One theme we return to a lot here is the often overlooked costs of short-term solutions. It’s human nature, of course, to seek shortcuts and instant gratification, but when it comes to health matters – dental or otherwise – they too often can cause new problems to replace the ones they solve.

New research on tooth bleaching offers another reminder of why it’s good to keep the big picture in mind.

Published in the Journal of Dentistry, this research review found that light-accelerated whitening is more apt to cause tooth sensitivity or make it worse.

“Tooth sensitivity is the most frequently reported side effect after vital tooth bleaching,” the authors wrote. “Our pooled analysis suggests that a light-activated system is likely to increase the occurrence or severity of tooth sensitivity.”

Of course, if you’ve never experienced sensitive teeth, it may not sound like anything too awful. Those who have dealt with it, though, might beg to differ. It can be its own special kind of hell – a little like, say, the worst ice-induced “brain freeze” you’ve ever had or the shock of accidentally biting really hard on an unpopped popcorn kernel, only happening over and over again. So you get a little cautious at mealtimes, not wanting to set off the cascade of pain by eating something too hot or cold or hard. You may, unfortunately, get a little lax about brushing and other oral hygiene, which can likewise trigger the pain.

But we digress.

Because light increases the risk of sensitivity during in-office bleaching, clinicians may need to reconsider the rational application of bleaching lamps, the authors noted. Also, when light activated bleaching procedures are conducted, dentists should follow the manufacturer’s instructions to limit the duration of light activation, especially to minimize undesired pulpal responses.

Dr. Bicuspid notes that a study published last year in Operative Dentistry reached similar conclusions about the use of LED and laser in particular:

“After two bleaching sessions, the use of LED/laser light activation did not improve bleaching speed,” the study authors wrote. “Persistent tooth sensitivity and higher tooth sensitivity after 24 hours of bleaching were observed when light activation was used.”

Interestingly, the current study authors found that light treatments tended to be more effective with lower concentrations of hydrogen peroxide.

“Light increases the risk of tooth sensitivity during in-office bleaching, and light may not improve the bleaching effect when high concentrations of HP (25% to 35%) are employed,” the authors concluded. “Therefore, dentists should use the light-activated system with great caution or avoid its use altogether.”

As with any cosmetic procedure, the choice of bleaching your teeth is up to you. But as a provider of biological dental services, we believe that every health choice should be an informed one. And the only way choice can be truly informed is by weighing pros and cons, benefits and costs; by understanding your options and both the promise and risks each one carries.

Even for something as “simple” as tooth bleaching.

If you’re considering it for yourself, here are some good things to keep in mind.

Image by jon|k, via Flickr

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