Are Teeth Whitening Strips Safe When Breastfeeding?


If you’re planning to use a whitening strip on your pearly whites, there are some things you should know first.

When it comes to teeth-whitening products and techniques, the dental community is split down the middle over whether they can be used safely while breastfeeding — or even if they need to be avoided altogether.

That’s because not only do these treatments contain ingredients that may reach through mom’s milk into her baby’s mouth, but they also affect other parts of her body in ways she might not expect. So what does science say about using them during pregnancy and breastfeeding? And how safe are they for nursing babies?

Here we’ll take a look at what experts have said so far.

When it comes time for your annual dental appointment, don’t be surprised if the dentist asks about whether you’ve been using any teeth whitening products lately. Most teeth whitening products will likely have to do with strips or gels containing carbamide peroxide, an ingredient common in over-the-counter at-home kits.

If you’ve ever seen someone sporting a bright white smile while breastfeeding, then you might also see people wondering how safe these treatments really are. Is breast milk affected by them? And more importantly, can the substances pass through the skin into the baby? Let’s take a closer look.

How Do Teeth Whitening Treatments Work?

Teeth whiteners work by removing stains from the tooth surface or within the enamel. They usually come as two separate components: A bleaching gel applied directly to stained areas and an applicator pad designed to hold the gel and ensure even distribution occurs.

Bleaching gels typically contain hydrogen peroxide, but they may also include other ingredients, including sodium hydroxide and Carbomer glycerol lauryl ether sulfonate. These gels get rubbed onto stained spots until their color reaches its maximum potential.

Afterward, the user must wait at least thirty minutes up to several hours before rinsing off the bleach with water. At this point, the stain removal process is complete. However, it takes more time and applications for the treated area to reach full brightness.

For example, after just one hour or one treatment, the results achieved with at-home kits often still aren’t quite as dramatic as those produced by professional dentists’ office visits.

Whiteners can also help increase the apparent size of smile imperfections such as discolorations, dark undertones, and uneven coloring caused by melanin pigmentation. Melanin affects everyone differently, so not all sufferers benefit equally well from whitening.

Some people experience no change whatsoever in coloration after using teeth whitening products, whereas others notice significant improvements. Even so, many professionals agree that whitening does offer noticeable benefits such as increased confidence, better self-esteem, and improved social interactions.

The effects of whitening agents vary depending upon the type of product being used, concentration levels, and individual sensitivity. Most patients find that whitened teeth retain their whiter appearance for months following treatment.

Some users report milder side effects like stinging, burning sensations, and sensitive oral tissues that feel irritated or tingly for weeks afterward. This reaction isn’t uncommon among anyone who uses strong bleaches regularly, though reactions tend to become less severe with each passing year.

People who suffer from allergies or asthma are especially vulnerable to respiratory problems during whitening treatments due to the possibility of chemical fumes released by peroxides. Other risks associated with long-term use of whitening products include tooth fractures, cracked or chipped teeth, gum irritation, dry mouth, loss of nerve sensation, and heartburn.

Because of these possible complications, pregnant women and nursing mothers shouldn’t use whitening products without consulting their doctors first. Many health care providers recommend waiting until after pregnancy to begin taking advantage of the cosmetic benefits offered by whiteners.

Others advise against whitening altogether since studies show babies exposed to peroxides early in development display lower IQ scores later on. Still, the debate is ongoing if the overall chances of severe damage are high, low, or moderate based on the number of people currently using teeth whitening products daily.

As always, talk to your doctor beforehand to determine the best course of action for your situation.

Can The Substances In Whitening Treatments Be Passed Through Breast Milk?

Even though we now understand much more about the safety of specific medical interventions, including surgery and medications, few people realize that some forms of nonprescription beauty therapy can hurt rather than help.

One common procedure that could potentially harm infants is breastfeeding.

A mother’s breasts release milk containing fat droplets filled with fatty acids and cholesterol during childbirth. If those fats happen to land anywhere near her infant’s eyes, nose or ears, they’ll cause discomfort ranging from redness to inflammation.

Since lipids naturally attract moisture, the milk becomes sticky once the substance touches the surface. To prevent this, lactating mothers remove excess fluid from their nipples before breastfeeding by massaging the area with a washcloth dipped in warm water.

Then they wipe away residual wetness and keep the nipple clean throughout feedings. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop babies from getting sick from ingesting tainted milk.

In recent years, however, researchers have discovered a particular substance called retinoic acid present in breast milk that helps regulate gene activity in developing embryos. Retinoic acid has been shown to play similar roles in the human body, helping maintain healthy vision, bone growth, cell differentiation, and tissue regeneration.

Since retinoic acid is closely linked to vitamin A, which is essential for good vision, scientists theorize that it passes freely across the placenta barrier and accumulates in the baby’s eye within 24 hours of birth.

Although a small percentage of babies continue receiving vitamin A supplements postpartum, new research indicates that retinoic acid absorption via the mammary glands remains intact during breastfeeding. Because the presence of retinoic acid hasn’t yet been proven harmful, nurses and pediatricians continue recommending breastfeeding whenever possible.

For situations where bottle feeding is unavoidable, several steps can help reduce the likelihood of retinal toxicity. First, never let a newborn lick his fingers or put anything he finds directly into his mouth. Also, clean bottles thoroughly right after meals to avoid trapping food particles between lips and inside the opening. Finally, remember to replace any dirty liners in the bottle daily with fresh ones to ensure proper sanitation.

With proper precautions, breastfed infants can safely consume small amounts of retinoic acid without suffering adverse consequences. Though the exact quantity varies considerably based on age and weight, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting intake to 100 micrograms per day (equivalent to 1/2 teaspoon). For reference, 100 milligrams equals roughly two tablespoons worth of pure Vitamin C powder.

According to the FDA, nearly half of U.S. consumers believe it’s unsafe to combine certain prescription drugs and OTC medicines taken orally. So, how safe are teeth whitening strips when combined with other products? Read on to find out.

At least one study published in 2009 shows that teeth whitening may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Researchers found that even though participants showed marked improvement in perceived attractiveness, only 5 percent reported “highly attractive” ratings compared to 10 percent of control subjects.

Another survey conducted simultaneously concluded that 70 percent of Americans were willing to try teeth whitening at home, either alone or alongside another product like fluoride varnish, sealants, braces, or anti-inflammatory remedies.

Still, the authors noted that public awareness campaigns would need to focus heavily on educating consumers about possible side effects, particularly in terms of premature aging and irreversible changes to the tooth structure.

Is It Safe To Whiten Your Teeth While Breastfeeding?

Whether you choose to go ahead with whitening when breastfeeding depends mainly on personal preference, but it certainly isn’t advisable for mothers concerned about exposing their child to unnecessary toxins.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least four cases of poisoning related to whitening products took place between 2005 and 2006. Fortunately, none of the incidents resulted in hospitalization or death. Of note, three victims weren’t wearing gloves when handling concentrated solutions.

To minimize the chance of accidental ingestion, the American Dental Association advises against allowing young children access to the active ingredient contained in most whitening gels, namely hydrogen peroxide.

Furthermore, the organization cautions against giving kids younger than three years old liquid whiteners unless directed by a physician specifically trained in pediatrics. Older children, adolescents, and adults should follow instructions provided by licensed physicians to safeguard against accidents.

Although breast milk contains varying retinoic acid concentrations, there’s no evidence that babies fed exclusively via this route grow ill.

Regardless of the source, the bottom line is that pregnant or nursing moms seeking to improve their looks through whitening products should consult their healthcare provider before beginning any regimen.

Jason Smith

I am a Marine who now works as a Web Developer. I have five US States left to visit. I like whiskey, wine, and coffee, soaking in hot springs or in my hot tub.

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