Is Whitening Toothpaste Bad?

Written & Reviewed by Dr David Chen

Whitening toothpaste isn’t inherently bad for your teeth because they were designed to be safe for long term daily use. That is in contrast to other whitening products which explicitly say to use for only a certain amount of days.

Whitening toothpaste on the other hand tells you to brush with it everyday twice a day. In fact, Colgate Optic White explicitly says that it is safe for everyday use.

Crest 3D white radiant mint

The idea that whitening toothpaste could be bad for you stems from the notion that long term teeth whitening is harmful. So is it unsafe?

In order to answer that question completely, we need to examine the two mechanisms for how toothpaste whitens teeth. This is because there are two types of teeth staining, extrinsic and intrinsic. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the extrinsic stains are removed via mechanical abrasion while the intrinsic ones are removed via chemical oxidation.

Therefore we need to make individual judgments about whether each of those two ways of whitening is harmful or not.

Whitening toothpaste removes extrinsic stains with abrasives

All whitening toothpastes contain abrasives that they use to mechanically remove extrinsic stains via brushing.

It is the friction from the physical brushing with the abrasives that removes the stains on the exterior of the tooth. That means removal via abrasion is NOT a chemical process such as bleaching the tooth. This is essentially how all whitening toothpastes without peroxide work to whiten your teeth.

According to a study in Clinical Oral Investigations, the mode of action for whitening toothpastes is mainly mechanical (toothbrush abrasion). The clinical relevance of that is the abrasive level seems to determine the whitening effect of the toothpaste.

  • The more abrasive the better it will be at mechanically removing extrinsic stains.
  • The less abrasive the less effective it will be at removing external stains.

That is essentially how the abrasives in your teeth whitening toothpaste works. The importance of the abrasive system cannot be understated. According to a study in the Journal of Dentistry, the abrasive is the key functional ingredient in whitening toothpaste.

  • The abrasive permits effective removal of extrinsic stains.
  • It also helps to prevent new stains from developing.
  • Despite the abrasiveness it is still gentle enough to not harm dental hard tissue.

Will the abrasives damage my enamel?

Despite toothpastes using abrasives to abrade extrinsic stains from your teeth, they are relatively safe for your enamel. They’re made to be abrasive enough to remove stains but not rough enough to damage your teeth.

All ADA approved toothpastes have an assigned RDA value, which stands for relative dentin abrasivity. What the RDA value tells you is how abrasive a toothpaste is and whether it is harmful or not to your teeth.

  • A lower RDA means that the toothpaste has low abrasive qualities and it is safe.
  • A higher RDA indicates that a toothpaste is more abrasive.

Here is a chart of various toothpastes and their RDA values:

Toothpaste RDA chart

The vast majority of commonly known toothpaste brands do abide by the FDA and ADA standards of being non-harmful to your teeth. If the whitening toothpaste that you’re using is on the list, it is most likely safe to use on a daily basis and is certainly not bad for you.

However what you should be aware of are the less commonly known brands or newer entrants into the market. They may tout a lot of benefits but there is a good chance that their RDA values have never been measured.

If you don’t know how abrasive the whitening toothpaste that you’re using is, you should definitely contact the manufacturer and ask them what their RDA is. If it is a very high number, it could be bad for your teeth. Better to be safe than sorry!

The least abrasive whitening toothpaste

For those of you who may be paranoid about brushing your teeth with abrasives, not all of them were created equal. Some of them such as baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is actually one of the least abrasive and safest toothpastes to use for whitening.

Baking Soda

According to the RDA chart, the only substance that is less abrasive than plain baking soda happens to be a toothbrush with water. You literally can’t find anything safer than that unless you just don’t brush your teeth. However that would be more harmful to you from a tooth decay perspective.

There are many ways on how to whiten your teeth with baking soda. You can make your own at home or an easier way would be to simply buy the Arm and Hammer brand. It’ll be a lot less messy and it is quite inexpensive as well since they don’t cost more than other toothpastes.

Whitening toothpaste removes intrinsic stains with peroxide

Some whitening toothpastes have hydrogen peroxide added to it so that it can chemically oxidize both types of stains, intrinsic and extrinsic ones. This is done to increase the effectiveness of whitening because abrasives cannot remove intrinsic stains which are below the surface of the enamel.

Crest 3D white professional

When a chemical agent such as hydrogen peroxide is added to the toothpaste, it gains the ability to oxidize intrinsic stains. The peroxide whitens teeth by diffusing through it and oxidizing all of the intrinsic stains that are embedded in the organic matrices.

Since peroxide can penetrate through the tooth, it can reach stains that are beyond the enamel surface. That is the advantage that a chemical agent has over an abrasive, which merely removes surface stains by brushing.

Does the hydrogen peroxide cause teeth damage?

The hydrogen peroxide concentration in whitening toothpaste is safe and will not cause any irreversible damage even when used on a daily basis.

Our body naturally has a defensive mechanism where enzymes in our saliva breaks down hydrogen peroxide. It is a protective effect to prevent peroxide toxicity.

Aside from that, there haven’t been any research studies which resulted in permanent harm or damage from using whitening toothpaste containing peroxide.

Salivary peroxidase

Unbeknownst to most, saliva is the enemy of all teeth whitening because it contains enzymes which can degrade hydrogen peroxide. Our saliva naturally contains salivary peroxidases that are meant to detoxify peroxide produced by the bacteria in the mouth.

Unfortunately, teeth whitening products utilize hydrogen peroxide to whiten teeth. This means that as soon as saliva comes into contact with the whitening gel, it immediately starts to break it down thus rendering it non-toxic.

hydrogen peroxide

It is due to this reason that the toxicology department of the public health of England says products with low concentrations of peroxide are perfectly safe for daily use. Most of the peroxide gets rapidly detoxified and only a minuscule amount even reaches your system.

In other words, even though hydrogen peroxide is an acid our salivary enzymes do protect our body from it. It renders it to non-toxic status and thus it won’t be bad for us.

Research studies about safety of hydrogen peroxide

There have been long term research studies of teeth whitening with hydrogen peroxide for tetracycline stained teeth. This medication can produce a horrid grey streak across the teeth when used during teeth development. It is a type of intrinsic stain that will not be removed easily.

According to one study by JERD there was a patient with severe tetracycline staining on their teeth who used a 10% carbamide peroxide solution daily. Apparently they continued this treatment protocol every day for an entire six months. When they did a follow up evaluation the 7.5 year mark, no long term side effects were noted.

In other words, OTC whitening with peroxide is perfectly safe for long term use.

Just to drive the point home, whitening toothpastes with peroxide come at an even lower concentration than the 10% which is used in the study.

colgate optic white pro series toothpaste

If it is safe to whiten long term with a higher concentration, the percentage in toothpaste is definitely safe.

Are whitening toothpastes without peroxide safer?

Whitening toothpastes with peroxide are safe to use but ones without peroxide are technically even safer. Despite all of the studies saying hydrogen peroxide is safe for long term use, it is still a risk that you are taking. It is always better and safer for you to not have to take ANY risk at all.

However, you must understand that if you absolutely prioritize safety above all else and don’t use a peroxide based toothpaste, the whitening results will be less effective.

According to a study in BMC Oral Health, which compared various whitening toothpastes the only one with a perceivable color change was the toothpaste which had peroxide. In other words, the most effective whitening toothpaste is one with hydrogen peroxide.

What usually happens if you use one without any peroxide you’ll simply barely notice any whitening effect at all. You’ll feel like you’re brushing your teeth everyday but they’re still yellow. If this sounds like you, you should really consider switching over to a peroxide based dentifrice.

Whitening toothpastes are still safer than alternative forms of whitening

Despite the concern over hydrogen peroxide toxicity, toothpastes actually contain one of the lowest concentration of it. All other teeth whitening products contain a significantly higher concentration of peroxide.

Opalesence Go

Examples of other OTC whitening products and their peroxide concentrations:

opalesence boost in-office

In comparison to these products, your toothpaste has a paltry strength of bleaching concentration since the most it comes with is just 5%. However it is due to this lower concentration which permits it to be used safely as a daily product.

You would be writhing in teeth sensitivity if you were brushing with a 40% peroxide solution everyday. After all, sensitivity along with burned gums are two of the major side effects of teeth whitening.

In conclusion, whitening toothpaste is THE SAFEST form of teeth whitening when compared to all other products.

The Verdict – Is whitening toothpaste bad for your teeth?

Taking into account all of the teeth whitening products that are available, we would have to say that whitening toothpaste is not bad at all. It is actually the safest form of whitening that is available to you since every other product contains significantly more peroxide than it.

Aside from that, the other concern about its safety lies in its abrasive potential. That fear is debunked since most of the well known toothpastes on the market are rated as safe to use on your enamel. In case you were ever unsure, you simply need to look up the RDA value for your dentifrice. The lower the number the safer it is to use on your teeth!

Last but not least, don’t forget to make sure that your toothpaste has fluoride in it so you can have all of its anti-cavity benefits. It also will not interfere with the whitening so there is no reason not to have it.


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