Is hydrogen peroxide a bleach?

Hydrogen peroxide is a versatile product with many uses, from home cleaning to medical applications. Hydrogen peroxide should only be used short-term because cell damage to the pulp can limit the regrowth of the enamel.
Hydrogen peroxide is a versatile product with many uses, from home cleaning to medical applications. Hydrogen peroxide should only be used short-term because cell damage to the pulp can limit the regrowth of the enamel.

In almost every home medicine cabinet, you can commonly find a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. It is a versatile product with many uses, from home cleaning to medical applications. 

If used orally, is hydrogen peroxide safe to put on your teeth? While there are various positive aspects of its use, hydrogen peroxide can cause damage if not used correctly.

At room temperature, hydrogen peroxide is a clear liquid that may taste bitter. While it is commercially purchased in liquid form, minimal amounts of gaseous hydrogen peroxide naturally occur in the air. It breaks down to water and oxygen, releasing heat because it is relatively unstable. It is not flammable, but it is an oxidizing agent. When hydrogen peroxide comes into contact with organic materials, it can spontaneously combust. It is not “bleach,” but it is found in some bleaches. 

What are the benefits of using hydrogen peroxide?

Hydrogen peroxide has antimicrobial properties. It is effective against most types of microorganisms. This includes highly resistant, inactive types like protozoal cysts and bacterial spores. Its oxidative properties generate growth and healing of proteins, DNA, and lipid membranes. It is used on cuts and scrapes to prevent infection.

You can also find hydrogen peroxide in many household items. This includes:

  • Antiseptics
  • Acetone
  • Disinfectant
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Pesticides

Hydrogen peroxide is used in bleach bone, feathers, flour,  textiles, ivory, and straw. It serves as an oxygen source in respiratory protective equipment. During the pandemic, the vaporized form was used to sterilize used n95 masks.

How is hydrogen peroxide used on teeth and gums?

Products available for over-the-counter purchases usually contain 3% hydrogen peroxide. At this concentration, hydrogen peroxide can be a beneficial mouth rinse for inflammation or mucous removal. It’s used for whitening and lightning because of its oxidizing properties. Doctors and dentists have approved it for use as an oral wound healing agent. The 3% hydrogen peroxide rinse should be diluted with equal parts water, then rinsed thoroughly when used.

Commercially bought items that use hydrogen peroxide as their whitening agent include:

While store-bought options are relatively safe, visiting your dentist is the safest option when dealing with hydrogen peroxide. It is more expensive, but your dentist can use more concentrated versions of hydrogen peroxide with expertise and safety. 

Can hydrogen peroxide damage your teeth?

Dentists use hydrogen peroxide to whiten teeth. Hydrogen peroxide purchased in stores are usually 3% concentration. Dental peroxides used in the office can contain a much higher concentration. Toothpaste, rinses, and whitening strips bought over the counter use hydrogen peroxide to whiten. Combining it with baking soda can create a natural whitening toothpaste.

The hard outer layer of your tooth is named the enamel. Under the enamel is a layer of soft pulp called dentin. This pulp is darker than your enamel and can lead to teeth discoloration. For hydrogen peroxide to whiten your teeth, it must get through the enamel to the pulp. So, the dentin is being whitened, not the enamel. Nerves are in the pulp, and bleaching with peroxide can cause tooth sensitivity.

Numerous people experience pain when a whitening procedure is performed. Sensitivity can occur for long periods after whitening. Hydrogen peroxide destroys collagen proteins in the dentin, which can lead to sensitivity, according to the latest research.  It is still being determined how to reverse the damage or if it is permanent.

Hydrogen peroxide should only be used short-term. The cell damage to the pulp can limit the regrowth of the enamel. Using an oral rinse that contains mild levels of hydrogen peroxide instead of using hydrogen peroxide can be less abrasive and more suitable. Though commonly used, some dentists don’t recommend hydrogen peroxide as a rinse. It can irritate the gums and could be too abrasive on crowns, fillings, and dental implants.They may recommend its use diluted with water or Listerine. Since hydrogen peroxide is so harsh, it should only be used with the recommendation of a dentist.

Is there a difference in the types of stains?

There are intrinsic and extrinsic tooth stains. Intrinsic stains occur in the tooth’s dentin and affect the whole tooth. Extrinsic stains affect the enamel and have external causes like eating or drinking certain foods. Smoking also causes extrinsic staining. This can occur in spots or affect the entire tooth.

Whitening solutions that contain hydrogen peroxide can effectively treat intrinsic stains. Extrinsic stains that occur on the enamel are significantly more challenging to treat. 


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What else is hydrogen peroxide used for by dentists?

Hydrogen peroxide was first used in the dental office for gum disease in 1913. Besides tooth whitening, it is still used to treat several oral conditions today:

  • Gingivitis: Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. It can lead to periodontitis. It occurs from the formation of bacteria from plaque buildup. The bacteria can lead to inflammation and the start of bleeding when brushing your teeth. Rinsing with hydrogen peroxide kills bacteria and can prevent the inflammation from getting worse.
  • Periodontitis: Untreated gingivitis can lead to the bone and gums pulling away from the tooth and creating deep pockets that could become infected. This is known as periodontitis. For treatment, a dentist will create a custom-fitted tray that holds hydrogen peroxide to deep clean layers of the infected pockets. The peroxide is held in place to treat all levels of periodontitis properly. 

When else should hydrogen peroxide use be monitored?

The inhalation of the vapors of hydrogen peroxide can be hazardous. Some higher forms of concentrated hydrogen peroxide found in industrial settings can be dangerous if not correctly handled.  

To prevent permanent damage to the tooth’s enamel or dentin, you should discuss the many available tooth whitening methods with your dentist. Your dentist will help determine whether you have intrinsic or extrinsic stains and find a treatment that suits your specific needs. 

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Medically Reviewed on 5/11/2022
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Journal of the American Dental Association: "Getting whiter teach."

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Open Dentistry Journal: "Dental Bleaching Techniques; Hydrogen-carbamide Peroxides and Light Sources for Activation, an Update. Mini Review Article."

Registered Dental Hygienist Magazine: "Hydrogen peroxide in dentistry."