Teeth whitening is an effective way of improving the appearance of stained, discolored, or dull teeth. Most patients decide to undergo this procedure to enhance their smile, but it can also be used for more serious cases including treatment of dentine hypersensitivity and post-operative bleaching after orthodontic treatment. The steps involved in teeth whitening include assessing whether the patient is a suitable candidate for the procedure, taking shade guides at home before the appointment so that accurate measurements can be made using professional equipment, applying peroxide gel or ‘varnish’ to exposed tooth surfaces (a process called desensitizing), carrying out a light cure with a special device which generates a blue light source to activate the gel placed on the teeth, and then finally polishing the teeth with a brush.
There are several different types of teeth whitening systems including custom trays made by dental laboratories, ‘take-home’ products that are used in the comfort of your own home (most commonly involving the use of hydrogen peroxide gel or carbamide peroxide gel), and in-chair methods where desensitizing agents (such as strontium chloride) may be applied. The out-of-office techniques can take up to an hour depending on patient co-operation, while some in-patient procedures can last anything from 15 minutes to more than one hour.
Your dentist will decide which kind is most appropriate for you following a consultation about your expectations. In some cases, teeth whitening may be covered by your dental insurance plan.
Teeth whitening will not remove natural tooth staining due to aging and normal wear but it can improve the appearance of the yellowing which many adults experience over time. Smoking and drinking red wine or tea can also stain your teeth and these stains cannot be removed using this technique.
Generally speaking, there is no age limit for patients wishing to have their teeth whitened, however, it is common practice in most dental practices to assess a patient’s suitability before proceeding with any treatment. Teeth should generally be healthy enough to undergo bleaching without injuring the pulp (nerve). For example, if you have had root canal treatment, crowns or fillings placed recently, or if your teeth are severely discolored or badly stained with deep cavities, your dentist is less likely to recommend this.
Teeth whitening has no side effects and does not harm the dental enamel (smooth surface of the tooth). If you have gingivitis—a gum disease that causes redness and swelling around the gums—it is advisable to seek treatment for this before having any teeth whitening procedure carried out.
Topical fluoride treatments should be avoided before an appointment as peroxide will start dissolving this gel too early on in the process which can lead to staining of previously white areas. Teeth may also become sensitive after each bleach session so it’s best to avoid eating or drinking hot or very cold foods and drinks for several hours following treatment.
Significant tooth staining will require multiple bleaching sessions to achieve the desired result. Your dentist will usually take shade guides of your teeth which are used together with a computer system to match the color before carrying out any whitening procedures. The process does not typically involve removing any enamel; it is more about applying bleach directly onto the surface of this layer in order to break down stains caused by tannins (compounds found naturally in fruit, tea, red wine) binding with dyes.
Patients often ask how long their new brighter smile will last once they have had teeth whitening treatment carried out. The answer varies—it all depends on your lifestyle and whether you continue to smoke, drink alcohol or eat foods that stain the teeth. If you want a long-lasting result then it’s important to follow your dentist’s instructions about caring for your new whiter smile, keep up regular professional check-ups, and take care of your oral hygiene to maintain healthy teeth!
Contact us for a free teeth whitening consultation.