Lots of people decide to whiten their teeth so they can achieve a more radiant smile and look even better on their Facebook photos. But while teeth whitening is pretty common these days, lots of folks accidentally expose their gums to bleaching agents that can lead to long-term damage or, at the very least, short-term discomfort.
You’ll need to apply over-the-counter whitening products continually for as long as you want whiter teeth. So learning how to protect your gums during teeth whitening is really important if you want to achieve a whiter smile for the future.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best ways to protect your gums while using whitening strips, trays, or other tools.
Why Can Your Gums be Hurt from Teeth Whitening?
While gum sensitivity can happen if you get your teeth whitened professionally at a dentist’s office, most people accidentally hurt their gums only if they decide to whiten their own teeth. Specifically, they irritate their gums when using peroxide bleaching agents like whitening strips.
Whitening toothpastes don’t normally have bleaching agents and instead brighten your teeth by more aggressively scrubbing away stains.
In a nutshell, bleaching whitening products contain either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. These compounds are great for burning away stains on the surfaces of your teeth, which don't have nerve endings (although the insides of your teeth certainly do!). However, if the bleaching agent is accidentally rubbed onto your gums, you could burn the gums and cause severe irritation or inflammation.
As with most home-use products, gum irritation from whitening often occurs due to user error or because folks don’t take the proper precautions when using whitening strips. But this also means avoiding gum pain is easy with the right preparation!
Do All Whitening Methods Cause Gum Damage?
No. Some teeth whitening methods, like certain types of dentist-performed bleaching sessions and some gentler tooth whitening products, don’t have the same risks for gum damage. You really only need to concern yourself with this if you plan to use whitening strips or trays consistently over the next few months.
Each time you expose your gums to the powerful peroxide bleaching agents contained in most OTC whitening tools, you risk further damage and greater irritation. The longer you go without correcting the problem, the more your gums are likely to turn red, accrue breaks in their tissue, and develop serious dental issues like gingivitis and gum disease.
Ultimately, it’s just smart to know how to avoid hurting your gums while you whiten your teeth. Who wants to feel uncomfortable or in pain in the pursuit of a brighter smile?
Ways to Protect Your Gums During Teeth Whitening
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to protect your gums if you want to whiten your teeth and improve the look of your smile. Let’s break those methods down one by one.
If Necessary, Use a Custom-Fitted Tray
The best thing to do is to use a custom-fitted tray if applicable. We'd always recommend checking with a dentist before using any whitening products, even our own. That’s just because the dentist can recommend the best whitening or bleaching treatment for your teeth and their unique shape and sensitivity.
A custom-fitted whitening tray is essentially a small retainer you set onto your teeth. If it fits perfectly, only your teeth will come into contact with the bleaching agent, leaving your gums undisturbed. Dentists are the only ones who can make custom-fitted trays.
Remember to Trim Whitening Strips
If you decide to use regular over-the-counter whitening strips, be sure to trim the strips so they fit your teeth. Most commercial whitening strips are larger than your teeth since they’re designed to fit the largest teeth possible in a “one-size-fits-all” sort of way. But this can accidentally cause the bleached part of the strips to contact your gums, which can cause sensitivity and pain.
Just hold the strips up to your teeth and estimate how well they seem to fit. You can use a sharp pair of scissors to get rid of any excess material. This isn’t a problem since whitening strips are disposable and are meant to be thrown away after being used.
Consider Using a Desensitizing Gel
You can alternatively use a desensitizing gel by applying the gel to your gums immediately prior to whitening your teeth. A desensitizing gel essentially puts your nerves to sleep, meaning they shouldn’t feel any irritation or pain even if they get burned from the bleaching product.
This being said, this doesn’t actually protect during teeth whitening. All it does is protect you from the effects. You might still feel irritation or inflammation once the desensitizing gel wears off. We’d again recommend talking to your dentist before going with this route since long-term exposure to bleaching agents could lead to gum disease or permanent damage.
It's more often a better idea to use a desensitizing gel as an extra measure, then still take other steps to make sure that bleaching agents don't contact your gums at all.
Get Rid of Excess Gel or Bleach
When you apply whitening gel or bleach to your gums, be sure to remove any excess gel as you see it. You can just take a tissue or similarly soft cloth and wipe away any excess gel from your gums. While you probably won’t be able to avoid a little bit of burning or tingling, it stops the gel or bleach from contacting your gums over an extended period.
This, in turn, limits the damage that can occur. Consider using a cotton swab or cue-tip instead of tissue paper if you want to be really precise. This is a great tool to combine with our whitening pen, although like all of Dr. Brite’s whitening products, it’s designed specifically to not irritate your gums or teeth. It uses only natural ingredients and is totally free of parabens, sulfates, and other harsh compounds.
Don’t Leave the Strips On for Too Long
Lots of folks new to using over-the-counter whitening products like strips or trays are disheartened upon realizing that it takes multiple applications for their teeth to turn noticeably whiter. This may lead them to leave the strips on or the trays in for much longer than recommended.
This is a problem. By over-bleaching your teeth, you could lead to long-term dental problems later down the road. Furthermore, this leads to more opportunities for the bleaching agent to accidentally spread to your gums, which can damage them.
Never leave strips on or trays in for too long in an attempt to over-bleach your teeth. You should only ever use whitening products exactly as directed, or else use whitening products that don’t cause tooth and gum sensitivity.
All in all, protecting your gums during teeth whitening is pretty intensive, which speaks to the power of many whitening products. But there’s an easier way to whiten your teeth without so much discomfort.
For instance, check out our Extreme Whitening Kit. This affordable collection of whitening products comes with whitening toothpaste, a whitening tray, whitening syringes, and whitening pens all in the same purchase. Best of all, each of these whitening tools uses natural ingredients and doesn't rely on overly harsh bleaching chemicals.
While you still have to use everything in the kit correctly, these products are designed to not damage your gums or teeth. Try Dr. Brite’s whitening solutions if you want a more radiant smile without many of the potential side effects.