If you are planning to use a do-it-yourself tooth whitener system, take the time to learn about the different choices that are available and the risks and benefits that are associated with each one.
The first thing that you should know is that tooth whiteners are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That's because tooth whiteners are not classified as drugs and do not fall under that agency's jurisdiction. That means that there is no official government oversight on a product which goes into your mouth and, eventually, ends up in your bloodstream through skin absorption.
The good news is that at least the American Dental Association (the "ADA") has taken an interest in tooth whitener products and has published a set of tooth whiteners "standards" for both safety and effectiveness. The ADA is not a regulatory body, however, and their proposed guidelines are strictly voluntary on the part of tooth Whitener manufacturing companies.
If a tooth whitener manufacturer so chooses, at their own expense, to present to the ADA evidence of product research and clinical trials which prove that their tooth whitener product conforms to the ADA's guidelines then the ADA will issue their official "Seal of Acceptance" for that particular tooth whitener.
Now, because the process that a tooth Whitener manufacturer has to go through to earn the ADA's Seal of Acceptance is so expensive and time consuming, many manufacturers don't even bother. This means that your first selection criteria should be to narrow down the field to only those tooth Whitener manufacturers who have shown their commitment to your health and safety by going through the ADA approval process.
The presence of the ADA Seal on your particular brand of tooth Whitener means that the tooth whitener product is not harmful to your teeth or the soft tissues of your mouth, and it also means that the tooth whitener will actually whiten your teeth.
This ADA Seal doesn't just apply to tooth whitener products that are designed for home use. The tooth whitener used by your dentist should also bear the ADA Seal. Make sure that you ask. Some dentists use a "generic equivalent" to an ADA approved tooth whitener. Generic tooth whitener manufacturers generally do not bother obtaining the Seal because they prove to the dentist, in the tooth whitener product's literature, that the product is formulated the same as the approved brand name product. Your dentist may make the choice to go with the less expensive tooth whitener if he or she is satisfied with its quality.
All of this discussion about the ADA Seal is rather academic, actually, because as of the date that this article was written, September 2004, there is no over the counter tooth whitener product which has actually earned the ADA Seal. That in itself should tell you something about the wisdom of doing it yourself.
At home tooth whiteners use hydrogen peroxide as their active ingredient while ADA Approved products, used by dentists, use a 10% solution of carbamide peroxide. This doesn't necessarily mean that the over the counter tooth Whitener is unsafe, it just means that it doesn't meet the ADA standards to earn the seal.
In the end, it's up to you to make the choice of which tooth whitener is best for your circumstances. Whatever you choose, read the label carefully and follow the manufacturer's instructions exactly. Never assume that two different tooth whitener products work the same way. After all, not all tooth whiteners are the same.
See also: Dental Hygiene