What is teeth whitening?
Teeth whitening is the process of brightening your teeth. This process removes stains and discolouration.
Modern treatments don’t remove any surface enamel from your teeth, so they don’t cause damage and they make your teeth look whiter by shades.
What causes teeth discolouration?
In our day-to-day lives we all come in contact with things that contribute to discoloured teeth, these things include:
- Red Wine
- Coca-Cola or Pepsi
Food, drink and smoking contributes to what is known as extrinsic discolouration. Intrinsic discolouration is caused by the inner-tooth becoming more yellow – this can be caused by the use of antibiotics in young children.
As we become older, the enamel on our teeth also becomes thinner and means that our teeth become less bright over time.
Remember that your genetics also play a large part in the natural colour of your teeth, so just because they aren’t sparkling white doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly healthy.
How much does it cost?
The cost of your treatment can vary, based on a quite a few factors, including the type of treatment, your current oral health and the amount of practices in the area.
You should be able to shop around for the practice that is right for you, in regards to availability, reviews and of course on price.
You will almost always be able to shop around on price for in-surgery treatments but off-the-shelf kits vary widely in terms of the actual solutions they provide.
Remember: just because the treatment is the right price for you doesn’t necessarily make it the most appropriate treatment, consult with your dentist if you are ever unsure.
Will it hurt?
No. It shouldn’t hurt. You may experience increased tooth sensitivity for a short while after treatment, though.
If your gums are burning or you’re in general pain, that may indicate that something went amiss with your treatment and you should consult your dentist immediately.
White patches may also be visible on your gums depending on your treatment, but these should disappear a few days after.
What if I have fillings or dentures?
You should still be able to have tooth whitening treatment even if you have fillings, dentures, crowns or veneers.
If you want your fillings or dentures to match the new colour of your teeth you may need them to be replaced – consult with your dentist to see if replacement is worthwhile to achieve the look you’re after.
How are teeth whitened?
There are various methods which are used to whiten teeth, more recently including laser whitening which can whiten teeth by around 10 shades within an hour. All other methods require your teeth to be coated in solution.
The more traditional method of professional teeth whitening all follow similar steps, which usually are:
- First appointment is to discuss your suitability to treatment, then a mouthguard-like tray will be made especially for you
- Follow up appointments will involve the beginning of treatment, your gums will be guarded using a shield or protective gel
- Whitening material is applied to your teeth using specialist equipment, using another mouthguard-like tool
- You may need 2 or 3 more appointments to get greater results, but it is likely that you will have to apply material yourself between appointments. The means to apply it at home and all advice will be supplied by your dental professional
The results of in-surgery treatments can last around 3 years, but with over the counter treatments you can expect less lengthy results that require more frequent touch-ups.
Who can whiten teeth?
Only dentists and other types of qualified dental practitioner (e.g. dental therapists and dental hygienists) are legally allowed to advise, be in attendance of or conduct treatment. You can ensure your practitioner is fully insured and qualified by using the GDC registration list on http://www.gdc-uk.org/Pages/SearchRegisters.aspx
There have been several high profile cases of illegal application of teeth whitening products, which have been carried out by unregistered dental professionals – so make sure that the person you are trusting with advice is registered and qualified.
There are take home treatments available off-the-shelf, but it is strongly advised you gain advice from your dentist before use.
Why does teeth whitening require a dentist? Can’t anyone do it?
Under the 1984 Dentists Act, it is illegal for anyone who is not a registered professional to give advice, apply treatments or be in attendance of teeth whitening treatments. This is for good reason.
Blistering and long-term sensitivity issues can be caused if the person whitening your teeth does not follow the correct procedures, or if you have certain dental conditions then additional harm may be done.
Hydrogen peroxide based teeth whitening materials are irritants and if misused can be dangerous.
Are over the counter treatments effective?
Over the counter, you are only allowed to purchase products with less than 0.1% contents of hydrogen peroxide (the chemical that actually whitens your teeth). This can be effective in some cases, but for much clearer results dentists can offer you treatments of higher concentration if appropriate.
Be aware of off-the-shelf options that claim they are hydrogen peroxide free, as they may contain Sodium Perborate or Chlorine Dioxide, both of which are harmful and have been made illegal for sale since 2008.
Getting advice from your dentist before you select any type of treatment product is strongly advised.