The Lengths People Go to for Whiter Teeth

Many of us strive for whiter teeth. In fact, in the United States, we spend an estimated $1.4 billion a year on the pursuit of a brighter smile, with the average cost of in-office dental whitening ringing in at about $600 a pop. But how far would you go to get a whiter smile? For many Britons, that answer is pretty far. That’s because, according to a new study released by Sydney, Australia-based tooth whitening brand White Glo, nearly half of all Britons surveyed admitted to visiting illegal whitening treatment centers to achieve a brighter smile!

Here in the United States, the problem isn’t much better. With whitening kiosks set up everywhere from hair salons to malls, getting your teeth whitened has never been easier – or more dangerous.

“It may not sound like that big of a deal, but it really is,” says Dr. Alexandra George, a dentist in Wexford, Pennsylvania. “Because when you’re visiting an illegal practitioner, you could be putting your entire mouth at risk.”

That’s because, according to George, the chemicals used in some whitening treatments can cause serious injuries if not applied properly.

“The active ingredients in many whitening products can cause chemical burns to the skin, which in addition to being painful, if left untreated or improperly treated, can cause serious infection,” George says. “We’re talking gum tissue loss, tooth loss and even loss of portions of jaw bone.”

It’s not just a wild, “what if” scenario, either. In 2008, dozens of people in the Tooting district of South London were treated for severe chemical burns to the gums following “power whitening” procedures. Some of those patients had burns so severe they required skin grafts.

“A trained dental professional will know how to safeguard the gums and oral tissue from the chemicals used in whitening,” says George. “They will also know how long to keep the patient under UV lights, how to properly remove the product from the teeth after the procedure, and if there is a reaction, how to treat it.”

Dr. Alexandra S. George

Medically reviewed by Dr. Alexandra S. George - D.D.S., L.Vl.I.F. on November 1st, 2017