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Teeth Bleaching Gone Wrong

Teeth whitening may be purely cosmetic in nature but getting it done is not without any risks. Teeth sensitivity and gum irritation are two of the most common side effects from bleaching your teeth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), these adverse effects are usually mild and transient in nature.


Burned gums from teeth whitening
Burned gums from teeth whitening

However, there have been news reports every once in awhile about teeth bleaching gone horribly wrong. In fact they were so bad that the bleaching actually left the individuals with permanent damage.


Irish woman with severely burned gums

According to NZ Herald, an Irish woman suffered severe burns to her gums after a teeth whitening session at a beauty salon in Monaghan. The woman alleges that her gums were severely burnt and that she has been in serious pain.


Certainly this can be described as teeth whitening that went horribly wrong. The photos that were in the article can certainly attest to that. The gums look like they've seen better days.


Is it possible to have severe burns on the gums like this?

Not necessarily severe gum burns but gingival irritation is a common adverse effect from teeth whitening treatments. However, the gum irritation is typically mild and transient when the bleaching product is used properly.


What burned gums from whitening looks like:

  • White gums (mild irritation)

  • Black gums (severe burn)

  • Pain in the area


  • Ill-fitting bleaching trays that impinge on the gingiva.

  • Excess whitening gel that spills over onto the gums.

  • High concentration of peroxide used. Usually the in-office treatments are much higher in concentration than the take home products.


Normally what happens with take home DIY whitening products is that you may accidentally get the bleaching gel onto your gums. However that should only cause mild gum irritation and bleach the gums white temporarily.


The gums will turn white because the whitening gel not only whitens your teeth but also the surrounding soft tissue. Since the at home products come in a lower concentration than the in-office, the irritation is typically mild.


If the gums do turn white, you don't have to worry about it too much. It usually will heal all on its own however there are things that you can do to help speed up the recovery of the burned gums.


In-office bleaching with high concentration of peroxides

However, in-office whitening products will come in significantly higher peroxide concentrations. This means that it has a higher chance of causing a more severe chemical burn than the take home products.

  • The opalesence go, which is a take home has 10-15% peroxide concentrations.

  • The opalesence boost, which is the in-office is a 40% concentration.


40% peroxide opalesence boost
40% peroxide opalesence boost

This means that if you happen to get a high concentration of whitening gel such as an in-office product onto your gums, you may sustain a more severe burn. However this is usually not very likely because if you get the whitening done at a legitimate dental office, they'll usually apply a gum barrier prior to putting on the bleaching gel.


The gum barrier is a filling material that covers your gums and protects it from being in contact with the bleaching gel. The barrier is usually very effective but once in awhile some of the gel does sneak in underneath and irritate the gums.


Basically what we're trying to say is that if you did an in-office session but no barrier was placed, there is the possibility of sustaining a severe gum burn. This is because the concentration of peroxide is multiples of what you use at home.


What could have been done differently?

Unfortunately for this woman, she should've had the whitening treatment done by a licensed dental professional. As per the news article, she had the bleaching done at a beauty salon.


We're not aware of any dentists that work at beauty salons so we're not quite sure how that was even appropriate to begin with. If she had the bleaching at a dental office, her gums shouldn't have gotten burned like that because there would've been a gum barrier that was placed. The barrier would've shield the gingiva from the peroxide damage.


gum barrier placement for professional whitening
gum barrier placement for professional whitening


UK woman loses two upper front teeth

According to Mirror, a woman from the United Kingdom ended up losing two of her upper front teeth after a horrid bleaching session at a Lancaster beauty salon. She alleges that her teeth started to feel sore and sensitive during the middle of the procedure but wasn't sure what to think of it.


Even two weeks after the treatment her teeth were still in pain. This led her to seek professional help from a dentist who informed her that her teeth needed to be extracted. That was how she lost her two upper front teeth and now she is pursuing legal action against the beauty salon since she needs extensive dental treatment.


Can you lose your teeth from teeth whitening?

We've never heard of any cases where patients lose their teeth from a single bleaching session. Sure the side effects are teeth sensitivity and gum irritation but losing your teeth is a bit of a stretch.


A study by the Journal of Dentistry tested the safety of various concentrations of hydrogen peroxide on teeth. They found the product to be relative safe for use especially at lower concentrations. All of the potential tooth irritation self resolved within a few days of stopping its use.


The only exception was a high concentration of peroxide that was used for a long period of time, which can potentially be cytotoxic to the tooth pulp. However what the researchers found was that if you simply reduced the concentration or reduced the treatment time, the product was safe to use.


This means that if the patient sustained permanent tooth damage from the bleaching session, she might've had a very potent gel that was used for an extended period of time. Longer than what may have been recommended.


Usually the whitening manufacturers tell you exactly how long you're supposed to use the product. It shouldn't cause any irreversible damage as long as you follow the instructions closely.


Someone may have been negligent and did not follow the manufacturer instructions!


Alternative explanation

Nonetheless, we do still find this hard to believe. We're more inclined to say that the unfortunate UK woman may have had pre-existing dental problems. Based on the pictures from the article, the woman did indeed lose 2 front teeth but it looks like she's been missing other teeth in addition to the two recent ones she lost.


She is missing quite a few teeth on her upper jaw, which tells us that there was most likely other issues that were going on. The bleaching session may have just been the cherry on top. If her teeth were normal and healthy, we do not believe she would've lost any teeth at all.


The worse that could've happened would've just been burned gums and pain for a week or so.


What should have been done differently?

Similarly, she should've gone to a licensed dental professional to get teeth whitening done. She went to a beauty salon to get her teeth whitened and that is not where licensed dental providers are located.


In addition to that, you should always make sure that you are cavity free and free of other dental issues prior to whitening. This is because bleaching is an elective procedure which does not fix any underlying problems that you may have. That's just good practice and common sense.


Commonality between the two teeth bleaching cases gone wrong

Both of these unfortunate situations where teeth whitening went wrong share similar theme. Both of the individuals decided to get "professional teeth whitening" at a beauty salon. Sure, there are beauticians at salons but they're definitely not licensed to provide dental treatment.


Teeth whitening is a dental procedure and should be performed by a licensed dental professional. If you get your teeth bleached anywhere aside from a dental office, you're going to run the risk of something horrible going wrong. You may end up with burned gums or even lose your teeth since the person administering the treatment is not an oral health expert!


In fact there have been studies which specifically warn against teeth whitening at non-dental office settings. There has been a lot of controversy and concerns in regards to getting whitening at mall kiosks, salons, spas, and cruise ships.


Takeaway

Over the counter teeth whitening products are generally safe to use without professional supervision. The reason is because the concentration of the ingredients are typically low enough to not cause you harm.


The in-office treatments however do require professional supervision since they come in a significantly higher peroxide concentration. In order to prevent mishaps such as having burned gums or losing your teeth, you should get the treatment done at the dentist.


Please do not try to get your teeth whitened at the mall or beauty salons. Those individuals wearing lab coats are typically not licensed dental professionals. You may run the risk of having permanent damage to your mouth if you do so! Our dentists in Long Island City recommend getting professional teeth whitening with a licensed dental practitioner.

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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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