Should You Use Light Enhanced Teeth Whitening Kits?

Should You Use Light Enhanced Teeth Whitening Kits?

Gregory Han
Apr 5, 2011

Last night I endured what I could rank was amongst the top 10 most painful physical experiences of my life. Just above having my wisdom teeth extracted, but less painful than sciatica, for hours on end my mouth was an active volcano of throbbing pain after trying out a big brand 2-hour teeth whitening system, a vanity project gone horribly awry, all for the pursuit of a brighter smile (nobody is smiling now).

The trouble started about an hour after removing the whitening strips, when the pain went from a reasonable "2" on a scale up to "10", hitting a crescendo somewhere in the upper "8" category (full details of the excruciating experience here). Apparently the porous surface of some people's teeth, most notably mine, can soak in the peroxide and result in super sensitivity only matched by a Michael Cera performance. It was around 3am I stopped feeling like my front teeth were going to explode any moment and I finally drifted to sleep (the lack of sleep probably explaining why I'm writing such a strange post to begin with).

Of course, only afterward did I begin to read the multitude of warnings online that often began with "AVOID!", "the misery, oh the misery!" and "...wanted to die". My teeth are modestly whiter, but I don't think I'll be doing this again, since the 2 hour application time is connected to a post 12-hour misery process that is only hinted about in the instructions ("mild discomfort" my %$#%^@).

So what to do if you can't afford a $500 professional laser whitening session? Apparently there are some home whitening kits that combine high does of carbamide peroxide gel and a small "laser bleaching light" (actually a LED light). Some are as low as $38, while other kits with tray-style and LED lights are offered for $78. The Luster 1-Hour White Tooth Whitening a whitening light purported to "whiten up to 6 shades in 1 hour" [insert grain of salt here], with a perplexing and confusing dichotomy of user feedback split between 1 star and 5 stars, with little in the middle.

Upon inspection, it seems like laser/light whitening products are dubious at best. There have been arguments showing the combination of bleach accelerating lights can dry, if not possibly dangerously heat the inside of your teeth:

When undergoing a laser teeth whitening procedure, the light hits the tooth at a very high intensity. The bleach on the surface of the tooth boils off into the air, which is the path of least resistance. Some bleach will infuse into the teeth and allow for some actual bleaching. As the light illuminates the tooth, darker colored parts of the tooth absorb the light rather than reflect it. This absorbed light is converted into heat energy. Areas of the tooth like the pulp chamber and dentin are the darkest so they heat up the most. This causes the tooth to heat up from the inside. As the tooth builds this uncontrollable internal heat, fluids in the pulp and dentin expand. This expansion pushes water out of the tooth through the protein matrix surrounding the enamel rods.

Looks like I'll be sticking to flossing and brushing, since even professional whitening has been noted to have limited effects (a clinical study showed that nearly half the initial change in color provided by an intensive in-office treatment, 1 hour treatment in a dentist's chair, may be lost in seven days). After last night's experience and reading up more carefully about what I thought was a fairly benign process(es), I think I'd rather have teeth that look naturally eggshell than artificially white and possibly dried out from within.

Further information about teeth whitening here:

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