What is teeth whitening?
Teeth whitening or teeth bleaching is the process of whitening your teeth with chemicals that are usually a derivative of hydrogen peroxide. Everyone seems to want whiter teeth these days as we see models and celebs sporting their pearly whites. It is a minimally invasive, safe and effective treatment that can lighten your teeth’s natural colour by several shades (depending on your preference i.e. how bright you want your teeth to be) and how well you respond to the treatment.
Why do I need teeth whitening?
Having a nice bright smile significantly increases one’s confidence and self-esteem. It can make you appear more approachable, give a really nice first impression and make you even appear younger. But why do we have tooth discolorations, in the first place? Why do our teeth stain? There are various reasons why our teeth get stained and discoloured over time. Some people just have naturally yellower or whiter teeth, other reasons include:
- Drinking/eating dark-coloured foods and beverages
- Sugary foods
- Enamel thickness
- Tooth trauma
- Tetracycline and some other medications
It’s also important to consider other factors that make your teeth look darker or lighter such as your skin tone, whether you have been tanning or your choice of lipstick colour.
What teeth whitening options do I have?
There are three basic options when you decide to have your teeth whitened- some are more effective than others. Each comes with advantages and disadvantages. These are:
- Whitening products from the chemist or pharmacy
- In office- dentist whitening (laser whitening/zoom whitening and other names)
- Custom made Home teeth whitening
What is chair-side or in office teeth whitening?
Chair-side teeth whitening is performed in the dental clinic itself. This type of teeth whitening treatment is also associated with laser whitening. With this treatment, a specialised light will be focused on your teeth to activate and increase the effect of the teeth whitening agent. Some dentists don’t use lights, just a much higher percentage of peroxide, under controlled conditions. The teeth must be isolated for this as it as it is too strong for the gums. Because the concentration of the agent is higher, the whitening results are much faster and a difference will be seen in just one session.
Chairside teeth whitening usually can take half an hour to an hour per session and a couple are usually required. If you don’t have weeks to wait for the whitening results to show, this type of procedure is ideal e.g. if you haven’t left time before wedding. It is however not without its downsides… Sensitivity is always a temporary problem with whitening but it can be a bit more unpredictable with the stronger agents. It also costs approximately double the price of the home whitening kits!
Before any whitening treatment is performed, your dentist will first take a look at your oral health and the cause of your tooth discoloration. They will discuss your expectations and desires and see if they can be met appropriately with teeth whitening. If you have cavities or decay, or exposed root surfaces or root recession then additional precautions must be taken. Fixing problems first is good- unless the filling will need to be replaced following the whitening because it no longer matches. Whitening should be done before any other type of cosmetic dental treatment.
What are the whitening products?
Various whitening kits or over-the-counter teeth whitening products are available from your local store from an array of different manufactures. These include:
- Whitening toothpastes
- Paint-on liquids
- Whitening chewing gums
- Whitening mouth rinses
- Whitening gels
- Whitening strips
- Whitening trays and kits
- Whitening floss
They obviously vary greatly in their effectiveness but unless there is a peroxide element then the effects will be fairly minimal and often aimed at stain removal. These form the cheapest category and you are welcome to try them and see what works for you. There are lots to choose from so make your way systematically through a few and see which gives you the best results. Since these are over-the-counter products can be done without professional supervision, the concentration of whitening agents used in these products is significantly lower than those whitening agents provided by your dentist so don’t expect too much.
If you are using kits similar to the ‘at home’ whitening provided by your dentist then because the trays are standard sizes they can be too small, too large or just not fit very closely to your teeth when you attempt to mould them. As such they don’t tend to work very well and the lower powered agents can get on your gums and cause irritation. It’s important that you follow the directions and usage of over-the-counter products as over-whitening can leave your teeth overly sensitive. Certain products may have increased abrasives so be careful in this respect. I would suggest using a whitening paste once a day and normal toothpaste the other time.
What is dentist home whitening?
These are professional kits supplied by your dentist and they are the mainstay product we use at the practice, and have been the staple of the ‘whitening world’ for many years. These products contain dentist-grade whitening agents that are very effective in whitening your teeth. Since they contain higher concentration of whitening agents than over-the-counter kits, it is very important that you follow the instructions given to you by your dentist including the time of usage, how many times, what to do if you get sensitivity, or sore gums etc.
Because of the stronger agents you require custom made vacuum formed bleaching trays. To make these the dentist must take an impression of your top and bottom teeth which they send to the lab to have the trays made. These are cut out around your tooth and since they are made on an accurate model replica of your teeth, they fit closely and hold the bleach optimally against the front surface of your teeth maximising the whitenings effectiveness.
What problems should I expect after getting teeth whitening?
The most common side effect of teeth whitening treatment is tooth sensitivity, especially to cold temperatures. It can range from a mild tingle to sharp pain if you haven’t followed the instructions correctly. If too much whitening agent is applied or it is done incorrectly for prolonged times, one may also experience tender or stingy gums, that can occasionally temporarily turn a bit white. This is temporary- give it a rest for a couple of days and they will be back to normal. Check with your dentist if you get repeated or severe sensitivity that isn’t settling. We will always discuss sensitivity, when we issue the kits and give you advice on how to minimise it whilst you are whitening.