DIY teeth whitening kits
This fact sheet contains information for consumers:
- On the safe use of DIY teeth whitening products for use at home, including safe levels of the active ingredients;
- On the legislation which regulates the availability of teeth whitening products; and
- On hazards associated with the use of teeth whitening products.
This information applies to DIY teeth whiteners bought over the counter, on-line or dispensed by service providers, for example, take-home kits provided by dentists.
DIY teeth whitening kits have become popular amongst consumers looking for an alternative to dentist administered whitening systems. The kits can be purchased directly by consumers in pharmacies or via the internet.
How does a teeth whitener work?
Most teeth whiteners use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as the active ingredient. Hydrogen peroxide whitens teeth by penetrating the enamel and reacting with the stained or discoloured dentin. More peroxide generally produces greater whitening power. Carbamide peroxide also delivers hydrogen peroxide in teeth whitening products; an 18 % carbamide peroxide whitener is equivalent to a 6 % hydrogen peroxide product.
How are teeth whitening kits marketed?
The most popular at-home teeth whitening systems currently available on the market are:
- kits consisting of heat – mouldable mouth trays and bleaching gel
- prefilled trays (no moulding required)
- whitening strips coated with a gel containing hydrogen peroxide
- whitening pens – peroxide is activated by heat and moisture in the mouth
- paint-on gels containing peroxide
Dentist supplied take-home kits
Some consumers are supplied with take-home whitening kits by their dentists after being shown how to use them. They consist of customised mouth trays and individual doses of peroxide in syringe form.
Recent developments in regulation
Since 2005, the Australian Competition and Consumer Council (ACCC), which regulates product safety, has identified an increase in injuries involving teeth whiteners. Reports came from dentists (via the Australian Dental Association), Poisons Information Centres, the emergency departments of hospitals, and the media.
The ACCC has previously instigated voluntary recalls of DIY teeth whitening kits containing concentrations of more than 6 % hydrogen peroxide and/or more than 18 % carbamide peroxide. The ACCC also issued a media release to alert consumers as well as suppliers of the problem of excessive peroxide concentrations in some teeth whitening products. Major suppliers are now supplying products below 6 % hydrogen peroxide and 18 % carbamide peroxide.
Amendments to the Poisons Standard (Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons) in May 2013 mean that teeth whitening preparations containing more than 18 % carbamide peroxide and more than 6 % hydrogen peroxide are now prohibited from sale, supply or use except by registered dentists in a clinical setting.
Which teeth whitening kits can be used at home?
For short term use the recommended safe limit in DIY teeth whitening kits is 6 % for hydrogen peroxide and 18 % for carbamide peroxide.
Are there any side effects of using DIY teeth whitening kits at the recommended concentration?
The Australian Dental Association warns that there are a number of potential side effects from the use of teeth whitening products. Depending on the condition of your teeth some side effects will be temporary but some can be permanent. Some of the reported side effects of teeth whitening include:
- Reduction in the hardness and strength of enamel
- Damaged and inflamed gums
- Severe tooth sensitivity
- Irritation and bleeding in the oesophagus and stomach if some of the bleach is ingested
The longer that the bleaching agents are left in contact with the teeth, and the more often the products are used, the more likely it is that negative side effects will occur.
Whitening results can be disappointing if your teeth have not been properly assessed for suitability by a dentist. Crowns, veneers and fillings will not change colour and the whitening effect on the teeth may not last very long particularly if the ingestion of staining agents, such as coffee and red wine, continues.
Is it safe to buy kits on the Internet?
Australian Companies who import and sell teeth whitening kits on the internet must comply with the requirements of the Poisons Standard and the CCA. They are prohibited from supplying kits with more than 6 % hydrogen peroxide or 18 % carbamide peroxide to customers who are not registered dentists. However, kits purchased by consumers directly from overseas websites may not comply with the Australian regulations.
If consumers wish to reduce the risk of damaging their teeth and gums, it is recommended that they purchase kits from reputable suppliers, check the concentrations of the active ingredients, adhere strictly to the instructions for use and seek advice from their dentist when in doubt.
The use of take-home teeth whitening products containing less than 6 % hydrogen peroxide and 18 % carbamide peroxide is considered safe for short term use. Consumers are warned not to buy products containing concentrations of bleaching chemicals above this limit. Suppliers of teeth whiteners above the safe limits are in breach of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and the Poisons Standard. If consumers suspect an Australian supplier is in breach of the legislation, they should contact their State or Territory Department of Health and the ACCC.
Resources and further reading:
- Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, "Product Safety Bulletin, Safety of do-it-yourself (DIY) teeth whitening products for at home use, July 2013"
- Australian Dental Association Inc., 2011, "How much do you Really know about teeth whitening?"
- The Cochrane Collaboration, Hasson H, Ismail A, Neiva G, "Home-based chemically-induced whitening of teeth in adults (Review)", The Cochrane Library, 2008, Issue 4.
- Council of the European Union, "COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 2011/84/EU of 20 September 2011 amending Directive 76/768/EEC, concerning cosmetic products, for the purpose of adapting Annex III thereto to technical progress", Official Journal of the European Union, 29/10/2011
- European Commission, Scientific Committee on Consumer Products SCCP, "Opinion on Hydrogen peroxide, in its free form or when released, in oral hygiene products and tooth whitening products", 18 December 2007.