If you've ever burned your gums or the inside of your mouth on a hot slice of a pizza, then you know that gum irritation is no laughing matter. Hot foods and drinks aren't the only things that can burn or irritate your gums — your gum tissue can also be damaged while you are trying to whiten your teeth. If you've been whitening your teeth at home, here's what you need to know about burned gums from teeth whitening.
What Causes Gum Irritation During Whitening?
The American Dental Association (ADA) divides teeth whitening products into two categories: whitening toothpastes and peroxide-containing bleaching agents. Typically, whitening toothpastes don't contain bleaching agents, but instead help brighten the teeth by scrubbing away stains. They are less likely to irritate or burn the gums compared to whitening products that contain bleach. You might experience some irritation if you brush too hard, but the ingredients themselves are unlikely to cause a problem.
Usually, whitening products that bleach the teeth contain either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. As a review article published in the Saudi Dental Journal points out, in-office hydrogen peroxide treatments containing between 30 and 35 percent hydrogen peroxide can burn the soft tissue of the gums, turning the area white. Usually, the burns can be reversed if the hydrogen peroxide is removed from the gums quickly. The review article also notes that in the case of at-home whitening products, any gum irritation is most likely due to an ill-fitting tray rather than bleach.
Although the primary ingredients in most teeth whitening products can cause burns and irritation, they don't do so in every case. Teeth whitening is generally safe, as long as you take a few precautions like reducing the chance that the whitening agent comes into contact with your gums. Irritation usually happens because a whitening tray doesn't fit properly or a whitening product isn't applied to the teeth evenly.
What You Can Do to Soothe Your Gums
You're in the middle of a whitening treatment at home and you feel a slight burning in your gums. What can you do? First, it's a good idea to stop the treatment: remove the tray or the whitening product. Don't wait until the burning gets worse! Rinse your mouth out with warm salt water to swish away any lingering bleaching product and soothe the irritation.
As long as you stop the bleaching treatment quickly, the good news about gum irritation is that it usually resolves on its own after a few days. Salt water rinses will help relieve discomfort during recovery.
If your burns seem severe or if you're concerned about them in any way, it's a good idea to speak with your dentist. They can take a look at the injury and let you know if home care will be enough to treat it or if there are other options to find relief.
How to Prevent Burned Gums from Teeth Whitening
You don't want to repeat the experience of burning or irritating your gums when whitening your teeth, but a brighter smile is still an attractive option. You don't have to abandon teeth whitening completely. Instead, you might want to change your approach. Read all product directions carefully, and ask your dentist to demonstrate how to properly apply a whitening gel or tray if you're not sure.
While mouth trays might be comfortable and easier to use than paint-on gels, they aren't without their drawbacks. Trays that are sold as "one size fits all" are more likely to provide a poor fit compared to trays that are custom-fit to a person's mouth at a dentist's office. Poorly fitting trays can make it easier for the bleaching product to come into contact with the gums, leading to irritation.
Your dentist might be to able fit a custom tooth whitening tray to your mouth so that you can whiten your teeth at home. Another option is to discuss in-office whitening treatments with your dentist, and to learn more about what they do to reduce the chance of burns or irritation to the gums during treatment. Above all, be careful and read the directions!