MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: How do whitening tooth-pastes whiten your teeth?

Date: Fri May 28 07:43:51 1999
Posted By: Carlos Bordador, Medical student, THIRD YEAR DENTAL STUDENT AT HSDM, Harvard School of Dental Medicine
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 926375924.Ch

Hi Marina,

The active ingredient that has been proven to whiten teeth is Hydrogen Peroxide (H202) or its cousin Carbamide peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide oxidizes and removes organic matter trapped between the prism like organization within each tooth. This effect can lighten the shade of a tooth. Good candidates are people with coffee or food stains. Poorer candidates are those who have grey teeth or teeth stained from taking tetracycline (an antibiotic) at an early age.

While the effectiveness of products that contain either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide has been well proven, some people may have adverse reactions to products that contain these whitening agents. Furthermore, the ADA is concerned about unsupervised use of some over the counter kits. Still other products might contain harmful acids. So make sure that products you use have the ADA seal of approval or better yet ask your local dentist for the best way to whiten your teeth.

The 3 whitening toothpastes currently approved by the ADA (American Dental Association) are Colgate Platinum Professional Tooth Whitening System (Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals); Rembrandt Lighten Bleaching Gel (Den-Mat Corporation); and Opalescence (Ultradent Products, Inc.).

To learn more about the possible side effects of "Tooth bleaching" and other issues of tooth whitening please visit the ADA webpage at

Hope this helps,

Carlos Bordador
Your MAD dental scientist

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