The latest cosmetic trend across the country — and even in countries across the globe — is to achieve the absolute whitest teeth that a little bit of money, hydrogen peroxide, and some DIY creativity can buy. In fact, Americans alone spend about $1.4 billion annually on teeth whitening products and treatments, which is 300% more than what the country spent on teeth whitening products in 1996.
This trend, dubbed “bleachorexia” by dentists today, isn’t just becoming extremely expensive; it’s actually causing some serious dental problems for countless patients who have become obsessed with whitening their teeth. Similar to other obsessions about one’s physical appearance, “bleachorexia” appears to be more of a psychological obsessive disorder, sometimes requiring invention by a dental professional, wherein patients know that they could be damaging their teeth by continuing to use whitening products, but can’t stop themselves from doing so anyway.
Time magazine contributor Markham Heid notes that nearly every tooth whitening product on the market today — from cheap whitening strips and whitening toothpaste found at local drugstores to ultra-expensive whitening treatments performed by licensed professionals — contain hydrogen peroxide as the active whitening ingredient. Slathering this chemical onto your teeth too often, and especially without the oversight of a dentist, can have disastrous results.
Along with eroding tooth enamel, using too many whitening products can eventually turn teeth a translucent blueish color, and cause hypersensitive teeth and receding gums. Even though professional whitening treatments can get teeth up to 10 shades whiter, it’s never going to be possible to reach a perfectly white shade. The snowy-white teeth that celebrities flash, a Daily Mail article explains, are the result of porcelain veneers — not continuous bleaching.
Regardless of the method used to whiten teeth, one of the most important things to keep in mind is that anything not specifically designated as a teeth whitening product should never be used in a questionable DIY “home treatment.” Even seemingly harmless food items like lemons and strawberries contain citric acid that erodes tooth enamel (and can’t whiten teeth anyway), and products that are clearly dangerous when they come in contact with the human body, like Clorox bleach and toilet bowl cleaner, will never produce good results.