Teeth-whitening strips - Common side effects and how to manage them.

The two most common side effects people experience when using a whitening strip product (like Crest Whitestrips) are:

This page also outlines remedies for these problems as well as general tips for managing any type of side effect.
[Crest Whitestrips is a registered trademark of the Proctor & Gamble Company.]

A) Tooth sensitivity.

Studies suggest that between 1/3 and 1/2 of all people who use Whitestrips will experience some degree of tooth sensitivity. This is on par with that level typically reported for other peroxide-based whitening methods.

Why does it occur?

The sensitivity that's caused can be multifactorial. At least one aspect of it is due to an irritation (inflammation) of the tooth's nerve by the strip's peroxide whitener. The more concentrated the whitener on the strip, the more likely it is that this effect will occur.

What kind of pain is it?

In most cases, the sensitivity that's noticed is a heightened reaction of the person's teeth to hot and cold items, such as foods and beverages. Dentists call this "thermal sensitivity."

How much discomfort can you expect?

Since whitening strips typically involve the use of a relatively low concentration whitener, the sensitivity they cause usually comes on gradually. It may increase with each treatment, or just be most noticeable for those first hours following a bleaching session.

Since the sensitivity is usually just mild, and is fairly easy to avoid, it typically doesn't cause a great disruption in a person's life or even interfere with their bleaching schedule.

Tooth sensitivity - Remedies.

In the majority of cases, thermal sensitivity will fade, a little each day, once a person's whitening-strips treatment has been completed. (Performing treatments less frequently or using a lower concentration Whitestrips product can help too. - Details.)

Toothpaste 'for sensitive teeth' can often cure tooth sensitivity side effects caused by teeth whitening strips.

Try using desensitizing toothpaste.

It may be possible for you to control the amount of sensitivity that you experience by using over-the-counter anti-sensitivity toothpaste.

Many manufacturers make an anti-sensitivity version of their regular toothpaste. These products are often labeled with the phrase "toothpaste for sensitive teeth." Their active ingredient is usually potassium nitrate.

Relief may take some time.

The idea is that you use the anti-sensitivity toothpaste in place of your regular one, for some days and weeks, as it produces its effect.

(Prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste or gel prescribed or dispensed by your dentist can also be used in a similar fashion.)

Preventing tooth sensitivity.

As a way of helping to reduce your risk for experiencing thermal sensitivity, it can be a great idea to use anti-sensitivity toothpaste for at least two weeks prior to initiating you whitening-strips treatment.

B) Gum irritation.

Studies suggest that between 1/3 and 1/2 of all people who use Whitestrips will notice some degree of gum tissue irritation.

Why does it occur?

Gum irritation is caused by the caustic nature of the peroxide found in a strip's whitener. In general, the higher its concentration, the greater the likelihood that this side effect will be noticed.

Teeth-whitening strips can cause gum irritation.

The fit of the strips is usually the problem.

Unlike the scalloped shape of a person's gum line, the edges of a whitening strip are relatively straight.

This means that when a strip is positioned over the user's teeth, some of its full-strength whitener will come into direct contact with their gums.

Residual whitener can be the cause too.

In some cases, gum irritation can be caused by deposits of whitener that remain after a whitening strip has been removed.

For this reason, you should always rinse, wipe and/or brush your teeth and surrounding gum tissue after every bleaching treatment. Be sure to wash your hands and toothbrush off afterwards.

How much discomfort can you expect?

In most cases, the gum irritation that's caused is only mild. It typically does not interfere with the person's daily activities or even their bleaching schedule.

Gum irritation - Remedies.

In most cases, the gum tissue irritation associated with the use of whitening strips will gradually disappear over the next few days after whitening treatments have been completed. Performing treatments less frequently or using a lower concentration Whitestrips product may help. - Details.

C) The whitener may irriatate your fingers.

Besides just your gums, a strip's whitener can also irritate your skin. We discuss this phenomenon in greater detail here.


Tips for managing side effects.

If you experience side effects, halt your whitening treatments.

If side effects start to become a problem, it only makes sense to stop performing whitening treatments. Bleaching teeth with peroxide is simply a function whitener concentration and cumulative treatment time. Interrupting your regimen for a few days, as you evaluate your side effects and allow them to subside, will not significantly compromise your results (assuming that at some point you are able to finally finish using all of your strips).

Re-evaluate your whitening approach.

Once your side effects have subsided, you will need to make a decision. Should you resume your treatments, or have the side effects you've experienced been significant enough that having whiter teeth is simply not worth the discomfort?

If you do decide to continue on, you now have experience with what doesn't work. What you need to do at this point is come up with a treatment plan that will help to reduce your chances that your side effects will return.

Try using your whitening strips less frequently.

One plan that can be successful in helping to minimize the risk for side effects is to continue on with the use of your strips product but perform treatments less frequently.

Possibly you should only perform whitening treatments once each day rather than twice. Another alternative is to only perform them every other day. You will simply have to experiment until you come up with a solution that works for you.

Try using a lower-concentration strip.

Another solution involves using strips that are coated with a lower concentration whitener. For example, various Crest Whitestrips products have either a 6% or 10% hydrogen peroxide coating. The 6% strip (Whitestrips Classic) is less likely to cause side effects.

Evaluating your risk for side effects.

Start out slowly.

A smart way to test your potential for experiencing side effects is simply to ease into the use of your whitening strips. For example, if their directions recommend two treatments per day, then on your first day maybe just perform one. Just to test how things work out and see if you notice any hint of problems developing.

First-time users will benefit from a lower concentration product.

If you're trying out teeth whitening strips out for the first time, it's not a bad idea to start with an introductory kit, meaning one that contains strips that have a relatively lower concentration whitener (like the 6% Whitestrips mentioned above).

For the most part, a basic kit will contain enough Whitestrips to produce the same level of whitening as those containing more concentrated strips. The tradeoff is that it will just take longer to do so (more treatment sessions involving the use of more, less potent, strips). This shouldn't be much of an inconvenience, if it helps to insure that you don't experience complications with side effects.


Safety concerns.

Whitestrips treatment provides a consistent and controlled dosing of whitener.

Whitening strips are unique in the world of tooth-bleaching products in the sense that the dosing of whitener, per treatment, is extremely consistent. This is because the whitener is applied by the manufacturer when they are made.

In light of the unsupervised nature of the use of over-the-counter products, and concerns about safety, the creation of side effects, and product effectiveness, this is a nice feature.

In contrast, with tray-whitening systems the amount of whitener that's used for each individual treatment can vary by quite a lot (because the user applies it). It's been calculated that a treatment utilizing a 6% hydrogen peroxide strips involves one-half to one-fifth as much total peroxide as a comparable treatment using a tray-based system with a 10% carbamide peroxide bleaching gel. (Both systems should provide similar whitening results.)

This page details the safety concerns for the peroxide whiteners used with tray technique. Since the whitening science for them is the same as with strips, you should read it. As you do, keep in mind that concentration of the whitener used with strips is almost twice as high as discussed on that page, but the total amount of bleaching agent you use is generally half or less.

Whitening Strips (Whitestrips®)
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