Is it bad to whiten your teeth? As it turns out, reaching for those over-the-counter whitening strips could actually be damaging your teeth in unexpected ways.
Emerging research released in 2019 suggests teeth whitening dangers now include damaging the tooth layer known as the dentin, a protein-rich area that binds the roots to the gum.
While much of the focus on tooth damage from tooth whitening products involves the outermost part of the tooth — the enamel — the latest wave of research looked at how whitening strips impact that protein-rich space underneath the enamel. This dentin layer consists mostly of collagen.
Is It Bad to Whiten Your Teeth?
Stockton University researchers in New Jersey investigated the impact of hydrogen peroxide — the active ingredient in over-the-counter whitening strips — on the collagen-rich dentin area of the tooth. As it turns out, the hydrogen peroxide seems to break tooth collagen into smaller fragments, wiping out collagen levels.
“The number one takeaway is that collagen seems especially susceptible to hydrogen peroxide. And while collagen can be replaced provided that the pulp is healthy, it is a slow process,” says Kelly Keenan, PhD, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biology at Stockton University
Previous research shows hydrogen peroxide’s ability to penetrate into the enamel and dentin layers of the teeth, reducing collagen levels. But this latest batch of studies explains how it occurs.
And just FYI: Another 2019 study found carbamide peroxide, another popular whitening ingredient, also penetrates and reduces the dentin in teeth, promoting “deleterious change in dentinal collagen.”
So How Can We Get Our Teeth Whiter?
Like so many things, prevention is the best option. “Anything you do outside of what’s natural for our ancestors has consequence. For example, ‘whitening’ is not a function our ancestors had to concern themselves with. And too much of the wrong interventions can cause health concerns,” says Mark Burhenne, DDS, founder of AsktheDentist.com and the No. 1 bestselling author of The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox.
And while the human body does have the capability to restore collagen, it may take several weeks or months to build collagen levels back up in the dentin. Beyond that, we’re just not sure how breaking down tooth collagen levels with hydrogen peroxide whitening strips will impact the long-term integrity of teeth.
Dr. Burhenne says preventing yellowing teeth is the best, completely safe option. Still, there are lower-risk ways to whiten teeth naturally, although the results may not be as fast or dramatic as hydrogen peroxide-based whiteners.
Many people blame coffee as the biggest culprit, but dry mouth causes more yellowing of teeth than any other cause, according to Dr. Burhenne.
“The teeth dehydrate just like the rest of the body, so hydration and nose breathing are the most beneficial practices to implement,” he says. “This can be through mouth taping during sleep or exercise, but also by simply being intentional about mouth breathing during the day.”
Now, if you do decide to go the hydrogen peroxide route even knowing the collagen-killing risks, he recommend working with a dentist to obtain custom whitening trays. This will at least reduce amount of damaging gel impacting your gums.
- Drink lots of water to stay well hydrated. “The teeth are dynamic, so they’re always changing,” says Dr. Burhenne. “Staying well hydrated will cause improvement in a short amount of time.”
- Avoid medications that cause dry mouth when you can.
- Try oil pulling, an ancient hygiene method shown to promote moderate results when tested for removing stains.
- Use a toothpaste with activated charcoal, which can help by binding to stains on teeth.
- Use mouth tape (Dr. Burhenne recommends the brand Somnifix) to avoid dry mouth, especially while sleeping.
- Grinding your teeth can accelerate yellowing, so it’s important to address the root cause of your bruxism.
- Nutrition also plays a role. Avoid sugar, acidic and highly pigmented foods. Work on remineralization through nutrition with foods high in remineralizing nutrients.
- Learn how to brush your teeth properly.
- Don’t rely on straws to protect your teeth. “Unfortunately, straws do not help — if you taste it, your teeth are coming in contact with the substance as well,” Dr. Burhenne says.
How to Restore Collagen Levels
Type 1 collagen is the primary type of collagen found in the tooth’s dentin, accounting for 90 percent of the collagen found there.
Eating vitamin C foods is a great way to support the body’s ability to manufacture more collagen naturally. Supplementing with a hydrolyzed collagen with marine and bovine sources can help support collagen levels in the body.
“It could be a great addition to prevention, as long as you focus on efficient absorption,” Dr. Burhenne says. “Collagen can be helpful to connective tissue, periodontal ligaments, gum health and remineralization.”
If you’re taking a hydrolyzed collagen supplement, be sure to try and pair it with a source of amino acids and vitamin C to make sure activating nutrients promote better absorption and usefulness in the body.
- Emerging research suggests hydrogen peroxide home tooth whitening strips can deplete the tooth of its collagen.
- The best way to avoid teeth staining is to focus on hydrating, a healthy diet and rinsing the mouth out well with water after ingesting acidic foods and drinks and more.
- Oil pulling and activated charcoal can also help moderately reduce tooth stains.
- To help restore collagen, eat vitamin C-rich foods to help the body manufacture more collagen and consider supplementing with a collagen powder that features type 1 collagen.