More and more people are choosing to whiten their teeth to make their smile more attractive. First impressions are important when meeting people and a whiter, healthier looking smile is always an advantage.
Tooth whitening is a relatively simple process that can give dramatic results in the appearance (aesthetics) of your teeth. Tooth whitening will lighten the colour of your teeth without having more complicated work such as veneers or crowns. The degree of whiteness achieved will vary from person to person and with the type of bleaching process chosen.
Teeth are naturally a yellow or greyish colour which becomes darker as we get older. Food and drink such as red wine, coffee and smoking cigarettes can also cause our teeth to become darker. There are also other reasons such as decay, a “dead” tooth, and certain antibiotics can darken teeth. Dark teeth are very ageing and just do not look clean and fresh.
It is essential to have your teeth whitened by a dentist so that the cause of darkening can diagnosed and the appropriate method of whitening used for your situation. Every case is different, however it is usually straightforward.
Over the counter products are not very effective as the permitted level of the active ingredient is only 0.1% hydrogen peroxide. That is 0.001666 (roughly 1/100) as strong as the products that a dentist can use. This is why they are not very effective. To make up for the low concentration they sometimes contain abrasives that scour your enamel which can be damaging.
Tooth whitening in the UK is considered by the General Dental Council to be the practice of dentistry. Any non dentists whitening teeth in sports clubs, shopping centres or beauty parlours are doing so illegally. Dentistry can also only be practised from a location that is regulated and inspected by the Care Quality Commission. Sports clubs, shopping centres and beauty parlours do not fall into this category.
There are broadly speaking three ways a dentist can whiten teeth.
The dentist makes custom made trays and then supplies you with the trays and gel (usually 10 to 18% carbamide peroxide). You then apply the gel to the tray and wear the tray at home. This should be worn for two to six hours and a typical course is 12 treatments. The longer it is worn the better it works so sleeping with the trays in position is ideal. The treatments do not have to be on consecutive days, so skipping days is not a problem as the effect is cumulative. This way of whitening is considered to be the gold standard in tooth whitening as most of the research has been done with this method with great results. In fact 10% carbamide peroxide is the best as the stronger gels cause more transient sensitivity.
The dentist can supply you with a kit that allows you to put a tray over your teeth with gel (6% hydrogen peroxide) inside the tray. The trays are not custom made so you mould the trays to form around your teeth. This can be worn for two to three hours and then discarded. Several applications will be needed. This is the cheapest form of dentist tooth whitening but is not as effective as the first method.
The dentist can do the whitening for you in the practice. 6% hydrogen peroxide is used and the gels are “activated” with a light or laser which also gives off a bit of heat. This method is however controversial. If someone were to sit with their mouth open for 45 minutes without any treatment being done to their teeth, the teeth would whiten through dehydration. It can take up to 4 days for the teeth to rehydrate and return back to their original shade. So if the dentist does one application of light/laser activated whitening then the immediate effect will be very good, partly due to dehydration. However if the colour or shade is checked one week later the change will be marginal as the teeth will have rehydrated. To achieve a long term benefit at least three sessions will be needed or one session in conjunction with home whitening. This is usually more expensive than the other methods.