Wanting whiter teeth is the number one desire of our patients when asked if there is anything they would like to do to their smile.
With so many products available, it can be very confusing as to what works and what doesn’t. The best way to begin any teeth whitening regimen is to discuss this with your dental hygienist and your dentist. Your dentist will assess your smile to determine if whitening will lead to the results you want, and to advise you as to what type of whitening will work best for you.
It is very important to have realistic expectations. Whitening does not lead to the same result in everyone. How much teeth whiten depends on many factors, including the concentration of the whitening agent, the starting shade of the teeth, the colour of the dentin (second level of tooth structure), the compliance of the patient, and many others. What is for sure is that fillings and crowns or bridges will not whiten; only tooth structure does. Your dentist will assess your teeth to see if you have any visible restorations that will affect your final result.
Professional In-Office Teeth Whitening
“In-office” whitening is performed in the dental office by a trained member of your dental team. During an office visit, your dental professional will place a protective coating on your gums, and apply the whitening gel onto the teeth and, depending on the system being used, may shine a light source directly onto the teeth. The entire office visit generally takes about 2 hours with immediate results. The results long term are similar to those achieved by a “custom home kit.” The benefit of in-office whitening is that it is quick. This is excellent for people on the go, who are too busy to use the home kit or have an important event come up without notice and do not have two weeks to whiten at home. The cost of in-office whitening can range from $500 – $1000 depending on the whitening system.
Home teeth whitening is the most popular way to professionally whiten your teeth. Impressions of your teeth are taken and custom trays are fabricated for each arch. You place whitening gel that you can only get from your dentist into the trays and then place the trays onto your teeth. Depending on whether the system is a daytime or nighttime system, you either wear the trays during the day for 30 mintues up to 2 hours depending on the system; or throughout the night. As the peroxide in the gel breaks down, hydroxyradicals help whiten stained teeth. Unlike strips, this process whitens all your natural teeth, including surfaces that curve right into the visible areas between your teeth. At-home professional tray whitening generally takes 10-14 days, although you may notice results in as little as three to five days. The cost of professional home whitening in our office is $350.
Non-Vital Teeth Whitening
As the name suggests, this is whitening that is done in teeth that have had root canal treatment and no longer have a nerve on the inside. The whitening is done from the inside of the tooth, though you can still whiten the outside surface of the tooth if needed. With non-vital teeth whitening, the gel is placed through the back part of the tooth, and a temporary filling placed. You return a week later and the process is repeated if a whiter result is desired. Once we have reached our goal, the hole that was made at the back of the tooth is filled with a white filling.
So what about all the bleaching options at my drugstore?
There are many over-the-counter teeth whitening options, including strips, paints, and toothpastes and mouthwashes. They are less expensive than professional teeth whitening systems, but unfortunately, very few provide any visible result.
One of the most popular over the counter teeth whitening systems is whitening strips. Teeth whitening strips are thin, flexible plastic (polyethylene) strips with a thin film of hydrogen peroxide bleaching on one side. Whitening strip kits come with two types of strips: strips for the upper teeth and strips for the lower teeth. The bleaching agent is applied by placing the strips across your teeth and gently pressing the strips into place to ensure contact with all your teeth. Teeth whitening strips are typically worn for 30 minutes a day, twice a day. The duration of treatment will vary. Some teeth whitening strips can work well, depending on the alignment of your teeth (really crowded or crooked teeth may not contact the strip evenly, leaving some areas untreated), but due to the lower concentration of active whitening agents, it does take longer to get an effect.
Paint-on teeth whiteners consist of a gel that is applied to the tooth using a small brush. Unfortunately, they tend not to provide consistent or satisfactory results and therefore we do not recommend them.
The least expensive options are whitening toothpastes, and we do not recommend them because combined with improper brushing techniques, they can cause traumatic abrasion of the teeth. Designed to have “whitening” capabilities, toothpastes work to remove surface stains using abrasives. However, unlike bleaching materials used in professional whitening procedures, these products do not lighten the actual color shade of the tooth.
Is whitening bad for my enamel?
If you follow your dentist’s instructions, whitening is very safe. It chemically removes stain inside the tooth; it does not remove your enamel. The only issue is that it can cause sensitivity, on your teeth and gums, which usually goes away shortly after you finish your whitening regimen.
Will my teeth hurt when I whiten?
A common side effect of whitening is transient sensitivity. Transient because it usually goes away shortly after you stop whitening. Your teeth may be sensitive to cold drinks, even cold air, especially after in office whitening. You can decrease this by applying fluoride to your teeth through a fluoride gel in your trays, or by placing some sensitive teeth toothpaste on your teeth with your finger.
What should I do before I whiten my teeth?
Ideally, you should have a dental check up before you whiten. Your dentist will assess your mouth for any challenges to whitening (eg. fillings on front teeth), or conditions that should be rectified first (eg. gum disease, sensitive root exposures). You should have a dental cleaning at least 1 week prior to whitening; this will remove debris and have your teeth clean and ready for the whitening gel, as well as give you enough time for your gums to settle down in case your cleaning was a deep cleaning. Make sure to always brush and floss about 30 minutes right before using your home whitening kit to allow the active gel to penetrate to all visible surfaces.