Stained or grey teeth can be significantly ‘whitened’ using specific ‘dedicated’ oxidizing chemicals in gel form. It is either Hydrogen Peroxide or Carbamide Peroxide. The treatment is also called ‘bleaching’ or ‘brightening’. The procedure may either be done ‘in surgery’ with a follow up ‘at home application or just the ‘at home’ procedure for a longer period of time.
Need for a guiding hand
How many of us look at our teeth in the mirror and say ‘I wish they were whiter’? We live in an aesthetically conscious world, which affects our teeth as it does the other parts of our body. Numerous products on the market, from toothpastes to special creams, promise a ‘whitening’ effect. But most of them are either ineffective or potentially harmful.
If you want to whiten your teeth, you should do so with a dentist’s supervision. Otherwise you risk burning or injuring delicate oral tissues. That’s why tooth whitening has become such a popular option in dental practices today.
A harmless procedure
Tooth whitening is a dental procedure that can brighten the colour of the tooth enamel, as well as reduce some internal stains and certain discolouration. Changes in colour due to superficial staining caused by coffee, tea or smoking can be significantly improved. When the grey colour is due to the pigmentation within teeth, it will lighten but to a lesser degree than say, yellow. The procedure itself is harmless and can be done at any age. However not every tooth can be whitened sufficiently (as is often the case with teeth darkened due to being ‘dead’ (root canal treated)…..so dental advice is required first. Assuming that your natural teeth are amenable to whitening, you can undertake treatment either in the dental practice and/or at home.
Whatever the manufacturers claim, results cannot be really accurately predicted. In some individuals, more impressive changes are achieved than in others. In every case however, there is always an increase in whitening. Brown/ yellow teeth are easier to lighten than grey teeth.
EU legislation a few years ago has reduced the concentration of peroxide we are able to provide. Consequently the results obtained today, although very good, may not be as impressive as they were previously. However, concurrently the lesser concentration has resulted in far less tooth sensitivity during and after the procedure; a complaint common in the ‘old days’.
Today, the choices are ‘in surgery’ for about 1½ hours followed by ‘at home’ application for about 3 days or about 10 days of ‘at home ‘application only.
This involves applying the gel to the teeth. The gums around all the upper and lower teeth are covered with a special protective flexible rubber material. The lips and the tongue are gently ‘kept out of the way’. A special light source is shone approximately 1½ inches from the teeth surfaces in four doses of 15-20 minutes. The entire procedure takes about 1½ hours. During this time you can listen to music with or without headphones if you wish. You will NOT be able to use your smart phone, obviously!
Special thin, light and transparent fitting trays are constructed from individual models of the patient’s upper and lower teeth. A small amount of oxidising gel of lower concentration than that applied ‘in surgery’ is placed on the inside surface of each tray by the patient and worn either overnight or for about an hour during the day; whichever is the patient’s preference.
Can all teeth be whitened?
The whitening or bleaching process can work on all natural teeth, although the degree of whitening will depend on age and the initial colour of the teeth. Any ‘man-made’ material used on the teeth, such as crowns, veneers and fillings is not affected. In rare cases when teeth have been badly discoloured as a result of using antibiotics (such as Tetracycline) in childhood, whitening alone will be ineffective. More extensive cosmetic work will be required to achieve the whitening effect. Most superficial stains (‘on’, rather than ‘in’ the enamel surface) can be removed with a thorough scaling and cleaning; rather than ‘whitening.
Tooth whitening is safe. The active materials, Hydrogen Peroxide or Carbamide Peroxide, have been used by the dental profession for many years, with no indication of any harmful effects. If some of the stronger ‘in-surgery’ gel goes onto the gums, lips or tongue, all it does is to make the soft tissues go ‘white’ for a while. The effect is effectively neutralised and reversed with the application of Vitamin E gel. Again, no damage is caused.
In most cases the whitening process is painless. However should patients experience a tingling during the procedure and/or some degree of temperature sensitivity, the dentist can apply an analgesic. After the whitening treatment there may be a minor dull ache for up to 24 hours, which is also resolved with an analgesic. As mentioned, these ‘uncomfortable’ aspects have been very significantly reduced by the use of lower concentration materials.
How long will whitening last?
The effects may last for two to five years, gradually diminishing over time. It’s unlikely that your tooth color will revert totally to its original shade. Of course, if you pay attention to your oral hygiene, avoid heavily stained food and drink as well as heavy smoking, you’ll prolong the whitening effect.
Should you start off with a consultation?
A dental consultation is advisable. Although tooth whitening is a simple procedure, it needs to be evaluated along with other aspects of smile and tooth enhancement. What is the shape and position of your teeth? What about crowns and fillings that will not whiten? How much whitening can you expect with your shade of teeth? What are your habits? How quickly do you want to see results? These questions help the dentist to determine the best possible treatment plan for you.
Tooth whitening can make a significant difference to your smile. It is an inexpensive and effective procedure, whether done at home or at the dental practice. You can discuss all aspects with your dentist as part of a smile analysis appointment.