For years, there has been consistent demand for cosmetic dental treatments, especially teeth whitening. Professional teeth whitening is highly effective and can be performed using various techniques. However, these treatments can be extremely pricey, leaving many seeking cheaper alternatives.
One of the most affordable and convenient teeth whitening options – and the product supported by the most clinical research – is also the main ingredient in many whitening products: hydrogen peroxide.
Hydrogen peroxide is a natural form of bleach with a longstanding reputation as a DIY whitening alternative. Still, many people wonder whether the product is safe to use and how effective it really is.
In this article, we’ll explain how hydrogen peroxide whitens teeth, the type of stains that can be improved through hydrogen peroxide teeth whitening, and how to use it safely.
What causes tooth discoloration?
Tooth discoloration, also known as ‘staining,’ is a term used to describe changes in the color or translucency of a single tooth or multiple.
There are two major types of stains: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic or internal staining occurs inside the tooth. It may be caused by several factors, such as genetic disorders, antibiotics, excessive fluoride levels, or developmental abnormalities. Other causes include tooth decay, amalgam restorations, and pulpal hemorrhage or necrosis.
Age is also a factor in the development of intrinsic stains. As people age, their tooth enamel becomes thinner and more translucent, allowing the yellower dentin underneath to show through. Consequently, the teeth appear darker and more worn.
Extrinsic or external staining is caused by environmental factors and individual behaviors, including smoking, consuming highly pigmented drinks (such as black tea, coffee, and wine), and exposure to certain metals, such as iron and copper. Dentinal tubules in the teeth absorb these colored substances, resulting in various shades of staining.
Which type of stains can be improved with hydrogen peroxide teeth whitening?
The vast majority of whitening products are most effective in reducing extrinsic or surface-level stains. Unfortunately, these products typically do not have a significant impact on intrinsic staining.
Still, teeth whitening can improve intrinsic staining, depending on the cause and type of stain being addressed. For instance, brown stains caused by tetracycline or fluorosis may be more responsive to whitening treatments. But white spots due to fluorosis or braces may be more resistant to bleaching.
Can hydrogen peroxide whiten teeth?
Hydrogen peroxide is a mild household antiseptic often used for first-aid purposes, such as infection prevention and treatment for minor cuts and wounds. You’ve most likely seen this product at your local drugstore.
What you may not know is that hydrogen peroxide is also considered a natural bleaching agent. As a result, it can be found in most whitening and oral care products, including toothpaste, mouthwash, and at-home whitening kits. Essentially, hydrogen peroxide creates an oxidative chemical reaction in these products, working to break down color-causing molecules and lift stains from the teeth.
When performed consistently, hydrogen peroxide whitening treatments have been shown to brighten teeth dramatically, typically several shades lighter than usual.
Is hydrogen peroxide safe to use for whitening teeth?
According to the American Dental Association, hydrogen peroxide teeth whitening is safe as long as its concentration does not exceed 3%. Any higher, and the risk of enamel damage greatly outweighs the benefits of whiter teeth.
Higher hydrogen peroxide concentrations can also cause severe irritation to the mouth’s gums and soft tissues and thinning of tooth enamel, especially if used for prolonged periods. Moreover, once it’s gone, enamel doesn’t grow back. So, it’s critical to use extreme caution when using DIY whitening techniques or high concentrations of whitening gel.
Experts also recommend consulting your general dentist before trying a new whitening treatment. Dentists are highly knowledgeable about whitening techniques and can help you determine which treatment will be the safest and most effective for your teeth.
Is tooth whitening safe for everyone?
Although most treatments are appropriate for the average person to use, not everyone is a good candidate for teeth whitening.
For example, whitening is not recommended if you have thin enamel, failing or leaking dental restorations, inflamed gums, or cavities. At the very least, people with these conditions should check with their dentist before starting a tooth whitening regimen.
How to use hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening
There are two ways to use hydrogen peroxide for tooth whitening. You can make a homemade whitening mouthwash or a paste with hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. Both options are simple to put together and made with cheap, easy-to-find ingredients.
Homemade hydrogen peroxide mouthwash
To make a homemade hydrogen peroxide rinse, combine one part water and one part 3% hydrogen peroxide in a small cup. Mix thoroughly, then swish the liquid in your mouth for about a minute, taking particular care to avoid swallowing any of the solution. Stop and spit out the mixture the moment you feel any burning or irritation.
Hydrogen peroxide paste
Hydrogen peroxide paste is another homemade whitening solution that may reduce or even remove minor stains. To make this whitening treatment, mix a few teaspoons of baking soda in a dish with small amounts of hydrogen peroxide until it creates a smooth, thick paste. Then, use a toothbrush to apply the paste directly to the teeth.
Using circular motions, brush with the paste for approximately two minutes. Like mouth rinses, it’s critical to avoid swallowing hydrogen peroxide pastes while brushing your teeth. Additionally, be sure to end your DIY whitening treatment by rinsing your mouth out thoroughly with water.
How long does it take to see results?
The amount of time it takes to whiten teeth depends on many factors, including the severity of the staining, its cause, and the type of whitening treatment used. However, most professional whitening treatments take about 3-4 weeks to whiten teeth.
It will take longer to see results from over-the-counter and homemade whitening treatments. Typically, at least a month of consistent use is required to achieve significantly whiter teeth. Still, some people notice a difference after just one day of using hydrogen peroxide whitening solutions.
Most importantly, remain patient and avoid using higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide to speed up your results. Increasing the potency of your treatment may help it work faster, but it could also leave you with painful and permanent damage to your teeth.
Hydrogen peroxide teeth whitening side effects
The most common side effect of teeth whitening treatments, whether homemade or professional, is gum and tooth sensitivity.
Temporary tooth sensitivity is a risk associated with all forms of whitening, including hydrogen peroxide-based treatments. Fortunately, they are generally mild and short-lived. However, the risk of adverse effects is increased if:
- You leave the whitening treatment on your teeth longer than recommended (the recommended time varies depending on your chosen product).
- You use the treatment more frequently than recommended (typically once per day)
- The whitening treatment has dangerously high concentrations of bleaching ingredients (more than 3% hydrogen peroxide for DIY treatments)
Chemical burns to the gums, tongue, and other oral tissues have been reported after using greater than 3% concentrated hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening. In the worst-case scenarios, particularly high concentrations can cause tissue necrosis or death. This risk is also why no DIY whitening treatment should be used for a prolonged period.
Play it safe, and use a less concentrated hydrogen peroxide solution, a shorter treatment time, or both to avoid any adverse effects.
Alternative teeth whitening treatments
Although hydrogen peroxide can be effective for removing minor tooth staining, many other options are available to whiten your teeth. Consult your dentist to determine which treatment will be best for you.
Over-the-counter teeth whitening products
Many teeth whitening products are available online and at your local drugstore, including whitening strips, kits, toothpaste, mouthwash, and pens. These over-the-counter options are a great alternative to professional treatments as they are far less expensive but still highly effective in whitening teeth.
The most common active ingredient in drugstore whitening products is hydrogen peroxide diluted to about 3%. Like all whitening treatments, tooth or gum sensitivity is possible regardless of your chosen product. However, for people who already have sensitive teeth, LED whitening kits are a better option than whitening strips or trays because they require less time on the teeth.
Above all, be sure only to purchase products that bear the ADA Seal of Acceptance. This seal signifies that the product meets the ADA’s requirements for safety and effectiveness when used as directed.
DIY teeth whitening
Aside from hydrogen peroxide solutions, many other DIY whitening treatments can be made at home using ingredients like:
- Baking soda
- Lemon juice
- Coconut oil
- Apple cider vinegar
Keep in mind though, while there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest these home remedies are effective, there is very little scientific evidence to support their use. Furthermore, the ADA does not recommend any of these methods for teeth whitening.
Professional teeth whitening treatments
The safest and most effective options to whiten your teeth are professional whitening treatments performed by a dentist. Professional teeth whitening is indeed much more expensive than store bought or homemade treatments, but it’s often worth the price.
Dentists provide personalized whitening recommendations, which may include a combination of treatments to achieve maximum results. They can also safely use products with higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, some up to 10%, resulting in more dramatic shade changes and longer-lasting effects.
Tips to prevent tooth staining and discoloration
The easiest way to keep your teeth clean and stain-free is by brushing and flossing daily and keeping up with your bi-annual cleanings.
You can also preserve your teeth’s brightness by avoiding certain stain-causing foods and drinks, such as:
- Carbonated beverages, which may make the teeth more susceptible to staining
- Berries, including strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries
- Tomato-based sauces
- Energy drinks
- Citrus fruits
- Red wine
If you consume these foods and drinks, just be sure to rinse or brush your teeth afterward to prevent discoloration.
As the primary ingredient in most over-the-counter and professional whitening treatments, hydrogen peroxide is well-known as a natural bleaching agent. Hydrogen peroxide teeth whitening products can reduce or even eliminate many types of staining, including intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (surface level) stains.
When used correctly, hydrogen peroxide can also be mixed into a homemade solution to whiten your teeth safely and effectively at home. The most popular methods are to swish with a diluted (3% or less) hydrogen peroxide mouthwash or brush the teeth with a hydrogen peroxide and baking soda paste.
Regardless of the home remedy you choose, it’s important never to exceed the recommended treatment time or use a solution with a hydrogen peroxide concentration greater than 3%. Although gum and tissue sensitivity are common after any teeth whitening procedure, the risk of these adverse effects is increased when using higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide or leaving the product on your teeth too long.
Is it OK to use hydrogen peroxide to whiten teeth?
Hydrogen peroxide-based treatments are a common and effective way to whiten your teeth from the comfort of your own home. However, it’s highly recommended that you only use whitening products formulated with peroxide. DIY hydrogen peroxide can severely damage your teeth and gums if used incorrectly or for too long. To avoid irritation and tooth sensitivity, always use a low (less than 3%) concentration of hydrogen peroxide, and don’t use it too often or for too long.
How long does it take for hydrogen peroxide to whiten?
How long it takes to whiten your teeth with hydrogen peroxide will depend on several factors, including the condition of your teeth, the reason for the discoloration, and the type of whitening treatment you choose. Generally, it takes at least four weeks of consistent use to see significant results.
What is the quickest way to whiten teeth?
The quickest, safest, and most dramatic way to whiten teeth is to visit a dentist for an in-office, customized whitening treatment. Dentists use professional-strength hydrogen peroxide (with some concentrations as high as 10%) and special lights and lasers to reduce or remove even the deepest stains in less than an hour.
Are there other ways to whiten your teeth at home?
Although not backed or approved by the ADA, various grocery store products, including coconut oil, baking soda, and apple cider vinegar, may naturally whiten your teeth. Most of these methods are not recommended due to the potential for enamel erosion, especially from acidity.