits, with effects ranging from irritation to burns due to the bleaching agents contained within them, such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide.

Spotting the signs of soft tissue damage can include a burning sensation, white spots developing on your gums or parts of your gum turning white and/or inflamed and in some cases, you may experience bleeding.

Female dental patient with red gums.

In some cases, you may find that your gums may also recede or retract and expose the root of your teeth, this may be more common if you have had gum grafts in the past or genetically thin tissue.

Seeking Professional Assistance

When used professionally, teeth whitening can offer you an extra boost of confidence and be the crowning glory to a gorgeous smile, but never at the cost of your dental health. Dental professionals can also help if you have already succumbed to DIY options in future-proofing your future dental health and potentially reversing any damage that may have been caused to your teeth.

Any dental professional will encourage you to seek expert guidance and treatment when it comes to a cosmetic procedure such as whitening to both protect your teeth and ensure you get the very best results and expert care.


Interested in learning more about the author?  Read more about Dr Halim Sbenati founder of Sbenati Dentistry.

Dental Health

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