• Rich Barlow

    Senior Writer

    Photo: Headshot of Rich Barlow, an older white man with dark grey hair and wearing a grey shirt and grey-blue blazer, smiles and poses in front of a dark grey backdrop.

    Rich Barlow is a senior writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. Perhaps the only native of Trenton, N.J., who will volunteer his birthplace without police interrogation, he graduated from Dartmouth College, spent 20 years as a small-town newspaper reporter, and is a former Boston Globe religion columnist, book reviewer, and occasional op-ed contributor. Profile

Comments & Discussion

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There are 55 comments on The Truth about Teeth Whiteners

  1. Dr. Cataldo did not address the chemistry that occurs at the tooth’s surface that is part of the whitening process. My dentist told me that hydrogen peroxide, which is used in many or perhaps all teeth whiteners that are on the market (over the counter or not) removes stained tooth enamel… and it’s a permanent loss. Additionally, he said that toothpastes with whiteners actually have fine grit in them, so essentially the user is sanding off the protective enamel coating over time. He said that no one should be whitening his/her teeth. Would Dr. Cataldo agree?

    1. Jane
      The hydrogen peroxide that is in most tooth whiteners has absolutely no effect on tooth enamel other than to remove the stain. No enamel is lost during the process.

      However you are right with your comment that abrasive toothpastes can, over time and with excessive use, cause loss of tooth enamel through abrasion.

      Dr. Cataldo

      1. Hi. This is sgt Rodriguez my teeth has been yellow since I been a teen. And now I’m in the army and I’ve bleached my teeth 3 times but it does not work on me. The first time they really whiten but the second and third they did not. What can I do to whiten my teeth

      2. The National Health Institute says, based on many studies, whitening does weaken tooth enamel. Look it up on PubMed “Effect of various tooth-whitening products on enamel microhardness”. There are other studies listed as well.

        So to be truthful whitening will weaken tooth enamel.

        1. I took a look to the study you mentioned.
          It says that, of all the groups tested, those treated with Opalescence Boost 38% HP suffered no enamel microdamage whatsoever.
          Mind that Opalescence Boost 38% is a gel containing THIRTYEIGHT percent Hydrogen Peroxide, which is a CRAZY HIGH percentage.
          Common Hydrogen Peroxide you may have at home is usually a 3% Solution, for comparison.
          The STRONGEST Crest whitening strips have about 14% HP.
          It seems to me that the issue isn’t that the chemical is unsafe per se, but that several of those products have TOO HIGH concetrations to achieve more visible results quicker.
          It’s probably safer to use lower concentrations. It will take more time for your teeth to whiten, but it will be completely safe to your enamel.

  2. Just wondering what kinds of toxicological tests have been done on these whitening products (over the counter or not) to insure they are safe for people? What type of epi studies have been done on the effects of using these?

    Many cosmetic products that we can legally buy from the grocery store contain toxic chemicals in them. I’m not one to assume something is safe just because it’s used a lot.

  3. I would like to know whether Dr. Cataldo or SDM has any financial conflicts of interest involving this story. BU Today’s reporters would do well to ask the medical doctors (MDs, dentists, podiatrists, etc.), who opine about a procedure or product, about their conflicts of interest and report on that. Medical ethics requires that researchers and doctors reveal their conflicts of interest and BU Today probably should not be in the business of allowing them to circumvent that requirement. We readers do want to know. Please, report on it in the future. Also, I am hopeful that Dr. Cataldo will comment on his financial conflicts of interest in any company that produces any kind of whitening product or supports a particular procedure involving a commercial instrument, etc.

    1. Say “conflicts of interest” just one more time. The 15 times mentioned wasn’t enough for me. Do you really think Crest is endorsing him to briefly mention their product in passing in some obscure article on the net?

  4. Jane,

    Be assured that I do not have any financial interest and am not involved as either
    an investor or researcher for any dental whitening product.

    Dr. Cataldo

  5. While I to have caution about using diy white kits this comment by Dr. Gennaro Cataldo is too biased. People could hurt themselves by swallowing mouthwash. Why doesn’t he recommend dentist supervise them? Maybe because dentist can’t make money from it? Without real good body of medical research to support(which there doesn’t appear to be?) its use or none use its all anectdotal right now and so far based on that diy whitening doesn’t have high harmful risk to it.

  6. Be careful that you use a bleaching kit that does not contain peroxide. If ingested peroxide can be very dangerous so if you are planning on whitening your teeth at home use a non-peroxide kit.

    1. Actually peroxide is not as bad for you as you make it out to be. There are some medical procedures that rely on a patient actually taking in a certain percentage of peroxide each day. Also there are machines that you plug to your water tank that provide a certain level of peroxide in your water. Taken on regular basis this peroxidized water actually helps kill many bacteria and is also known to cure hepatitis C in many patients. Some research on the internet will back my claims.

  7. Choosing best teeth whitening product amidst the completely different teeth whitening merchandise available in the market in the present day might be very confusing. When you ask the consultants, they will tell you that the very best technique of enamel whitening continues to be by means of your dentist. Not only is it the most effective, it is also the best and the quickest to have whiter teeth. However then, not all folks can afford the charges that come with every treatment. Another factor that hinders them from going to dentists is fear. It appears that evidently as early as childhood, dentists are one of the most feared personalities that people do not wish to encounter.
    Although dentists do not advise folks to decide on enamel whitening products, they all agree in saying that these products are effective in some degree. According to research, tooth whitening products, if used usually and persistently may end up in whiter enamel that can outlast any dentist-assisted procedure.

  8. I once had a dental treatment for whitening that cost about $500 dollars. I didn’t notice any difference. I decided to try crest white strips when they initially came out and it worked magically. I’m in my twenties and have always taken really good care of my teeth, not a smoker or coffee drinker… the results for the white strips lasted years for me. Whitening mouth wash is basically watered down hydrogen peroxide as far as I understand. I’ve heard of people adding hydrogen peroxide to their mouth wash and seeing good results. Not sure how safe that is especially with prolonged use.

  9. Thank you so much for writing this. I finally understand about having white teeth. I am older and my teeth are darkening and I blamed it simply on my coffee drinking. As this is a natural progression as one ages, I am going to relax and enjoy my coffee :)

  10. Of course Dr. Cataldo has a financial interest in this. Of course he is biased. Dentists make money by selling teeth whitening to their patients. Do you really think there would be OTC teeth whiteners if they did not work? A lot of Dental Societies & Associations have been getting in trouble by the feds recently for monopolistic behavior by outlawing teeth whitening kiosks and beauty salons that offer teeth whitening. The Federal Trade Commission, FTC recently successfully sued the NC State Board of Dental Examiners for this aggressive behavior. The State Board has filed appeals but lost them too. Currently the Institute for Justice along with teeth whitening entrepreneurs is suing the State of Alabama as well as the State of Connecticut as well. The FTC has plans to aggressively go after other State Boards where teeth whitening has been outlawed and therefore competition eliminated causing the price for teeth whitening to stay upwards $7-800, while the entrepreneurs charge $125-175. You can of course easily Google all of this to learn more. They also all use the same materials with NO complaints to the FDA. Interestingly the only complains regarding teeth whitening have been for the dentists and Zingers (hideously awful pain that randomly shoots through your mouth) using the ZOOM machine which only dentists use. The FDA feels that what the dentists have successfully used for over 20 years is safe enough for it not to be classified. Not surprisingly the American Dental Association, ADA has lobbied them time and time again to regulate. Dr. Cataldo is just looking after his own. There should have been opinions from other schools of thought. The product manufacturers and the teeth whitening entrepreneurs. Not a very ethical piece at all. Shame on all of you. Very disappointing indeed.

    1. Yes, OTC products work but they are typically not as effective. The same basic principles are at play but the materials dentists use are higher concentrations. Additionally when a dentist makes a whitening tray it is custom fitted to the individual and covers the whole tooth and should not go onto the gums unlike OTC products. The reason why “entrepreneurs” charge less is because they are not doctors. If you would rather have a high schooler in a mall conduct your dental care that’s up to you. You can also go to third world countries for cheep medical treatment. You may have no problems at all, but then again you might. Personally I think it is best not to let technicians carry out dental or medical treatment. I find it interesting how many people make comments as if they think they know what they are talking about. Dentists try to simplify for people but nothing is simple. Go to school, study chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, and combine all the principles you learn through four years of study incorporating tooth physiology and chemistry along with histology pathology and then maybe you will understand how some of the processes really work within dentistry. Until then, just take the experts word for it.

      1. there are some jobs done by doctors and others done by nurses. Teeth whitening does not require a dentist, just like cleaning your teeth once every 6 months can be done by a dental hygenist

        1. You are correct a dental assistant can do the actual cleaning/whitening but I think b/c the whitener is high strength only a dentist/doctor has access to the actual product they use?!?

  11. I just paid 500.00 for a dentist whitening using Kor whitening. First they did a in office treatment that took 2 hours then fitted trays with gels to wear nightly, should be done and look great in 2 wks, 3 at the absolute most. 2 wks barely could tell, buy more gel and then told I may need to wear trays for 6 weeks at 50.00 per week. At the end of week 3 my lips swelled and the whole inside of my mouth is raw and blistered. I went to the dentist and he said to give myself a week off then resume. I did this because I was getting veneers on my two front teeth and wanted my teeth to be as white as poosible before matching the veneers. Havent used trays for 4 days and my mouth is still raw and very painful. I’ll try Crest strips if I ever heal up and may skip veneers all together.

    1. Ok you are telling me that your gel you put in a tray is more concentrated than the paint on gel I use at my salon. I have been a cosmetic teeth whitening professional for over 10 years. I use a water based 16% hydrogen peroxid paint on gel. Now why don’t you tell the people the truth. If you are using trays the most you are using is 44% carbamite peroxide which has a 3 to 1 ratio to hydrogen peroxide. If your a true dentist you should know anything higher the 12% hydrogen peroxide in a tray would kill a persons gums. Now zoom is different most dentist use 22% or 35% hydrogen peroxide with a gum guard solution. Does it work yes but at a cost of a lot of pain and money. Which by the way insurance doesn’t cover. Look I gave a fantastic product my 7 location I do 40000 teeth whitenings annually. Do you get complaintsunami yes abut 7 in ten years from consumers. How many complaints from dentists in ten years 726. Tell the consumer the truth I’m a dentist and I’m going to get my $300 An hour no matter how I get it. By the way my prices are $99 $149 and $199. 1/4 less then any dentist.

  12. I have tested 4 OTC systems, one Dentist provided and various naturopathic methods including peroxide/water “pull” (swish) 3x/day as indicated on the bottle.
    For the money, ease of use, comfort and effectiveness, various whitening strips have worked best for me despite the fact that I have trays molded specifically for my teeth. This having been said, reputable OTC gels are only slightly less effective (in my case), yet they are a bit more of a hassle combined with your personally fitted trays due to the difficulty in the cleaning and maintenance of the trays as well as comfort in wearing them which will dictate whether or not you use them as directed.
    I myself, am reading through this site because I have yet to determine the BEST BRAND of OTC whiteners. Anyone use Rembrandt before? Anyone have a favorite? Thanks.

  13. I have tried many methods as well and lost quite a lot of money because of it.

    I will tell you – it is not worth it. You can achieve same or even better results with home made remedies – just get some cheap ebook with teeth whitening guides like this one http://ponvu.com/teethwhitening and you will know what i am talking about.

    good luck!

    1. This is a HUGE SCAM!! Why a kit if the products are things we have in our kitchen or can buy at the store? I did research on this site and it is a bunch of BS* The mouth showing the yellow teeth become so white has been created electronically or through a simple dye process. If there was any truth in these claims, it would not be a product that is sold but just plain telling people how it is done. SCAM SCAM SCAM. Shame on you for putting your link here to make a few bucks.

  14. My question for Dr. Cataldo is simple. There are dentist offices that use whitening UV lights as part of the whitening process. Are you saying that there is no benefit in using such lights? Thanks

  15. I’ll be 90 years old in 2 years! I have healthy dental habits and condition. I stopped smoking 40 years ago. I use whitening toothpaste regularly, but see no improvement. Should I give up because of my age? What do you recommend?

    1. I would stop using the whitening toothpaste until you decide what to use, especially if it isnt working, it is gritty and actually can wear away your enamel and make your teeth sensitive, you might have to ask a dentist, as if the discolouration is from aging, you could end up wasting a lot of money and doing some harm..sorry not more helpful

  16. Never knew people spent that much on vanity products in the USA! It would be nice if most engaged in lifestyle changes for best permanent results in whiter teeth.

  17. We have seen that Crest Whitestrips and Kroger Brand Whitestrips work the best, but you must be careful how often you use them. They can actually damage your tooth’s enamel and have long lasting side effects. I know we all want Pearly White Teeth, but you must make sure you take proper care of them first.

  18. Listerine restor whitening works for me. Two shades whiter in 3 weeks. I rinse with it longer than the suggested minute though. My teeth are stronger than ever at age 39 . I also rinse 4-5 times daily. Definitely recommend.

  19. Had whitening done three days ago at my Dentist’s office. I am 68 and practice excellent oral hygiene. As a child I had severe rheumatic fever. As result, into adulthood I needed a great deal of crown, bridge, and root canal work. My front uppers became discolored to the point of extreme self-consciousness. I had four 15 minute applications with blue light. The prep especially the ‘device’ was unpleasant. I toughed it out. Thought I would faint, vomit, pass out or all three, the bleaching was so painful. I am still in pain. My whole mouth hurts. I only had four upper teeth (8, 9, 10, 11) done. I have endured broken bones, abscesses, frozen shoulder, root canals, etc. the worst pain ever was trigeminal neuralgia. This was so much worse! I’m tough, but I have been physically ill from the after pain. I drink coffee, eat lots of dark cherries and blueberries and I am a smoker. This has/is worse than all pain I’ve ever had except trigeminal neuralgia. Would I do it again? Maybe. I am very happy with the results. I was given a fitted tray and enough gel to last two years. The total cost was $260. Yes, I suppose I would do it again. If your teeth embarrass you, by all means I recommend. But, do it in a good Dentist’s office.

  20. I’ve decided to try lemon juice and baking soda or salt mixed into a paste as read by a dentist this works just as good. I’m not brushing my gums I’m going to painstakingly try to do each tooth without touching the gums as my teeth are very sensitive.

    1. I am surprised a dentist told you that, did they tell you how often? Peroxide based whiteners I was told work best, lemonjuice and baking soda paste will be very abrasive and I would worry about damaging my enamel and tooth sensitivity with repeated use, but if thats what they say to use, Arm&Hammer makes baking soda toothpaste it might be a little easier to manage and less irritating to your gums?! Good Luck, i know it is so frustrating!!

  21. I have a question for the colleagues who perform Zoom whitening treatment. Has anybody heard about the possibility to save on performing the treatment buying a special chip from bleach-infiniter.com which is simply inserted into a standard light guide for Zoom machine and makes it unlimited? That being said that it allows easily to use all remaining gel from a standard Philips kit to serve another patient or even start using third part bleaching material to reduce the cost of the procedure. I have heard that many dentists started using Beyond and other whitening kits along with Zoom light. I suppose almost any light-activated gels could be used as far as I understand. Any suggestions?

  22. There is a little more to carbamide peroxide teeth whitener than strips or liquid poured into trays, it’s the percentage % of carbamide peroxide in the application. I’ve tried them all and if an OTC product can be found using a different agent I have not seen it. Anything under 10% is worthless, you’ll have to use it daily for 30-60 minutes for very little improvement. On the other extreme 35% will burn your gums and case pain. 22% works OK for me and I use it once a week for 30-60 minutes. If you repeat the application and it hurts space out the uses. If your gums are white just below your teeth, the product is too strong or used to often.

  23. I have a question regarding teeth whitening products from China. I have used the herbal Medicine whitening liquid and it had a weird result. It talks about a certain bacteria that can bring teeth to a brilliant white, but the result I had after the first use was not really what I hoped for. It left my teeth whiter yes but also had a mat finish with a rough feeling instead of a silky shining brilliant finish. And after I noticed that coffee and cigarettes were staining my teeth right away. Is this stuff bad for my teeth and how can I get the shine back without harming the enamel?

  24. This post is very informative, I consulted my local dentist and they recommended me to ask them before using any teeth whitening products since every product has different effects on different individuals. Plus I personally believe that going for home made herbal techniques are much safer than any off the shelf product and my dentist also recommended me to do the same thing. Using cloves and mint leaves works wonders for me!

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