White Gums After Teeth Whitening

Written & Reviewed by Dr David Chen

White gums is a common side effect of teeth whitening, which occurs when the bleaching material comes into contact with the gums. That’s the unfortunate truth of the matter and it may be impossible to prevent at times. However there are ways to decrease the chances of it happening but it won’t stop it completely, therefore you shouldn’t stress out too much.

In case you were seeking solace, the condition is not permanent. You don’t have to worry about going through with an abnormal color of your gingiva. We’ll explain the entire mechanism for how and why it happens. We’ll also give you some tips on what to do in regards to the aftermath.

white paint

We want you to achieve the cosmetic results that you want so we don’t want this minor inconvenience stopping you from doing that. Now without further ado, let’s dive into this so you can be on your way to get your pearly white chompers.

White gum is an adverse effect of teeth whitening

If you are doing any form of teeth whitening, a possible but common side effect is having the gums turn white. This occurs when the whitening gel spills over from being on your tooth to being on the gums. Essentially what happens is that the gums get whitened along with the teeth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), this condition is a form of gingival irritation.

Fortunately for all of us, the condition is not carcinogenic at least according to a systemic review in the Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry. They reviewed thirteen studies consisting of 5 animal studies and 8 clinical ones. None of them appeared to have caused any mutagenic stress in the oral mucosa after thirty days when compared to the baseline.

In other words, you don’t have to worry about the white gums which is a part of the oral mucosa turning into cancer any time soon. Nonetheless, we just want you to be aware that it is a common side effect and that you should probably expect to see it happen over the course of your whitening treatment.

Other studies have also verified that white gums along with teeth sensitivity occurred in a significant portion of those undergoing the bleaching treatments. It is very common side effect associated with whitening!

Can you heal the burned gums?

Despite the gums getting bleached white during the treatment, the condition is reversible and it will heal when given enough time. According to a study in Operative Dentistry, the adverse effects on the gums were usually mild and transient in nature. In other words, the condition is not permanent so it will go back to what it was before you started.

The burned gums should resolve all on its by returning back to a healthy pink color without any intervention from you. However there are certain things that you can do which can speed up the healing of the burned white gums.

  • Stop the whitening. If the chemically whitened gums are hurting you, you should probably put a pause to the treatment. You need to re-evaluate whether or not you’re doing the procedure properly at home. If you’re unsure you should ask your dentist.
  • Rinse with salt water. The best mouth rinse to use in order to keep the area clean so that it can heal properly would be salt water. It is the most gentle rinse since it is not acidic nor does it burn. It is even gentle enough to use on tooth extraction sockets.
  • You can gently brush it. However, if it is a very severe burn you may have to stay away from brushing the area.
  • Take OTC pain medication. Taking a pain killer such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen always helps in relieving pain. It allows you to reduce the discomfort enough that you can continue on with your day. At the end of the day the condition just needs time to heal.
ACT anticavity zero alcohol mouthwash

Things to avoid to prevent delayed gum healing:

  • Avoid spicy or acidic foods. These foods will irritate the burned gums and only cause you more pain.
  • Alcohol based mouthwashes. Mouth rinses that burn will consequently cause you pain.
  • Leave the area alone. If you keep playing around with the area, it will heal slower than if you simply left it alone. Let your body do its job undisturbed.

Basically teeth whitening is relatively safe for your teeth and your gums. There is no permanent damage from any of the side effects. Everything will return back to normal when given enough time to heal.

Why do the gums turn white?

The gums can potentially turn white if the whitening gel, which contains hydrogen peroxide happens to get on it. Essentially what happens is that the gums along with the teeth both get whitened. The mechanism by which it happens is exactly identical.

Hydrogen peroxide whitens teeth by diffusing through it and oxidizing all of the organic structures that contain stains. According to the Journal of Endodontics, the peroxide is so potent that it not only affects the enamel but also the dentin AND the pulp. The study found that hydrogen peroxide was present within the pulp chamber after 15 minutes of beginning the whitening treatment.

Human tooth diagram - KDS4444
Credit: KDS4444

However what you should be aware of is that the hydrogen peroxide only oxidizes the organic structures but leaves the inorganic intact. What this means is that it actually whitens more of the dentin than the enamel since the enamel only contains 2% organic substances as opposed to 20% for the dentin. The inorganic portion of the enamel consists of hydroxyapatite which is what gives it the hardness. The dentin on the other hand is a lot softer in comparison since it contains less of it.

The significance of this is that your gums contain mostly organic substances and not inorganic. You can literally demonstrate this by touching the gums and then touching the enamel. The gums are significantly softer yes? That is because it is mostly organic and not inorganic. What that means is that the peroxide WILL whiten the gums if it comes into contact with it and that is the reason they turn white.

Will a lower concentration stop it from becoming white?

Studies have shown that all concentrations of hydrogen peroxide can potentially whiten your teeth to the same level of whiteness. The only difference is that the lower concentrations require more treatment time as opposed to the more potent ones which require less time. This means that you can get your teeth whiter a lot faster by using a higher concentration product.

How to prevent the gums from turning white

The best way to prevent the gums from getting whitened is to actually not get any of it on it in the first place. Here are some tips on what you should do:

  • Avoid the gums. Place the whitening gel on carefully and make sure to put it only on the enamel.
  • Wipe away excess. If you happen to get the gel on your gums, swab it away with a cotton tip.
  • Periodically check your gums. During the entire treatment cycle, make sure you check on the gums every few minutes. If you see any gel getting onto it, wipe it away promptly.

That is about the best that you can do. You just need to be vigilant during the entire process to make sure none of it gets onto your gums. If it doesn’t touch it, it won’t burn them. Nothing should go wrong as long as you follow the directions. Whenever teeth bleaching goes wrong it is usually due to improper use of the product.

Alternatives that provide better safety

You may be surprised but it is actually the over the counter products that you can use at home which are more prone to result in white gums. The reason is because none of the OTC products have a gingival barrier. This barrier is made of a composite bonding material that is placed on your gums during in-office teeth whitening sessions to protect them. In other words, the gel will spill over onto the barrier instead of your gums if you happen to place too much.

What we’re trying to say here is that the professional in-office whitening at the dentist is actually a safer option than you trying to do it at home. The sole reason for it being safer is that your dentist can implement a gum barrier.

Kor whitening placing gum barrier
gum barrier

That may have been a little counter intuitive to what you may have thought but it makes sense if you think about it! You’re unable to make your own barrier because you don’t have to equipment to do so. The gum barrier is a prescription only product and it also requires a curing light to make it harden.

Nonetheless, we do want you to be aware of the fact that even with the placement of the barrier on the gums, sometimes the whitening gel can still somehow sneak underneath of it. If that happens you will still have burned and whitened gums. However, as you can imagine, the collateral damage still would’ve been a lot worse if you didn’t have the barrier as opposed to having it!


Having your gums turn white from teeth whitening is a commonly reported side effect. As scary as it may seem the condition is reversible and not permanent. It should heal all on its own without any intervention from your within a week or two after stopping the treatment.

Don’t let this condition stop you from trying to improve the cosmetics of your smile! Just be more careful when you’re doing the whitening because it only happens if you put too much of the gel and it spills over from your teeth to the gums.


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