So you don’t like the color of your teeth? Teeth whitening or bleaching may be the way to go! Teeth whitening is a fast, effective and low-cost cosmetic procedure that will brighten your smile. Best of all, it doesn’t damage your teeth in any way! Don’t believe me? Read what the American Dental Association has to say about teeth whitening by clicking here.
Teeth whitening (bleaching) does have its limitations of course. Because there is no permanent change made to your tooth structure, the results can reverse over time. Whitening usually lasts anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. This wide range of effectiveness varies because everyone has different habits. For example, drinking too much coffee or tea will cause your teeth to darken faster than if you only drank water or light-colored liquids. A good rule of thumb when whitening? Anything that will stain your clothes will stain your teeth! Avoid those dark foods and drinks, especially immediately following your procedure. Another limitation is that whitening only changes your teeth. It cannot change the color of porcelain or fillings. For those of you with fillings or bonding on your front teeth, whitening may make these more noticeable, as they will remain the same color while your natural tooth structure will get lighter.
Tooth whitening can cause some irritation to your gums and teeth, but don’t worry, it’s temporary! Irritation to your gums will make them appear white, but this only lasts a few minutes after the teeth whitening gel is removed. Tooth irritation manifests as spontaneous sensitivity, especially to cold. If you take no action, this will usually last around 2 days. The sensitivity period for your teeth can be greatly reduced with a sensitivity toothpaste such as Sensodyne or Crest Sensi-Relief.
How does Teeth Whitening work?
In a nutshell, teeth whitening in general works either chemically or mechanically. Teeth whitening gels in general work chemically, while teeth whitening toothpastes work mechanically. Teeth whitening gels works by using a strong form of hydrogen peroxide. Peroxide breaks down to create oxygen. Oxygen then oxidizes the stains within your teeth itself to turn it whiter. Teeth whitening toothpastes, on the other hand, works by using abrasives. Every time you brush with whitening toothpaste, you are basically sanding away surface stains on your teeth. This usually does no harm unless you have gum recession or fillings because the abrasives can sand away your tooth root and your filling!
In Office Whitening
The active ingredient that is used in this type of whitening is a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide. Two chemicals are mixed together to form hydrogen peroxide.
If time is a factor, and you want great results sooner rather than later, then this is the treatment of choice. Results for this type of treatment can be seen within an hour. Typical patients can get their teeth whiter by 6-7 shades. There is however no control as to how much whiter your teeth will get since everyone’s teeth whiten at different rates.
Typical treatment is split into 3 or 4 sessions. Each session is 15 minutes long. In general, the more yellow your teeth are, the more dramatic the results you will see. Some patients can feel the sensitivity start in the first session, but some don’t feel it even after all 4 sessions are finished. Your experience will vary depending on your whitening history.
Other side effects you may see is uneven whitening. Typically, some white spots may be seen on individual teeth. These white spots tend to disappear within 24-72 hours.
Custom Bleaching Trays or Bleaching Gel
The active ingredient here is also a more stable form of hydrogen peroxide (carbamide peroxide). There are different strengths available. The higher the strength that is prescribed, the faster whitening works, but the more sensitive the patient may become.
Results for this type of bleaching will be seen in 2 to 3 weeks. This type of bleaching provides the most control over the final color of your teeth. Unlike over the counter products, a custom mold of your teeth will be made, meaning that bleaching gel will be evenly placed on all teeth. Typically, one treatment a day for 30 minutes is recommended. You can do more if you want faster results but increased sensitivity may result. When you reach the level of whiteness you desire, the rest of the gel and the trays can be saved so that you can bleach your teeth again when they start to discolor.
In the case of sensitivity, you can place sensitivity toothpaste into the trays and wear it for about 10 minutes. The sensitivity will subside quickly after. It is not recommended that this type of bleaching be done overnight.
Over the counter whitening gels or strips
The active ingredient for most over the counter products is some form of stable hydrogen peroxide (hydrogen peroxide itself is a great bleaching agent, but breaks down easily and is very volatile). These work fairly well, but because they are not made for your teeth specifically, they may bleach teeth unevenly. For example, a person who has a perfect smile with all their teeth aligned properly will have better results because bleaching strips can contact every tooth evenly. If a person’s tooth is misaligned w/ some teeth rotated or some teeth behind others, then the whitening strips can only bleach the teeth it touches but not teeth that are behind.
Side effects: The higher the concentration of the active ingredient, the higher chance you can get sensitivity. Since over the counter products are relatively low in hydrogen peroxide concentration sensitivity is less frequent and less severe.