Tooth Whitening Q and A

January 5, 2020 by Dr. Sanjay Parashar

How does one whiten their teeth?

There are various forms of tooth whitening techniques. Firstly there is the Home Technique which involves whitening one’s teeth at home, but under the supervision and prescription of a dentist. The idea is to wear trays which hold the whitening gel. The trays are lightweight and fit closely around the teeth. This ensures that the gel is applied to all the teeth surfaces without touching the gums and that the trays are small and therefore as comfortable as possible. The trays used to be worn by patients overnight for a period of 2-3 weeks.  As the technique has evolved, systems have been developed that require patients to wear the tray for only 30-60mins a day, which is much more comfortable and manageable. Some systems use disposable trays preloaded with the gel, eliminating the need to have impressions taken of the teeth to create the trays.

The other form of professional whitening is the In Surgery Technique. There are many systems available like ZOOM, some systems will use light activated units for power whitening or lasers whilst you sit in the dental chair. The idea is that the light or laser activates the chemical reaction of the gel products when shone onto the teeth. These techniques are suitable for patients who want to come in and have the whitening done and dusted in a couple of hours, rather than having the responsibility of wearing the trays at home for so many days.

What about the products you can pick up over the counter?

There a number of whitening toothpastes and other over the counter whitening kits available, however most of them do not have the concentration of hydrogen peroxide required for the desired result. Some may even contain acetic or citric acid which can cause damage to the enamel of the teeth if used for prolonged periods of time. For better and safer results it is recommended to seek professional whitening that is whitening prescribed and monitored by a dentist.

How well does it work and how long will it last?

Tooth whitening can work very well on some people and may less on others but it does always brighten the smile. The type and degree of discolouration as well as its cause has an influence. Discolouration of teeth can be caused by illness or use of Tetracycline antibiotics whilst the teeth were forming. This type of discolouration can be deep and may require prolonged treatment with limited results. Smoking, drinking black tea, coffee and red wine can cause staining of teeth. This staining may be only superficial and could be removed by a thorough cleaning of the teeth without possibly the need to whiten the teeth. Patients with existing fillings and crowns, bridges, veneers will find that these will not react to the whitening gel and may stand out once the rest of the teeth have been whitened. Only a dentist will be able to assess your teeth and make these judgments for you.

On average whitening should last for 18-36 months, however there are certain factors such as smoking that can cause the whitening to regress faster. Cutting down on foods and drinks that can stain teeth can help to keep your teeth white.

It is safe? Does it damage the teeth?

A common concern is that the whitening procedure could damage the teeth. The most common side effects are that teeth may become  a little sensitive to hot and cold during or just after treatment and that the gel can cause irritation of the gums and soft tissue if it comes into contact with them. These effects, should they occur are short-lived and will resolve within a day or so. Generally patients who have a history of tooth sensitivity are more susceptible to whitened induced sensitivity.  When examining a patient prior to whitening we would look for fracture lines in teeth, caries, leaking fillings and any severe loss of enamel tissue. If these are not treated prior to the whitening there is a chance of sensitivity and tooth damage.

Tooth whitening can be a safe and effective procedure if carried out in the correct manner. It is important that the teeth are assessed prior to the procedure to determine suitability.

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