Can you whiten teeth with gum disease?

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More than 30% of adults in Australia have gum disease (periodontitis), according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Yet, having gum disease doesn’t mean you have to give up on your hopes of a brighter, whiter smile.

 

Teeth whitening is a common cosmetic procedure for addressing stained and discoloured teeth. Treatment involves the use of a customised mouth tray and bleaching agents (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) to whiten and lighten the teeth. 

But what about teeth whitening and gum disease? A question I often get asked is whether teeth whitening is safe and possible with periodontitis.

 

The short answer is no.

 

Not the response you were looking for? Let’s explore some of the key factors to consider before you decide if teeth whitening is the right option for you.

Teeth whitening involves the use of a customised mouth tray and bleaching agents (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) to whiten and lighten the teeth.
Teeth whitening is a cosmetic procedure. It is best performed on healthy teeth—once any existing underlying issues, including gum disease, have been taken care of.

Are you on a periodontal treatment plan?

 

If your dentist or periodontist is currently treating your gum disease, they will likely recommend delaying teeth whitening treatment. This is because bleaching agents can cause irritation to inflamed gum tissue but also increase hypersensitivity. This can lead to pain and discomfort when eating or drinking.

 

For those with moderate to severe periodontitis, the irritation can be particularly severe. Bleaching agents can exacerbate existing redness and inflammation, causing significant pain and even damaging the teeth.

 

Do you have receding gums? 

 

When gums recede, they expose the roots of the teeth. Unlike the crown of the tooth, the root has no protective enamel covering. Coming into contact with bleaching agents can cause sensitivity. Also, if you already have thin gum tissue or sensitive gums, the chemicals used in teeth whitening treatments can put you at higher risk of gum recession.  

This is because the harsh chemicals (peroxide) in teeth whitening treatments can irritate or even burn the gums. This can lead to gum inflammation and infection, which is a leading cause of gum recession.

 

Do your gums bleed?

 

Periodontitis is a common cause of bleeding gums. Plaque builds up along the gum line. This can cause the gums to become tender and swollen and may lead to bleeding when brushing or flossing.

 

Teeth whitening can further irritate the gums. Thus, it’s better to address the cause of bleeding before having your teeth whitened. 

Do you have most of your original teeth?

If left untreated, periodontitis can lead to tooth loss. So, it makes no sense to whiten your teeth without first addressing underlying oral health problems.

Here’s another factor to consider. Teeth whitening doesn’t work on restorations the same way it does on natural teeth. Whitening treatments are completely ineffective on dental restorations such as fillings, crowns, implants, veneers or bridges. This is because some of the materials used, such as porcelain and resin, either don’t bleach or won’t produce the same shade as natural teeth.

It’s better to undergo tooth restoration treatment before whitening your smile. This allows your dentist to find the right shade of white to match your new whiter teeth.

Periodontitis is a common cause of bleeding gums.
Plaque builds up along the gum line which  causes the gums to become tender and swollen and may lead to bleeding when brushing or flossing. Teeth whitening can further irritate the gums.

Are your teeth sensitive?

Having sensitive teeth is a common symptom of gum disease. Parts of the tooth that are normally protected by healthy gums have become exposed due to gum disease. Unfortunately, if you have sensitive teeth—as a result of periodontitis or not—you may not be the best candidate for teeth whitening.

During or after the whitening procedure teeth can become sensitive, particularly to cold temperatures. Your dentist can advise on steps you can take to help reduce sensitivity. But whether or not teeth whitening is right for you really comes down to just how sensitive your teeth are to begin with.

 

Professional vs at-home teeth whitening

 

At-home teeth whitening treatments can be a great choice for people with healthy mouths. If you have periodontitis, your best option is to talk to your dentist or periodontist about professional teeth whitening.

 

Your dentist will assess the condition of your teeth and gums to ensure that teeth whitening won’t inadvertently increase sensitivity or exacerbate any existing symptoms.

 

They will also monitor the teeth whitening procedure to help you get the results you want with less chance of side effects. 

Dr Ed Ohlrich performing periodontal treatment at Eo Perio.
If you have gum disease, your best option is to talk to your dentist or periodontist about professional teeth whitening. They’ll assess the condition of your teeth and gums to ensure that teeth whitening won’t inadvertently increase sensitivity or exacerbate any existing symptoms.

Final thought…

 

Gum disease is common, yet frequently under-diagnosed. A periodontal check-up will assess your teeth and gums and determine whether you’re a good candidate for teeth whitening. 

If you’ve already been diagnosed with periodontitis, the first step is to get your gum disease under control. Teeth whitening is a cosmetic procedure. It is best performed on healthy teeth—once any existing underlying issues, including gum recession, have been taken care of.

 

By talking to your dentist or periodontist, you can get the results you want safely, without causing further damage to your oral health.

Anxious about treating your gum disease?

The good news is that no matter what stage of gum disease you have, treatment is available. Find out your options today.

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