Tooth whitening has become so common that we can buy kits in the drugstore and do it ourselves. Whitening toothpastes, strips, and gels are readily sold as an easy, cheap means of improving teeth. But at-home tooth-whitening products carry a risk of serious injury for some users. These products usually rely on hydrogen peroxide as the main tooth-whitening agent; a chemical that can cause serious burns in high concentrations.
Last week, an 18-year-old in Scotland suffered third-degree burns after a tooth-whitening session went wrong. Abbie Kilbride just got her braces removed, and scheduled an appointment for tooth whitening. The specialist did not ask the teen about her health history, and began the treatment without performing an allergy test with the gel. The gel was reapplied every 10-15 minutes and the entire treatment took about an hour.
When the treatment was complete, Kilbride noted that her entire mouth had gone numb. By the next morning, her lips were swollen and blisters began to form inside her mouth. Kilbride received an ointment from her general practitioner, but it did not help with the pain. At a dental hospital Kilbride was told that her injuries were similar to third-degree burns, and the teen was given medication to treat the infections.
Kilbride’s injury isn’t unique. Burns from hydrogen peroxide in tooth whitening products have become more common, and as the products get stronger the injuries get worse. Last August a 22-year-old from England had a painful reaction to Crest 1-hr Express Whitening Strips, and spent 10 days in the hospital recovering from his injury.
Jake Barrett noticed a small bump under his tongue two days after using the whitening strips. The bump continued to grow until Barrett was unable to swallow. He went to the hospital where doctors discovered the bump was a sac filled with hydrogen peroxide, one of the main ingredients in the Crest whitening strips. The sac was extremely delicate and doctors worried that it could leak hydrogen peroxide down Barrett’s throat, causing chemical burns on his throat and possible hydrogen peroxide poisoning.
Doctors drained the sac through a hole in Barrett’s throat, and removed one of his back teeth due to infections from the peroxide.
High concentrations of hydrogen peroxide in tooth whitening products can cause a variety of injuries. In Europe at-home whitening kits are regulated to have no more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide, an amount that has little effect on whitening. In the United States, these kits regularly contain 10-15% hydrogen peroxide. Consumers should be aware of the dangers of these products leaking onto surrounding gums, lips, and other tissue and causing serious damage.
Before you get professional whitening done, check the qualifications of the practitioner. In some states medspas and other non-dentist practitioners are allowed to perform professional tooth whitening. Many states have laws requiring a dental professional to be present. Make sure your practitioner has strong qualifications before performing the procedure.