Whitening strips are a popular way to fight stains and discoloration, but how long can you use them before washing them off? Here’s what you need to know.
You’ve just brushed your teeth for the first time that day when you realize something is missing — there’s no toothpaste! You reach into your bathroom cabinet only to discover it has been stocked with whitening strips instead.
What gives? Are these things even safe? And do they work as well as their marketing claims? Let’s take a closer look at some of those questions and more.
What Is a Whitening Strip?
A whitening strip is an adhesive patch applied directly onto your upper or lower front two incisors (or sometimes on both). The active ingredient in most brands is carbamide peroxide, which breaks down into oxygen and hydrogen molecules over time.
These products have become very popular because they’re easy-use, affordable, and effective. But where did this product come from, and why does it make your gums feel sensitive after using it?
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), “The ADA recommends brushing thoroughly without fluoride before applying any bleaching agent.” While we agree with this statement, the ADA also states that bleach should be used under professional supervision by trained dental professionals who understand its limitations.
It shouldn’t be used if patients have gum disease, periodontal problems, oral cancer, diabetes, pregnancy, heart conditions, kidney failure, liver disorders, current antibiotic usage, or taking blood thinners like aspirin.
This information may seem scary, but keep in mind that many dentists recommend regular visits to see one anyway. Why not help prevent possible side effects along the way?
Studies show that people get great results within three weeks of daily use as far as effectiveness goes. If you stick with it, you’ll notice an improvement in up to eight weeks. So what happens during the other six months of each year? We’ll discuss that next.
Can I Brush My Teeth After Using White Strips?
After getting my wisdom teeth removed, I was told by several different doctors that I would likely experience sensitivity in my mouth until I healed completely. However, I had read enough articles online to give me hope and confidence that I could brush my teeth afterward, right?
Wrong. I wasn’t able to brush again for almost four months. When I finally went back to flossing and rinsing twice a day, I noticed that plaque buildup and staining were still present. Fortunately, though, I found another dentist who suggested that I try using whitening strips instead.
Within days, my stained teeth looked and felt better than ever. Nowadays, I’m usually able to go two full days between cleanings, and my gums stay healthy.
So, although the ADA says to wait a while before brushing, it doesn’t mean you won’t want to brush after using whitening strips. Just remember that you’ll probably feel less confident doing so since you might think that your teeth will continue to stain.
Also, consider that if you develop an infection while wearing the strips, it will spread readily through your weakened gums and cause further damage.
If you decide to wear them for longer than recommended, always consult with your dentist beforehand. They may instruct you to stop using the strips immediately.
Can I Brush My Teeth Before Using White Strips?
It turns out that there isn’t too much evidence either supporting or disproving the idea that you can safely brush your teeth before using whitening strips. Some sources state that prepping your teeth somehow helps reduce the effect of the bleach, while others claim otherwise.
As with anything regarding health, prevention is typically best when dealing with whitening strips. Please take advantage of our tips below to protect yourself against potential problems.
Some dentists suggest leaving the strips in place overnight, while others advise removing them before bedtime. Then, some strips are meant only to be worn for a short amount of time, about 10 to 30 minutes at max.
However, one thing to note is that depending upon the brand, the strips contain ingredients such as alcohol, acetone, benzene, methyl chloride, and sodium hydroxide.
Since these chemicals irritate mucous membranes, skin, and eyes, it’s essential to follow the instructions provided by manufacturers carefully.
How Do Whitening Strips Work on Your Teeth?
To answer this question fully, let’s start with a quick review of how the process of staining occurs. First, bacteria break down food particles and turn sugar into acid—next, the acids bond with calcium deposits throughout your enamel layer.
Over time, minerals begin breaking down and releasing free radicals, attacking proteins and lipids in your saliva. Although your body produces antioxidants to neutralize the free radicals, sometimes the amount produced isn’t enough.
That’s where the whitening agents come in. They add oxygen to the area surrounding your teeth and essentially remove harmful substances from your smile.
However, despite being touted as highly effective, some drawbacks are associated with using whitening strips. One problem is that you must wear the strips consistently for extended periods.
Another issue is that you could swallow small amounts of the substance contained within the strips. In addition, according to the Mayo Clinic website, ingesting strips can result in stomach ulcers, internal bleeding, and intestinal blockages.
Finally, if you accidentally swallow a piece, it could travel through your digestive system and affect organs near your esophagus and intestines.
Of course, none of us enjoy having negative experiences, especially ones involving pain or discomfort. Luckily, there are alternatives available today. You can purchase special trays to apply strips and replace them with new tabs whenever needed.
Or opt for custom-made strips made specifically for you. Regardless of which route you choose, here are some guidelines to follow.
First, never leave the strips on too long. Ideally, it would be best to change them every 24 hours if the strips are meant to be worn for extended time wear. Most brands provide directions indicating exactly how often you should switch them, so check the package once in a while.
Second, ensure that you’re changing the strips correctly. Never pull them upward toward the center of your face. Instead, slide the bottom tab toward the top edge of your jawbone.
Third, it’s generally advised that you use separate strips for upper and lower teeth.
Fourth, make sure that you rinse your mouth after eating or drinking anything acidic.
Lastly, take care not to rub your gums excessively. Doing so could hurt them.
Now that you know how whitening strips work, it’s helpful to learn about some common side effects.
Side Effects of Whitening Strips
Although whitening strips are relatively harmless and convenient, they produce specific side effects. The known side effects are burning sensations, irritation, dryness, and soreness. Side effects vary based on individual reactions, the type of whitening product used, and personal preferences.
To minimize symptoms, experts suggest following these steps:
Use water rather than chewing gum after using whitening strips. Gum creates sugary fluids that react badly with the strips’ ingredients.
Be careful about biting down hard foods or grinding your teeth. Hard chews tend to increase the concentration of the peroxides inside the strips.
Try breathing through your nose to avoid inhaling air containing chlorine dioxide, hydrogen chloride, formaldehyde, ammonia, methanol, etc. These are commonly found in various cleansers and makeup removers.
Avoid direct sunlight, tanning beds, smoke, and perfume fumes. All of these factors weaken the effectiveness of the bleach.
Reduce stress levels to decrease overall anxiety.
Avoid hot beverages, including coffee, tea, chocolate, wine, and beer. Alcoholic drinks dehydrate your mouth and make your gums weaker, making them susceptible to drying and cracking.
Drink lots of water to keep everything moist. According to MayoClinic.com, this step alone can help to relieve dryness and irritation.
Stay away from abrasive scrubbers and brushes. Excessive pressure could harm your gums.
Finally, always consult your doctor before beginning any treatment plan.
For years, women have turned to expensive and dangerous methods to achieve whiter pearly whites. Thanks largely to advancements in modern technology, safer and more accessible options exist.
Whether you prefer lightning solutions marketed via OTC medications or high-tech procedures performed by specialists, knowing what you’re doing ahead of time can save you money and eliminate unnecessary risks.