Hydrogen Peroxide: What You Need To Know

One ingredient dominates the search for a white smile: Hydrogen Peroxide. But it’s not without controversy. We’re here to answer the burning questions about Hydrogen Peroxide and what it means of your teeth.

Hydrogen Peroxide is one of the most common ingredients in products for your teeth, but what is it? What does it do? Why should you pay attention when you see it in the ingredient list? Is it safe?

What is Hydrogen Peroxide?

Hydrogen Peroxide (H ₂O ₂) is a pale blue liquid in its purest form. Due to the reactive nature of Hydrogen Peroxide, it is rarely found in its purest form outside of highly regulated industrial and military uses. The versatile compound has been used for everything from medicine to rocket propellant.

Most Hydrogen Peroxide is used to bleach products. It is used in industrial paper bleaching, laundry detergents, manufacturing sodium percarbonates (another bleaching agent in laundry and dish detergents), hair bleaching, and tooth whitening oral care products. It is used as an industrial cleaning agent, a domestic cleaning agent, and is one of the best chemicals to use for removing blood stains. Hydrogen Peroxide is a disinfectant for surgical tools, kitchen surfaces, and topical wound care.

Hydrogen Peroxide vs. Carbamide Peroxide?

  • Basically, the same with every 30% carbamide peroxide containing 10% hydrogen peroxide. So, reading “concentrations” and comparing products, divide the carbamide number by 3 to get the percentage of Hydrogen Peroxide.
  • Carbamide peroxide breaks down faster and releases most of its whitening agent within 30-60 minutes, while carbamide peroxide releases approximately 50% of its whitening power within 2 hours, but can remain active for up to 8 hours. So, it’s basically like a time release formula.
  • No difference in sensitivity between the two. The ingredient choice should be made by how the ingredient is applied. For “leave on” treatments, Carbamide peroxide can work longer, but for strips and trays, Hydrogen Peroxide works faster and is more convenient.

Is Hydrogen Peroxide Safe?

The key question to ask when looking at a teeth whitening product containing Hydrogen Peroxide is: What is the concentration and duration of contact?

Implications on Enamel / soft tissue

Because of the acidic nature of Hydrogen Peroxide, runs the risk of damaging enamel and soft tissues of the mouth when used incorrectly. A study conducted by Lewinstein I, Hirschfeld Z, Stabholz A, Rotstein I. in 1994 found that there was no significant enamel damage at concentrations of 6 percent (the percentage in most commercially available white strips). The study also found that the higher concentrations found in in-office bleaching solutions had the potential to damage the microhardness of tooth enamel after exposure lasting longer than 5 minutes and dentin after 15 minutes.

Hydrogen Peroxide is dangerous in high concentrations so use only as directed by the products.

The bottles of Hydrogen Peroxide you can buy on the shelves at grocery stores contain 3-7% concentration, while industrial Hydrogen Peroxide can be much higher. Always check the concentration.

Unless directed by a licensed medical professional, you should not ingest hydrogen peroxide. Even at low concentrations, Hydrogen Peroxide can be toxic to humans, if ingested contact poison control.

    What does Hydrogen Peroxide do if ingested?

    Small amounts of low concentration hydrogen peroxide can cause stomach pains, burns, nausea, and other digestive complications. At higher concentrations, it can cause caustic burns, breathing problems, and ulcers.

      What are the risks with Hydrogen Peroxide?

      When properly used, hydrogen peroxide is safe and effective for whitening teeth. Tooth sensitivity and gum irritation are the most common side effects and often go away with time.

      To ensure you are properly using hydrogen peroxide to whiten your smile, use whitening products as directed. Studies have found that duration on teeth has more effect on the whitening and side effects than concentration of hydrogen peroxide in the whitening solution. Err on the side of not enough time on your teeth vs too much time and stop use if you experience issues with your teeth. 

      How does Hydrogen Peroxide whiten my teeth?

      Hydrogen Peroxide (or any of the other peroxides used in dental whitening such as carbamide peroxide) bleach your teeth by the oxygen in the peroxide, stealing the electrons that hold the staining molecules together. The stains are removed, but the hydrogen peroxide can still search for more molecules to oxidize, which is why duration is just as critical as concentration in keeping your teeth healthy when whitening.

      What are the benefits of Hydrogen Peroxide?

      Hydrogen Peroxide is a safe, effective, and inexpensive teeth whitening agent. It can be found in multiple whitening forms to best fit your lifestyle.

      What hydrogen peroxide whitening solutions are best for whitening teeth?

      Your dentist’s office may have whitening solutions as high as 45% concentration for a one time in-office treatment. For at home whitening, you want to make sure the hydrogen peroxide is on your teeth.

      While toothpaste, mouthwash, and chewing gum seem super convenient, it will take substantially longer to get the same results from a whitening strip or tray.

      What hydrogen peroxide whitening are worst for whitening teeth?

      Mouth washes, gums, and toothpastes. They do not have a long enough duration to whiten teeth effectively on their own.

      What not to do with Hydrogen Peroxide

      Do not DIY your hydrogen peroxide whitening treatment.

      Follow manufacturer guidelines. Err on the side of caution.

      If your teeth feel sensitive after a whitening treatment, shorten exposure time, or stop use of the treatment altogether.

       

      Sources:

      https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/pdf2010/fpl_2010_anderson001.pdf

      Li, Y., Greenwall, L. Safety issues of tooth whitening using peroxide-based materials. Br Dent J 215, 29–34 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.bdj.2013.629

      https://meridian.allenpress.com/operative-dentistry/article/41/1/E39/107779/Enamel-Surface-Changes-After-Exposure-to-Bleaching

      B Cvikl, A Lussi, A Moritz, S Flury; Enamel Surface Changes After Exposure to Bleaching Gels Containing Carbamide Peroxide or Hydrogen Peroxide. Oper Dent 1 January 2016; 41 (1): E39–E47. doi: https://doi.org/10.2341/15-010-L

      Gerlach RW, Barker ML. Professional vital bleaching using a thin and concentrated peroxide gel on whitening strips: an integrated clinical summary. J Contemp Dent Pract. 2004 Feb 15;5(1):1-17. PMID: 14973556.

      Carey CM. Tooth whitening: what we now know. J Evid Based Dent Pract. 2014 Jun;14 Suppl:70-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jebdp.2014.02.006. Epub 2014 Feb 13. PMID: 24929591; PMCID: PMC4058574.

      Lewinstein I, Hirschfeld Z, Stabholz A, Rotstein I. Effect ofhydrogen peroxide and sodium perborate on the microhard-ness of human enamel and dentin. J Endod 1994;20:61-63.

      Lewinstein I, Hirschfeld Z, Stabholz A, Rotstein I. Effect of hydrogen peroxide and sodium perborate on the microhard-ness of human enamel and dentin. J Endod 1994;20:61-63.

      Walsh LJ. Safety issues relating to the use of hydrogen peroxide in dentistry. Aust Dent J. 2000 Dec;45(4):257-69; quiz 289. doi: 10.1111/j.1834-7819.2000.tb00261.x. PMID: 11225528.

       

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