Approximately one percent of the population suffer from mental illnesses categorised as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). This can manifest with an individual becoming obsessive about their body image and being unable to clearly see what others see regarding their appearance. Many diseases associated with BDD are well-known, such as anorexia or bulimia, but others less so. ‘Bleachorexia’, as it has become known, is an obsession with cosmetic dentistry in order to achieve perfect looking white teeth.
Those who constantly undergo teeth whitening to counteract insecurities with tooth stains and tooth discolouration are increasingly referred to as ‘bleachorexics’. The nickname belies the severity of the condition; any form of BDD must be treated by a mental health care professional.
Teeth whitening and teeth bleaching are distinguished from each other by the end goal; whitening aims to restore a natural tooth colour, whilst bleaching is designed to whiten beyond an individual’s natural colour. However, it should be noted that the terms have become interchangeable. Bleaching can be achieved through brushing, bleaching strips, bleaching pens, bleaching gels, and laser bleaching. It has become the most requested procedure in cosmetic dentistry today, but actually has its origins in ancient times. The Romans used urine and goats milk to whiten their teeth, and Anglo Saxons used a mixture of sage and salt.
If you are concerned with the appearance of your teeth, it’s best to talk to your dentist about it. Teeth whitening is a perfectly safe procedure, as long as it is done properly and is not abused. The chemicals used in the tooth bleaching process are extremely potent. Tooth enamel is a strong substance, and it requires an expert to judge how best to apply the chemicals to prevent permanent damage.
Peroxide, a common ingredient in tooth bleaching treatments, releases carcinogenic free radicals when applied to tooth enamel. These destroy healthy oral bacteria, and can make enamel more porous, resulting in side effects such as tooth sensitivity, the enamel becoming translucent, or even becoming more yellow (tooth enamel covers naturally yellow dentin). Excessive use of products containing peroxide, most commonly found in home bleaching kits, could trigger severe tooth decay or even cause teeth to crumble and break. For those with bleachorexia, this sort of damage is often irreversible.
Images of glamorous Hollywood celebrities with megawatt smiles can spark an unhealthy interest in having your pearly whites bleached a super shocking white. If you’re searching for a movie star smile, but want to do it safely, your dentist should be your first port of call. They will know how to achieve the results you want in the safest way possible, and will make sure that your dental health remains tip-top.
You can take a number of precautions to prevent over-bleaching your teeth. Limit whitening sessions to once every three months, and rinse your mouth thoroughly after each procedure with clean, fresh water. Use a gentle non-abrasive toothpaste, which can aid in the rebuilding of your tooth enamel. Eat foods that naturally help to whiten your teeth – malic acid, the chemical that makes fruits and vegetables tangy, acts as a natural stain remover by increasing saliva production and scrubbing the teeth clean. Add plenty of green apples, celery, and carrots to your diet and your teeth will be far less susceptible to damage whilst being bleached.
If you suspect that you are becoming obsessed with keeping your teeth white, or if your dentist has refused to provide you with any more whitening procedures, it may be the time to seek professional advice. BDD can be triggered by a number of causes, and establishing an open dialogue with your doctor or dentist will help you find the trigger for your problem and ensure that you keep your smile healthy.