July 30, 2005 -- With the advent of over-the-counter tooth whitening products, attaining that perfect smile has become simpler and more affordable. But some people don't know when to stop, and their excessive use of whitener can cause permanent damage to their teeth and gums.
"People just want that Hollywood white, bright smile, and they are becoming obsessed with it," said Dr. Nancy Rosen, a New York City cosmetic dentist.
'You Can Harm the Gum Tissue'
When people abuse teeth whitening products, the results aren't pretty, Rosen said.
"The edges of your teeth will become bluish-translucent in color, and that is irreversible," she said. "Your teeth can become very sensitive. You can harm the gum tissue and burn it away."
Those obsessed with bleaching -- called bleachorexics -- don't even notice the damage.
"They don't see that their teeth are looking translucent," Rosen said. "They don't see they have a problem. But a dentist can tell."
But as long as consumers in search of a do-it-yourself brighter smile use the products in moderation and according to directions, "I think most systems are very safe and effective," Rosen said. "If you're not going to read the directions, any of these products can be dangerous. And there is no product that you can use, and use, and use that won't harm your teeth.
"My favorites would be the strip systems and the ampule systems," she said.
Rosen also recommended that consumers choose brands familiar to them and, once they have lightened their teeth, to take measures to protect their pearly whites.
"If you are going to bleach your teeth, drink staining liquid through a straw," Rosen said.