Tooth whitening is a treatment that is popular in these image conscious times. White teeth project a sharp, clean, inviting and sexy image and are a bold signature of social confidence. In the business world it would be bad form to arrive at an interview or meeting brandishing a tobacco or coffee stained set of teeth.
With the advent of better dentistry, fluoride containing toothpastes and an increased hygiene awareness, people are more likely to keep their teeth until they are 100 years old! Many of us are looking for ways to improve the appearance of our smiles as well as portraying a healthy, younger image – tooth whitening is essentially an anti-ageing treatment.
There is no point having a set of brilliantly white teeth that are crooked (case in point - Dracula was never all that attractive in spite of his bright white fangs). An ideal situation is that you straighten and whiten your teeth for the most potent effect. A consultation with a qualified registered dental practitioner (not beautician) will determine whether you are suitable for tooth whitening. Here are some answers to some regularly asked questions.
What is tooth whitening?
Tooth whitening is a method of lightening the colour of your teeth without the need to remove any surface tooth material. Very few people have “pearly white” teeth but the whitening process can change the shade of your teeth significantly enough to give a good contrast against your skin complexion.
Do I need tooth whitening?
The surfaces of your teeth gradually stain over the years through the consumption of foods which may contain certain natural or artificial dyes, smoking, poor tooth brushing technique and drinks such as tea, coffee, red wine, fizzy drinks etc. In some cases the porosity of the enamel is quite high making the teeth more likely to absorb stains. If you are unfortunate enough to have suffered from enamel erosion or wear your teeth will take on a darker appearance. In any case we all require a degree of stain removal and tooth whitening to improve the overall radiance of our smiles.
Existing discoloured fillings, crowns, bridges, veneers and dentures will not lighten with this procedure. Tooth whitening is not recommended if you are pregnant, breast feeding or allergic to any components in the whitening material.
What does tooth whitening involve?
During the consultation process you will be given advice on the best approach to achieving your goals. There are two different methods available which can be used individually or in combination with one another. Home whitening involves the use of carbamide or hydrogen peroxide gel which is applied to the teeth through custom-made trays (like gum shields). The trays should be worn for 2-5 hours per day over a period of 2-3 weeks for effective whitening.
Laser power whitening or in-surgery whitening utilises a more potent gel applied directly to the surface of the teeth which is activated by a special (laser) light. The procedure is repeated up to three times to obtain maximum tooth lightening. This method can give a dramatic colour improvement at the first visit although a follow up visit may be required for stubborn stains. The laser power whitening appointment takes about one hour.
How long do my teeth stay white?
The lightened effect can last two to three years depending on whether you smoke and how often you ingest products that stain your teeth such as tea, coffee, etc. The key is avoidance of staining foods and drinks.
Are there any side effects?
Occasionally during or after the treatment there might be some tooth sensitivity. If the gel spills onto the gums little white spots might be seen but these disappear within a few hours. At the consultation appointment it is important for you to mention if you have ever suffered from sensitive teeth so that the appropriate steps can be taken to avoid any further sensitivity.
Does tooth whitening always work?
Heavy staining from tetracycline, fluorosis and discoloured teeth due to weakened enamel (hypoplasia) are very difficult to lighten. Dead teeth (where the nerves have been removed) discolour internally and will not lighten with surface whitening. However if these dead teeth have been root filled by your dentist they can be whitened.