In order to determine whether or not whitening toothpaste is harmful to our enamel, we need to examine each individual whitening ingredient. After all, it is due to its whitening ability that makes it a whitening toothpaste.
Essentially there are two types of ingredients within it that can brighten your teeth and they are hydrogen peroxide and abrasives. The latter can only remove extrinsic stains while the former can remove both extrinsic and intrinsic ones.
Without further ado, we will examine each one individually and make a determination about whether or not it can damage your enamel.
Will hydrogen peroxide damage my enamel?
Whitening toothpastes with hydrogen peroxide in them may potentially damage your enamel. However the concentration of peroxide in it is usually very low so the possibility of it occurring are slim to near non-existent. These products were designed to be used on a daily basis unlike other whitening products.
The reason why we say it can potentially damage the enamel is because research studies have given mixed conclusions. However based on what we know how enamel interacts with acid we can draw a conclusion that it can and should affect the enamel. After all, hydrogen peroxide is an acid.
Research studies about peroxide and their effects on enamel
Overall the scientific studies weren’t the most helpful in our opinion since they gave contradictory results.
Studies which showed no effect:
- One study submerged specimens for up to 7 hours in bleach. After 98 hours they observed no differences in enamel morphology and microhardness.
- Another study found a decrease in microhardness after bleaching but it wasn’t statistically different from specimen stored in distilled water.
Studies which showed detrimental effect on enamel:
- Study found the longer the contact time with peroxide, the more it negatively affected the enamel.
- 30% hydrogen peroxide reduced microhardness of enamel and dentin.
- Another study found a decrease in hardness and wear resistance from peroxide exposure.
The effect of acids on enamel
Despite the contradictory conclusions from scientific studies, what we know about how acids interact with enamel gives us a clue as to what can potentially happen.
Typically when an acid comes into contact with the enamel, it will begin to demineralize. The acid begins to pull the tooth minerals, calcium and phosphate out of the tooth. Since it is losing minerals, the process is called demineralization.
Demineralization of the enamel occurs whenever the pH drops below the critical level. This means that anything with a low pH can cause it to demineralize .
Examples of low pH foods:
- Sweets like desserts, candies, cakes and cookies.
- Sour like salad dressings and pickles.
- Spicy like curries and hot sauce.
- Acidic like red wine.
Teeth whitening gel would fall under the category of it being acidic. It would qualify as a demineralizer of your enamel.
This may sound extremely concerning but this process happens on a daily basis because your teeth will start losing minerals immediately after you have a meal. Doesn’t matter what you eat because the pH will most definitely drop afterwards. However some foods will decrease it lower than others.
The good news is that you can reverse this process via remineralization.
Remineralization is simply the reverse process of demineralization. Essentially you add minerals back into the tooth. You just need to replace the ones that were taken out of the tooth.
- Brush with a remineralizing toothpaste that contains fluoride or hydroxyapatite.
- Avoid low pH foods.
- Consume a diet high in minerals that repair and strengthen your teeth.
Overall the process should be able to reverse itself naturally. Most individuals typically don’t whiten their teeth everyday and that gives your body time to remineralize the enamel. It is also not recommended to do so much bleaching so people don’t do it anyway.
Will abrasives damage my enamel?
The major component in whitening toothpaste is actually the abrasive system. Whitening toothpastes with peroxide are actually not the majority of toothpastes. Most of the so-called toothpastes with whitening actually do not contain any hydrogen peroxide. They simply contain an abrasive.
Studies have shown and proven that the abrasive system is the key functional ingredient for all whitening toothpastes. Essentially how they whiten your teeth is by mechanically abrading away stains on the surface of your enamel.
The process is akin to scrubbing your table which has stains from jelly jam on it. The physical scrubbing will get rid of the stain. However for wine stains on your t-shirt, that would require a chemical agent like hydrogen peroxide. The mechanical abrasion will not get rid of deeply embedded stains.
Therefore the abrasive is how most whitening toothpastes make your teeth whiter but being too abrasive can be harmful to your enamel. Fortunately for you, all ADA approved toothpastes are within the safety limit in regards to abrasiveness. Most of them are assigned a RDA value (relative dentin abrasivity) which lets you know how abrasive it is.
Basically, the lower the RDA value the safer the toothpaste is for your enamel. THe higher the value the more potential harm it can cause it. If you are concerned you should choose one on the lower end.
Caution about non-major toothpaste brands
The RDA toothpaste chart only displays toothpastes that are mainstream and well known such as Crest, Colgate, Sensodyne, Tom’s, and etc.
Non-major brands of toothpastes are not listed there so we don’t know how abrasive they can be. You should contact them and ask them how abrasive it is.
Another way to tell is to brush with it. Does the texture of the toothpaste feel gritty or does it feel very smooth? If it feels a bit on the grittier side, you may want to find out exactly how gritty it actually is! Hopefully it is not so rough that it can roughen up your enamel.
Nonetheless, most brands are typically safe so it is probably not an issue… However there have been concerns recently about activated charcoal toothpastes being potentially too abrasive. The black toothpaste may be trendy but it is currently not ADA approved due to insufficient evidence of safety and efficacy.
If you are using a charcoal based one, you should definitely contact their customer support and find out exactly what their RDA value is. If it is high, you may not want to use it as a daily toothpaste.
Whitening toothpastes should be safe enough to use on a daily basis so that they won’t damage the enamel.
The ones that do contain hydrogen peroxide usually have a very low concentration in it so the detrimental effects should be minimal. Most of these toothpastes have fluoride in them so it does help to remineralize the teeth at the same time.
Aside from that the only other factor you need to worry about is the abrasiveness of the toothpaste. If it is too abrasive it can potentially abrade away the enamel. However most toothpastes that are ADA approved and also FDA approved, should be within the safety limits for abrasivity.
However if you are using an uncommon toothpaste, you may want to figure out how abrasive it is before you choose it as a daily dentifrice.