Teeth Whitening

Teeth WhiteningTeeth whitening involves bleaching your teeth to make them lighter. The process can’t change the colour of your teeth, but it can lighten the existing colour by several shades. Teeth naturally get darker as you older and this process can be quicker if you consume red wine, tea, coffee and other foods and drinks with strong colourings. Smoking will also change the colour of teeth.


What are the different types of teeth whitening systems available?


To combat this there are many teeth whitening systems available. There are generally two categories of teeth whitening products. Firstly there are home treatments which include toothpastes, gels, strips and trays. Secondly there is in-surgery laser treatment which the GDC advises should only be carried out by a dentist.

Whitening toothpastes are the easiest way to brighten your teeth. All toothpastes should brighten your teeth as they remove stains but special whitening pastes should have a bigger effect and help to remove surface stains only. Whitening toothpastes do not contain and bleach or hydrogen peroxide (which is the bleaching agent is most over the counter products). Whitening toothpastes can brighten your teeth by once shade.

Although the British Dental Association warns against using products and systems which are not bought from a registered dentist, strips and gels can bought be in most pharmacies. Peroxide based gels are applied using a small brush. They need to be applied twice a day typically for around 14 days. The results should last for up to 4 months. Strips work in a similar way only they are applied from a thin peroxide based strip which needs to left on your teeth for about 30 minutes, twice a day for 14 days.

Whitening trays are available over the counter or from your dentist. They contain a tray and a peroxide based gel. The tray is filled with gel which is then inserted against your teeth like a mouth-guard. Depending on your desired results the tray should be worn for a couple of hours during the day or at night while you sleep. EU regulations mean that only products containing or releasing less than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide can be sold over the counter. Whitening products with between 0.1% and 6% hydrogen peroxide can only be sold to patients after a consultation and initial treatment session with a dentist.

The quickest and most effective method for bleaching teeth is in surgery treatment. A dentist will apply the whitening product directly to your teeth and use heat or a light laser to speed up the process. This treatment can change the colour of teeth by 3 to 8 shades and results are noticeable after just one session. Sessions will take between 30 – 60 minutes and several may be required if dramatic changes are desired.


This patient had their stained teeth, whitened with Zoom! Power whitening. The case study courtesy of Cheltenham Dental Spa and Implant Clinic

The main differences between the home usage whitening products and in-surgery treatments are:
• Strength of Bleaching Agent – The bleaching agent used in-surgery is a lot stronger than the agent in use at home products. This will obviously achieve quicker results. There are of course limits to the amount of bleaching agent that can be used as too much can damage teeth.
• Additional Protection – If you decided on a tray option for teeth whitening, these can be purchased from a dentist or over the counter. Whilst more expensive the advantage of the dentist supervised method is that the tray will be custom fitted for to your teeth. This will minimise the whitening product that comes in contact with your gums. The generic size trays may not fit properly on your teeth while can be irritating and may cause some discomfort and irritation if the bleaching agent gets into your gums. For in-surgery treatment your dentist will apply protective gel or covering to your gums to stop them coming into contact with the bleaching agent.
• Supervised Process – the in-surgery process is supervised by a professional. The process should start with an examination after which the dentist can recommend the best course of action. The dentist may then check your progress to make sure you are using the treatment kit properly.

Is teeth whitening suitable for everybody?


The answer is no. Whitening is not recommended in the following cases:

• If the patient is under 16 or pregnant, teeth whitening is not advisable. Teenagers teeth are not fully developed before 16 and the bleaching agent can get into the nerve of the tooth and cause irritation.
• Sensitive teeth and allergies – if you are allergic to peroxide should avoid the process as this is the bleaching agent in the kits. The bleach needs to get inside the tooth for deeper effects. This can cause irritation and discomfort for sensitive teeth.
• Gum disease and cavities – teeth whitening is not advisable if you suffer from either of these. The whitening procedure gets into the cavities and can cause sensitivity.
• It is also important to note that whitening does not work on crowns, veneers, bridges etc. If you are having any of these fitted and want whitening, it is important to have the whitening done first so any restorations will match the colour of your teeth.

Tooth whitening is a pretty risk free procedure. The two main risks are increased sensitivity of your teeth and mild irritation of the gums.


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