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White Gums After Teeth Whitening

Updated: Feb 5

White gums is a potential side effect from teeth whitening, which occurs when the bleaching material comes into contact with the gums. However there are ways to decrease the chances of it happening but it won't stop it completely.


white gums from teeth whitening
white gums from teeth whitening

Thankfully, the condition is not permanent so the color of your gingiva will revert back to normal. We'll explain the entire mechanism for how and why it happens. We'll also give you some tips on what to do in regards to the aftermath.


Table of contents:


White gum is an adverse effect of teeth whitening

If you are doing any form of teeth whitening, a common side effect is having the gums turn white. This occurs when the whitening gel spills over from being on your tooth to being on the gums. Essentially what happens is that the gums get whitened along with the teeth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), this condition is a form of gingival irritation.


Fortunately for all of us, the condition is not carcinogenic at least according to a systemic review in the Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry. They reviewed thirteen studies consisting of 5 animal studies and 8 clinical ones. None of them appeared to have caused any mutagenic stress in the oral mucosa after thirty days when compared to the baseline.


In other words, you don't have to worry about the white gums which is a part of the oral mucosa turning into cancer any time soon. Nonetheless, we just want you to be aware that it is a common side effect and that you should probably expect to see it happen over the course of your whitening treatment.


Other studies have also verified that white gums along with teeth sensitivity occurred in a significant portion of those undergoing the bleaching treatments. It is very common side effect associated with whitening!


Can you heal the burned gums?

Despite the gums getting bleached white during the treatment, the condition is reversible and it will heal when given enough time. According to a study in Operative Dentistry, the adverse effects on the gums were usually mild and transient in nature. In other words, the condition is not permanent so it will go back to what it was before you started.


optic white pro series - burned white gums
optic white pro series - burned white gums

The burned gums should resolve all on its by returning back to a healthy pink color without any intervention from you. However there are certain things that you can do which can speed up the healing of the burned white gums.


  • Stop the whitening. If the chemically whitened gums are hurting you, you should probably put a pause to the treatment. You need to re-evaluate whether or not you're doing the procedure properly at home. If you're unsure you should ask your dentist.

  • Rinse with salt water. The best mouth rinse to use in order to keep the area clean so that it can heal properly would be salt water. It is the most gentle rinse since it is not acidic nor does it burn. It is even gentle enough to use on tooth extraction sockets.

  • You can gently brush it. However, if it is a very severe burn you may have to stay away from brushing the area.

  • Take OTC pain medication. Taking a pain killer such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen always helps in relieving pain. It allows you to reduce the discomfort enough that you can continue on with your day. At the end of the day the condition just needs time to heal.


Things to avoid to prevent delayed gum healing:

  • Avoid spicy or acidic foods. These foods will irritate the burned gums and only cause you more pain.

  • Alcohol based mouthwashes. Mouth rinses that burn will consequently cause you pain.

  • Leave the area alone. If you keep playing around with the area, it will heal slower than if you simply left it alone. Let your body do its job undisturbed.


Basically teeth whitening is relatively safe for your teeth and your gums. There is no permanent damage from any of the side effects. Everything will return back to normal when given enough time to heal.


 

Why the gums turn white

The gums can potentially turn white if the whitening gel, which contains hydrogen peroxide happens to get on it. Essentially what happens is that the gums along with the teeth both get whitened. The mechanism by which it happens is exactly identical.


Hydrogen peroxide whitens teeth by diffusing through it and oxidizing all of the organic structures that contain stains. According to the Journal of Endodontics, the peroxide is so potent that it not only affects the enamel but also the dentin AND the pulp. The study found that hydrogen peroxide was present within the pulp chamber after 15 minutes of beginning the whitening treatment.


tooth anatomy
Credit: Mouthhealthy

However what you should be aware of is that the hydrogen peroxide only oxidizes the organic structures but leaves the inorganic intact. What this means is that it actually whitens more of the dentin than the enamel since the enamel only contains 2% organic substances as opposed to 20% for the dentin. The inorganic portion of the enamel consists of hydroxyapatite which is what gives it the hardness. The dentin on the other hand is a lot softer in comparison since it contains less of it.


The significance of this is that your gums contain mostly organic substances and not inorganic. You can literally demonstrate this by touching the gums and then touching the enamel. The gums are significantly softer yes? That is because it is mostly organic and not inorganic. What that means is that the peroxide WILL whiten the gums if it comes into contact with it and that is the reason they turn white.


Will a lower concentration stop it from becoming white?

Studies have shown that all concentrations of hydrogen peroxide can potentially whiten your teeth to the same level of whiteness. The only difference is that the lower concentrations require more treatment time as opposed to the more potent ones which require less time. This means that you can get your teeth whiter a lot faster by using a higher concentration product.


 

How to prevent whitened gums

The best way to prevent the gums from getting whitened is to actually not get any of it on it in the first place.


Tips on prevention:

  • Avoid the gums. Place the whitening gel on carefully and make sure to put it only on the enamel.

  • Wipe away excess. If you happen to get the gel on your gums, swab it away with a cotton tip.

  • Periodically check your gums. During the entire treatment cycle, make sure you check on the gums every few minutes. If you see any gel getting onto it, wipe it away promptly.


That is about the best that you can do. You just need to be vigilant during the entire process to make sure none of it gets onto your gums. If it doesn't touch it, it won't burn them. Nothing should go wrong as long as you follow the directions. Whenever teeth bleaching goes wrong it is usually due to improper use of the product.


Alternatives that provide better safety

You may be surprised but it is actually the over the counter products that you can use at home which are more prone to result in white gums. The reason is because none of the OTC products have a gingival barrier.


This barrier is made of a composite bonding material that is placed on your gums during in-office teeth whitening sessions to protect them. In other words, the gel will spill over onto the barrier instead of your gums if you happen to place too much.


What we're trying to say here is that the professional in-office whitening at the dentist is actually a safer option than you trying to do it at home. The sole reason for it being safer is that your dentist can implement a gum barrier.


gum barrier placement
gum barrier placement

That may have been a little counter intuitive to what you may have thought but it makes sense if you think about it! You're unable to make your own barrier because you don't have to equipment to do so. The gum barrier is a prescription only product and it also requires a curing light to make it harden.


Nonetheless, we do want you to be aware of the fact that even with the placement of the barrier on the gums, sometimes the whitening gel can still somehow sneak underneath of it. If that happens you will still have burned and whitened gums. However, as you can imagine, the collateral damage still would've been a lot worse if you didn't have the barrier as opposed to having it!


Conclusion

Having your gums turn white from teeth whitening is a commonly reported side effect. As scary as it may seem the condition is reversible and not permanent. It should heal all on its own without any intervention from your within a week or two after stopping the treatment.


Don't let this condition stop you from trying to improve the cosmetics of your smile! Just be more careful when you're doing the whitening because it only happens if you put too much of the gel and it spills over from your teeth to the gums.


If you're still worried, you can schedule a consultation with one of our dentists in Long Island City.

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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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