Teeth whitening refer to the process involved in removing stains from the teeth and restoring their whiteness.
It involves various methods which often use bleaching gels like hydrogen peroxide along with various kits to deliver the gel.
Teeth whitening can remove stains and make teeth several shades whiter but it cannot turn it into a brilliant white.
Teeth whitening is a form of dentistry although there are beauty salons which do offer these services and there are also at-home teeth whitening kits available.
There is also a distinction between bleaching and whitening.
The former is a term use when bleaching agents are used while the latter could even refer to removing debris and dirt from the surface of our teeth using everyday products like toothpaste and mouthwash.
Methods of Professional Teeth Whitening
Professional teeth whitening involve several visits to the dentist.
On the other hand the dentist may also dispense teeth whitening products that you can use at home.
Most medical councils – e.g. American Dental Association – advise us to visit the dentist regularly – once in 6 months – to get professional teeth cleaning done.
Methods of professional teeth whitening can be two-fold – visiting a dentist’s office for in-office professional teeth whitening or using professional teeth whitening kits recommended by the dentist.
This way even if you prefer the second option, you will use the right whitening product.
The dentist will take an impression of your teeth and give you a mouth guard or mouth tray which can be used at home along with a whitening gel he or she prescribes.
The dentist can also perform laser whitening. This is also called chair-side bleaching.
Each sitting could last 30-60 minutes and depending on the color of your teeth, you may require two or more sittings.
During this session, the dentist will place a rubber shield or a protective gel on your gums to prevent damage to soft tissues.
A bleaching gel is then applied on the teeth and a special laser or light passed over this. This activates the bleaching agent and the whitening process begins.
Professional teeth whitening such as this can cost $500 per session.
For those with fewer stains, a single sitting could be sufficient.
Usually, hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide of 15-35% concentration will be used along during the laser therapy.
For professional teeth whitening at home, your dentist can also take an impression or mold of your teeth and get you custom made mouth trays.
You will be given carbamide peroxide gel of 10-20% concentration.
This could also be combined with sodium hydroxide, carbomer, water, glycerin and flavoring agents like mint that will remove the bitter taste of peroxide.
If there is a higher concentration of peroxide, the gel could also include sodium fluoride that helps to strengthen teeth and gums and reduce sensitivity.
When using this kit at home, you must first place a ribbon of gel on the tray and fit it to your mouth.
This can be worn for 2 hours or even overnight if the gel concentrations are low. You may need to use the mouth tray for 2-6 weeks to get the best results.
Using both methods of professional teeth whitening can help you get 12-15 shades whiter teeth.
These are safe and effective since they are monitored by the dentist.
If your teeth are not overly stained, your dentist may even recommend other types of teeth cleaning methods like strips that you can use to achieve the desired result.
Benefits of professional teeth whitening
The benefits of professional teeth whitening are that the dentist can assess your teeth and check for any kind of dental problem like tooth loss, dental damage, gum disease or oral cancer.
Catching these at the earliest and treating them can avoid a host of other problems too.
If there are no problems, the dentist can assess the type of teeth whitening that can be done and the level of whiteness that can be achieved.
He or she can also recommend the best teeth whitening system to use at home. A professional will assess the health of your gums and decide if you can tolerate teeth whitening or not.
The dentist will also recommend the concentration of bleaching gel that is safe for you to use.
Professional in-office teeth whitening will offer immediate and more lasting results since they use laser or light systems or higher concentration of bleaching gel.
At-home teeth whitening takes longer and you may not achieve the desired whiteness. You may also use the wrong product and end up damaging your teeth.
Following proper hygiene and maintenance as suggested by the dentist can mean that your teeth can be white for longer periods.
The cost is the main factor that many consider when the option for professional or OTC teeth whitening methods.
In-office teeth whitening can cost even $500 or more while you can get OTC teeth whitening strips, gels, toothpaste or pens for as little as $10.
Higher concentration of bleaching gel used in professional teeth whitening can cause sensitivity of teeth and gums.
Combining both methods (laser and mouth trays) of professional teeth whitening can even cost up to $1000 or more.
If you consider the factors that affect the cost of professional teeth whitening, this could be the reputation of the dentist and if you opt for both in-office and at-home professional treatment.
A dental clinic with the best equipment can be expensive but will probably deliver the best results.
So the choice really depends on the budget of each individual and the level of whiteness desired.
Time is another factor for busy people as they need to fix an appointment with the dentist and spend time at the clinic whereas OTC teeth whitening can be done anywhere and anytime at one’s convenience.
Precautions you should take
Since professional teeth whitening is done by a dentist, he or she will evaluate if you are the right candidate to undergo this procedure.
Usually, children, pregnant women, those with allergies to hydrogen peroxide, those with gum disease, sensitive teeth, cavities, worn enamel and exposed roots, those having crowns, fillings and other types of restorative work on their teeth are all not considered to be ideal candidates for teeth whitening – professional or at-home.
Do not have unrealistic expectations about the color your teeth will become after whitening. While it can get lighter, it will not turn a brilliant white.
Also, darkly stained teeth may not respond well to any kind of whitening process.
Usually, two side effects can occur due to teeth whitening – sensitivity and irritation of the gums.
Both these are temporary and will stop once the process is over.
Usually, both side effects are caused due to reactions to the bleaching agent. Tell your doctor if you experience any of these side effects.
You may be advised to stop the process for a few days to allow your teeth time to get adjusted to the bleaching agent or you may be advised to wear the mouth tray for shorter periods and more frequently.
Brushing with toothpaste for sensitive teeth and getting a fluoride product to re-mineralize teeth can also help.