About tooth whitening
Tooth whitening is one of the easiest procedures that can be done to improve the appearance of a smile. Today, tooth whitening is a safe and long lasting way to achieve a brighter smile. A dentist-supervised whitening treatment is the safest and most effective method for obtaining whiter teeth.
Teeth become darker with age and exposure to substances such as coffee, tea, and tobacco. These yellow, brown or orange colored stains respond best to lightening. Other stains may be caused by exposure to a drug called tetracycline or to excess fluoride during early stages of tooth development. These gray stains can be lightened but the results are not as predictable.
The whitening process
After an exam to ensure oral health, your dentist will determine if you are a candidate for a whitening process. There are several whitening processes available today; your dentist will recommend one that will give you the best results.
In-office whitening is done at your dentist’s office. While it may require several visits depending on the number of teeth that need whitening, in-office whitening is the fastest way to brighten your smile. Your dentist protects your gums, then applies a bleaching agent to the teeth. A special heat light may be used to activate the agent.
A dentist-supervised, at-home whitening system is the most popular way to achieve a whiter smile. Your dentist first takes an impression of the teeth to create a custom bleaching tray. When you receive the bleaching tray you will also receive the whitening gel and specific instructions from your dentist on how to use the system. This system usually takes 10 to 14 days to complete but some patients may begin to notice results right away. Your dentist will ask you to come back to check on the progress.
A number of whitening toothpastes are available to purchase over-the-counter. These toothpastes rely on chemical or abrasive agents to remove stains from the surface of the teeth. Since the active whitening ingredient is not exposed to the tooth surface for long, toothpastes are less effective for significant whitening. These toothpastes may be best to maintain a bright smile after and in-office or at-home whitening treatment. Check with your dentist before using one of these products.
Side effects of tooth whitening
Tooth whitening is very safe, especially when supervised by your dentist. The whitening process does not harm existing enamel, tooth structure, bonding or restorations. However, whitening agents will not lighten bonding or tooth-colored fillings, only the teeth around them.
For some people, teeth may become sensitive during the first 10 to 14 days of treatment with whitening gel. Your dentist may choose to alter the treatment to alleviate sensitivity. However, the sensitivity is usually temporary and will lessen after treatment is over. Some people may have slight gum irritation from small amounts of the whitening gel coming in contact with the tissue.
Length of effectiveness
Depending on personal habits, whiter, brighter teeth should last one to five years. Smoking and drinking coffee, tea and dark colas can darken teeth sooner and may require a whitening touch-up. Twice daily brushing, daily flossing and regular dental checkups will keep whitened teeth brighter.