When it comes to making your smile stand out, perhaps nothing does this as quickly and as effectively as teeth whitening, making it the most popular cosmetic dentistry fix. Whether you want to look good for summer social gatherings or the fall, winter and spring holidays, teeth whitening can go a long way to brightening smiles.
Teeth whitening is similar to coloring one’s hair, whether to change a color or cover the gray, teeth whitening can change yellowed teeth to white and cover up stains and discoloration that have beset tooth enamel. And like coloring hair, whitening teeth requires ongoing maintenance and “touch-ups”.
Every day the teeth pick up stains, from the dark foods eaten (berries or tomato sauce), the drinks regularly consumed (dark sodas, tea, coffee, or red wine), and habits such as smoking or chewing tobacco or poor oral hygiene.
These surface stains are known as extrinsic stains, and they respond favorably to cosmetic teeth whitening. Intrinsic stains, however, are harder to treat. Intrinsic stains come from trauma to the teeth, certain medications such as tetracycline, aging, and overexposure to fluoride while the teeth are still growing.
There are two types of teeth whitening, vital and non-vital. In vital teeth whitening, a gel containing hydrogen peroxide is placed onto the surface of the tooth directly. This can be done at home or in the dental office.
Your dentist covers and protects the gum area around the teeth before applying the gel. Next, the dentist will use a special curing light, or laser, to activate the solution and speed up the bleaching process. If you’re whitening your teeth in a dental office, you may need up to three visits, taking anywhere from 30 – 90 minutes for each. The staining on your teeth will determine how long the treatment will take, and you may need to follow-up with at-home treatments.
If you are whitening your teeth at home using a dentist’s whitening kit, your dentist will create custom trays for you from impressions made of your upper and lower teeth. These trays will fit snugly on the teeth to keep the gel in close contact with them. You will need to place the gel in the trays before wearing them for a few hours every day for a week or two. If the stains are severe, you may wear them for a month or longer.
If you are buying whitening treatments from your local drugstore, the whitening process may take longer to create the desired effect. Since a dentist is not customizing the treatment according to your unique needs, you risk tooth sensitivity and burns to the soft tissues in the mouth, such as the gums.
With non-vital whitening, these are treatments for teeth who have stains inside the tooth. In this case, your dentist will apply the gel inside the tooth along with a temporary filling. Once the tooth reaches the correct shade, the filling will be removed.
Cosmetic teeth whitening bleaches the teeth. If you have tooth decay or gum recession, bleaching may make them sensitive to temperature. For example, hot or cold foods may cause discomfort. If you have crowns or veneers made from porcelain or ceramic, or you have white dental fillings, bleaching them won’t work.
Maintain your teeth whitening efforts by practicing good oral hygiene daily, and keep up with professional dental cleanings and to check for signs of tooth sensitivity, gum disease or worn tooth enamel.
Dental bleaching is not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing.