The Safe Use of Home Tooth Whitening Kits

It's Your Health

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The issue

Home tooth whitening kits have become very popular with consumers who are hoping to enhance their appearance. When used correctly, they can produce noticeable results.


In the past, most tooth whitening was performed in a dental office by a qualified oral health professional. Today, there are several products available directly to consumers in different applications such as strip, paint-on, or tray kits.

In Canada, all tooth whitening products (unless they contain fluoride) are considered cosmetics. In terms of regulatory requirements, this means that manufacturers and importers must submit a cosmetic notification form to Health Canada, preferably accompanied by safety and labelling information. Health Canada does not 'approve' notifications, but submitted information is reviewed to assess that concerns related to its ingredients and directions of use have been addressed. Ultimately, the safety of a cosmetic product is the responsibility of the manufacturer or importer.

Oral health care professionals may recommend tooth whitening products for home-use that are similar in strength to those used in-office. However, a dental professional can instruct the consumer on take-home applications and be a direct advisor should an adverse reaction occur.  

How tooth whiteners work

Tooth whitening products generally use peroxide or peroxide-generating compounds as the whitening ingredient. Most are formulated with hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide (also known as urea peroxide).

In general, the more peroxide, the greater the whitening power. Formulations differ depending on the way the product is applied, whether painted on, or delivered through a strip or trays. Read directions carefully prior to use. Directions for use vary between the many tooth whitening products available on the market. Some products can be worn for 30 minutes twice a day, while others may be worn all night and other various times throughout the day.  

Tooth whitening products will whiten only natural teeth, not caps, crowns, veneers, fillings or dentures. The results are not permanent, but may last up to six months. 

The health risks of home tooth whitening kits

Current clinical studies show that home-use tooth whitening products, whether purchased through an oral health professional or at retail, are generally safe when directions of use are carefully followed.

It is therefore important to follow the instructions that accompany the product and pay attention to any precautionary statements. Typical home-use tooth whitening products are used over a period of 10-14 days. For prolonged use, please make sure to consult an oral health professional.

Tooth sensitivity and soft tissue irritation may occur in some individuals, although these effects are transient and resolve on their own.

Minimizing your risk

  • Be sure to read and follow the instructions for use, found on the product label or insert.
  • Consult an oral health professional before prolonged use of tooth whitening products.
  • Should you experience tooth sensitivity, you can try one of these measures:
    • Decrease the use of the whitening system to half of the recommended duration. For example, wear it for 30 minutes instead of 60 minutes.
    • Discontinue use of the whitener for two or three days, then resume use.
    • Stop using the whitening product and consult an oral health professional.
  • If you are pregnant or if you have gum disease, unfilled cavities, pre-existing tooth sensitivity or other dental conditions, you should consult an oral health professional before exploring tooth whitening options.
  • In the event of an adverse reaction: Discontinue use and seek medical attention.
  • Keep the product that may have caused the effect at hand. This will enable your medical professional and Health Canada to help you better.
  • After medical attention has been sought (if needed), contact your Regional Product Safety Office to report an adverse reaction.

Health Canada's role

Health Canada continues to monitor the information available regarding the safety of tooth whiteners. It examines peer-reviewed, scientific studies from recognized sources, in addition to the safety data submitted by manufacturers. Health Canada also performs product testing when a pattern of adverse reactions to a product occur.

Need more info?

For more information about tooth whitening, contact:

Canadian Dental Association (CDA)
1815 Alta Vista Drive
Ottawa, ON Canada
K1G 3Y6
Telephone: (613) 523-1770

Canadian Dental Association (CDA) Teeth Whitening.

American Dental Association, Oral Health Topics - Whitening.

For more information about cosmetics, see Health Canada's Cosmetic Safety section

For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health Web section.

You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-465-7735*.

Updated:  February 2020
Original: June 2004
© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2004

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