There’s quite a lot of confusion about teeth whitening, and the differences between “laser bleaching”, take home kits, whitening strips, whitening toothpastes etc.
This short guide is to try and explain what exactly is involved in tooth whitening and how it works (and will it work for you?)
First of all why whiten teeth?
In my experience, tooth whitening is an excellent treatment and the first choice for improving my patients’ smiles. I recently had a patient consult with me to ask about getting 10 veneers to hide his very brown upper teeth (a very extensive treatment plan); but after I asked him to try teeth whitening first, he was so happy with the result that he no longer wanted the veneers.
Tooth whitening is:
* Conservative (non-destructive) – tooth enamel is not removed
* Whitened teeth never look fake – real teeth still look real – just brighter and cleaner
* No permanent side effects, although a TEMPORARY sensitivity during the process is common 🙁
Who is suitable?
Most adults are suitable for tooth whitening, but yellow/brown discolouration responds better than grey. If you have crowns, veneers or white fillings then they will NOT change colour and may look yellow beside your newly whitened teeth. Your dentist will be able to discuss this with you before your treatment.
But I have only one dark tooth!
Often, it is possible to bleach a tooth from the inside if it the only one that has discoloured (typically after a root canal). Again this is a very conservative treatment – you may not need that crown after all!
How does it work?
There are essentially two main types of long-term whitening:
- In surgery bleaching, where a high concentration of bleach is applied to the teeth by the dentist for a short time (1-2 hours). In my experience this bleaching is only effective when combined with the custom tray kits worn at night time (option 2 below), otherwise the results fade within a few weeks.
- Take home kits using custom made trays which fit exactly to the shape of your mouth and hold the whitening gel against your teeth for a longer exposure time (6-8 hours a night for 2 or more weeks). This is what I recommend for the majority of my patients.
So what about the kits you can buy over the internet or in the chemist?
There are a few things to consider here here:
* Most importantly, the tray used to hold the bleach should be custom-made to your mouth and fit exactly; if it is not tight and allows the bleach to leak, then results will be poor.
* The active ingredient used in our kits is 10-15% carbamide peroxide (equivalent to 3-5% hydrogen peroxide). Most whitening products bought over the counter such as toothpastes and whitening strips contain just 0.1% hydrogen peroxide.
* Some unlicensed internet distributors supply bleaching products that are too acidic, which can permanently strip your enamel. You should always use a reputable professional when considering cosmetic dentistry – dental enamel NEVER grows back.