As you may have noticed, teeth whitening is a popular dental treatment. Many of our patients have asked about it, have done it in the past, or are currently doing our tooth bleaching treatment plan.
We often get the question “How does it work? Is it safe for my enamel? Why are my teeth not getting more white?”
There are a lot of methods for teeth whitening. From over the counter strips, mouth rinses and tooth pastes to professional laser-assisted teeth bleaching and many other options in between. Which one is right for you depends on your schedule, willingness to do treatment at home and type of stain. Teeth can have extrinsic staining (on the surface of the tooth) from foods, tobacco, wine/coffee/tea and intrinsic staining (internal to the tooth) from things like medications, injuries, or long term tea/coffee/nicotine exposure, or simply the natural healthy shade of your teeth could be darker than average.
To know the best approach to whiten your teeth we need to figure out what type of staining you have. From there we can make recommendations to give you the best results while keeping your teeth and gums safe.
In general, whitening products work by disassembling stain-causing particles that lie on or within in your teeth. This disruption is caused by hydrogen peroxide, which is the major ingredient in whitening products. When it reacts with the stains in your teeth, the chemical responsible for giving the stain its color is broken down and eliminated, thus your teeth appear lighter.
Many people start with whitening toothpastes. While these have a place in the world of tooth whitening options, it is often times misused and doesn’t show any improvement. Whitening toothpastes claim actually have small coarse particles in them and produce a scrubbing action on the teeth in an attempt to remove external stains. This works well if used on the right type of stain. Unfortunately these toothpastes can also cause our teeth to be sensitive by scrubbing at the teeth tooth harshly.
The next option of over the counter treatment are whitening strips. These products are adhesive strips with a small amount of a low strength peroxide in them that are placed on the teeth for 30 minute sessions. This attempts to battle the extrinsic and intrinsic stains by allowing the peroxide to interact with the stain particles mentioned earlier. These products may work for some people, however are known to cause sensitivity as well or may not be strong enough to get the desired result.
Then we get into at-home whitening treatment: a higher strength whitening that is usually available through your dental office. These are peroxide gels that are administered in a custom or personal tray that is worn on the teeth and allows the gel to sit on the teeth and do its work. This is a very effective and safe method for teeth bleaching, but requires some effort by the patient at home to follow the manufacturer’s recommended course. Typically one whitening course is about one week for 30 minutes a day.
The final, and most popular, method of teeth whitening is professional in-office whitening. This is a treatment that is done in the office that takes about 20-45 minutes. This method uses the strongest peroxide gel available to give the most dramatic result while being safe for the teeth and gums. Many people are happy with their immediate results, however it is important to keep in mind that the shade of the teeth does settle slightly. It is important to note that there are many brands available to use for the in-office whitening. Some are known to cause sensitivity during the treatment. This may feel like tiny electric shocks, called zingers, during the whitening process, and can be quite uncomfortable. Some brands do not cause any sensitivity at all while providing an excellent result. Through experience, we were able to narrow down a product that according to our patients does not cause any one these zingers, but one could sneak through once in a while, although we haven’t heard that complaint in years. Make sure to speak to your dentist or hygienist about what brand is used and if it can cause these zingers.
If you have extrinsic stains, first try an electric toothbrush with a whitening toothpaste. If no change is noticed after 1 tube, then discontinue the whitening toothpaste or switch to Sensodyne Whitening toothpaste that will work on any sensitivity that could arise.
If you have intrinsic stains, the best method is to combine the in-office professional whitening treatment to get the immediate boost in shade with the at-home treatment to maintain it and minimize the rebound in shade.
For all methods it is important to properly clean the teeth to remove the layer of saliva from the surface of the teeth to allow the penetration of the peroxide gel into the tooth. When you choose the in-office method, the best time to have a whitening treatment is right after the cleaning appointment. If you’re doing the home options, then remember to brush your teeth very thoroughly (not strong and harsh, but thorough) prior to the treatments.