Are whitening strips (Crest Whitestrips®) bad for your teeth?

- Do strips cause harm? / Disadvantages and inherent problems associated with using whitening strips.

Is using whitening strips safe for your teeth?

Using whitening strip products, such as Crest Whitestrips®, has not been shown to be harmful to teeth.

  • Clinical research and trials have not identified any significant effects associated with using them. Even when used outside of normal recommendations (see below).
  • Over two decades of use by the general public has not revealed any serious long-term or irreversible adverse effects to teeth, gums or tooth nerve tissue.

That's not to say that side effects don't occur. They do but that is a separate issue.

Research studies that have evaluated the safety of whitening strips on teeth.
  • Duschner (2006) evaluated the effects of a 6% hydrogen peroxide product (Crest Whitestrips®) at twice the recommended exposure.

    The tooth samples were: 1) Evaluated for changes in enamel surface hardness. 2) Evaluated for structural changes using an electron microscope. 3) Tested for changes in their chemical composition. No deleterious effects were identified.

  • Gotz (2007) evaluated the effects of 13 and 15% hydrogen peroxide strips on tooth enamel. (At the time, the product used was a prototype. The exposure time used was 28 hours, which is roughly 3 times the level recommended for this type of strip when it finally came to market.)

    The same testing carried out with the Duschner paper above was performed for this study too. No deleterious effects were found.

  • White (2003) examined the effects of using 6% peroxide strips (Crest Whitestrips®) on tooth enamel using an exposure time 5 times longer than the one recommended.

    The samples were evaluated for changes in surface morphology, microhardness and fracture susceptibility. No changes were identified.

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Interpreting the above findings in light of today's products.

Since the time frame of the above studies, Crest® has discontinued it's 6% strip (Whitestrips® Classic) and has generally replaced it with 10% hydrogen peroxide products.

While this concentration is almost double, the treatment time for the 10% strips is half as much. The net result is a similar total exposure to the whitener when either type of product is used.

That means the 6% studies mentioned above are still valid in reference to today's products. And the Gotz study demonstrates that the issue that a higher concentration strip is now most frequently used poses no special concerns for tooth safety.

General disadvantages of using teeth whitening strips.

A) They can't be used to whiten side or back teeth.

One disadvantage of using whitening strips is that they can only be used to treat your front teeth.

Teeth whitening strips can only be used to whiten front teeth.

Whitening strips don't always whiten all of your teeth that show.

This issue isn't likely a problem for most people. But in the case where a person has a really broad smile, the fact that their front teeth have been whitened and their back ones have not may cause a mismatch that is obvious.

(This issue is not a concern with tray whitening technique.)

What can you expect?

In the vast majority of cases, a person will probably find that their whitening strips reach from at least eyetooth to eyetooth. But how much further beyond will simply depend on the overall size of their teeth.

Some strips are designed with this problem in mind. For example, Crest Whitestrips® Professional Effects has a longer strip for the lower teeth. Competing brands frequently mention a longer length as one of their selling points.

B) Using whitening strips can be difficult.

Another disadvantage of performing whitening treatments with strips is that they can be tedious to deal with.

  • They are sticky and relatively flimsy and therefore difficult to manipulate and easy to spoil.
  • When applying them you must touch them. This may cause skin irritation. Or you may inadvertently transfer whitener to other objects, which may damage them.
  • During treatment, strips should be monitored to make sure that they are still in place. Although, with the newer, more adherent styles of strips this has become less of an issue.
As compared to tray whitening.

For some people, using whitening strips is more of a struggle than just using bleaching trays.

When studying 24 subjects, da Costa (2012) found that more than 3/4ths preferred tray whitening to the use of whitening strips.

Different strips have different characteristics.

It's both a strip's shape, and the tackiness of its whitener, that helps to hold it in place.

And the specific strip design and whitener formulation used with different products does vary. And this can make some easier to wear than others.

If you've used strips in the past but had difficulties, the general trend nowadays (with newer versions of products) seems to be the use of a much tackier, almost adhesive-like, whitener. (See link above.)

C) Other at-home approaches may be more effective.

Published research has found that whitening strips are a very effective at-home whitening method. But we would anticipate that most dentists would consider tray whitening to have a slight edge on this issue. But when you factor in convenience, strips often do make an obvious first choice.

D) The whitening effect will fade.

This point isn't a disadvantage that's just unique to the use of strips. The whitening effect created by any and all systems will tend to fade over time. This is usually more of an inconvenience than a big problem.

Gerlach (2004) evaluated the use of two Whitestrips® products and found no significant color relapse after 6 months. These findings are on par with results reported for tray whitening.

Touch-up treatments are easy with strips.

The individual packaging that's used with whitening strips makes them very convenient for periodic touch-up work.

Just use the few that you need out of the box, then save the rest for the next time some minor re-treatment is needed. (For long-term storage, keep them in your refrigerator.)

E) There's no professional supervision.

Once again, this isn't a criticism that's unique to just whitening strips. All over-the-counter systems suffer from the disadvantage that the user's dentist frequently isn't consulted about their use.

But just because you can perform treatments entirely on your own doesn't mean that you have to or should. It's always the right choice to discuss your whitening plans with your dentist, before you begin. Their knowledge can help to improve both the effectiveness and safety of the process.



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