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Whitening is getting cheaper and more accessible, but the more popular it gets, the more money there is to be made resulting in lots of questionable whitening methods, products and scams that fool or hurt consumers. Remember, this is a $15B industry and the marketing often doesn’t emphasize the safety information as well.
If you’re considering whitening your teeth, this article is for you. Make sure you know what you’re doing before jumping in—you get one set of teeth in life and it’s all too easy to damage them permanently.
1. Here’s what to know before you begin:
A. Start With Healthy Teeth
You can’t remodel the kitchen if there’s dry rot in the floor boards. Whitening your teeth when you have gum disease, exposed roots, cavities, crooked teeth, gum recession, or other untreated issues can cause further pain and problems, plus you’ll have wasted your time and money since the whitening likely won’t take on damaged teeth. An ethical dentist will tell you this and not take your money before fixing problems first.
B. Be Prepared for Tooth Sensitivity
One common side effect of teeth whitening is sensitivity in the 24 hours after your teeth have been exposed to whitening gel. You can take a pain reliever like ibuprofen if the sensitivity is too much to bear.
C. It Doesn’t Last Forever
Teeth are always yellowing as part of the aging process. They’re also always becoming stained by the foods and drinks we consume. No matter where or how you whiten your teeth, it won’t last forever. Most results last from 6 months up to 2 years, but it all depends on how easily your teeth stain, as well as your diet.
There’s also a rebound effect, where teeth will relapse slightly in shade. You may be whitening your teeth and stop at a certain point once you’re happy with the results, but I would recommend going a bit beyond that thanks to the rebound effect.
D. One Size Does Not Fit All
Custom trays help ensure to keep the bleach where it’s intended, and not on your gums, where bleaching gel causes free radical reactions and damages them. Since everyone’s smile is different, we all shouldn’t be using the same size tray to whiten our teeth.
E. Keep Whitening Gel Away From Soft Tissue
Another common side effect of teeth whitening is soft tissue irritation. This usually happens when the whitening solution gets on the gums. Lastly, you might ingest a bit of the gel in take-home whitening kits, which can cause nausea or vomiting.
F. Results Vary
The results you get depend on what your teeth were like when you started. Some people think whitening erases all the damage they’ve done to their teeth over their lifetimes. The opposite is true — the better you’ve cared for your teeth, the greater the results. If you have kept up on your dental appointments, brushed and flossed regularly, and avoided damage and discolouration, the whiter your teeth will appear after treatment.
G. You Can Overdo It
Too much whitening gel too fast will permanently damage teeth. Over-whitening can make make them look translucent or discoloured, which can’t be fixed without replacing the tooth completely (not an option to take lightly).
H. Whitening Is Safe When Done as Recommended
Whitening is for the most part safe—if done correctly. What most people don’t realize before jumping in is this: Because you’re dealing with live tissue, unlike hair or nails, teeth whitening can cause damage to the tooth, pain, and sensitivity.
2. Which Whitening Method Is Right For You?
There are a million ways to whiten teeth—at the mall, at the dentist, and even at home DIY-style. Here’s a breakdown of the options.
A. Whitening Toothpaste
The name “whitening toothpaste” is a bit misleading. Toothpaste only lightens your teeth superficially by being more abrasive than regular toothpaste, so it can remove staining on your teeth, but not the internal color of your teeth.
Pros: Great for removing staining. Don’t use more than once a week to protect your teeth. Look for an ingredient called citroxain—I use Rembrandt Intense Staining Toothpaste with citroxain.
Risks: Whitening toothpastes also can cause sensitivity, be too abrasive on the teeth, and lead to gum recession. Use it no more than once a week, brush gently with proper technique and check in with your dentist at check-ups to make sure you’re not doing damage.
B. Professional Whitening at the Dentist’s Office
You’ll come into the office for a few sessions about an hour each. A high concentration of peroxide is applied to the teeth and a light is used, which supposedly accelerates the chemical reaction and the whitening.
Pros: If you need whitening fast for an upcoming event, this can be a good option. Theoretically, since the dentist is present, you reduce your risk of doing damage to your teeth.
Risks: I’m not a fan of these light systems and won’t use them in my practice. At best, they’re safe but won’t get nearly the results from wearing custom trays or white strips. At worst, accelerating the chemical reaction damages the tooth, which can lead to premature aging and yellowing and maybe require future dental work after the tooth dies prematurely. Think of chocolate chip cookies — they’re best baked at 325 degrees for ten minutes. If you try to shorten the time to just five minutes at a higher temperature, you’ll probably burn them.
C. Custom-Made Whitening Trays
For the best results, I recommend trays, which are custom-made by your dentist after taking impressions of your teeth. After squirting the hydrogen peroxide gel into the trays, you pop them in your mouth. The trays keep the whitening gel in place, surrounding the 3-D surfaces of the teeth, and keeping the gel away from the gums where it can do harm.
Pros: You’ll get the best results in the most cost effective way. Once you have these trays, you can whiten your teeth for the rest of your life (assuming your teeth don’t move). You add a peroxide gel to the trays and can wear them for a few hours or overnight. The gel keeps in the fridge and you can pop in your trays anytime you need to!
Risks: If you use a gel that’s too strong and you leave your trays in for too long, you risk penetration of the hydrogen peroxide too deep into the tooth, which can result in damage of the pulp (the next layer inside the tooth, inside dentin). Children especially are at risk of this because they have larger areas of pulp relative to the size of their growing teeth. Damage of the tissue can cause death of the tooth, tooth pain, or sensitivity.
D. Whitening Strips
The active ingredient in whitening strips is carbamide peroxide which is an effective teeth whitener.
Whitening strips are small pieces of a flexible plastic called polyethylene. Each flexible strip is coated in a whitening gel that contains hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide.
You take each strip and mold it around your teeth — one strip for the top, and one strip for the bottom. The peroxide gel in the strips is now held up against the teeth, so it can seep into the teeth to lighten them.
White strips work, but often give uneven results. Since strips are 2-D, they do a poor job of getting into the curves in between teeth, which can make your teeth look whiter on their flat surfaces, but yellower at the edges. If you have crooked teeth, even results will be hard if not impossible to get.
Pros: They’re readily available at drugstores and on Amazon, easy to use, and get results within a few days or weeks. A lot of people would consider it a “pro” that you don’t have to see your dentist to get them, but if you haven’t been to the dentist in a while and you have a cavity and the whitening materials get within that cavity, it can cause excruciating pain.
Risks: Whitening strips can be dangerous because they are not custom-fit, so the whitening chemicals come into contact with the gums and other tissues in the mouth. When whitening strips touch other live tissue, you have free radical reactions—those are the reactions the speed up the aging process. With trays you make yourself or with whitening strips, you’re holding oxidant against living tissue which causes a reaction that is unsafe and is creating free radicals in the mouth.
3. Whitening Methods to Avoid
A. ZOOM/Light/Halogen/LED/Laser Whitening
Studies have shown the lights do not work to lighten teeth, whether laser, LED, or halogen. At worst these machines can kill teeth by devitalizing the nerve.
Staff running these tooth-whitening kiosks often have no healthcare training and no license, yet are dispensing chemicals that could permanently affect your teeth and gums. They get around the law by having consumers themselves place the whitening tray into their mouths, thereby never entering the mouth and, under the law, not performing a dental procedure. The technicians do not have the appropriate training nor can they follow-up if there are issues after the procedure, such as sensitivity or damage to the gums.
B. Whitening Mouthwash
A mouthwash might contain the right whitening ingredient, but it’s not going to whiten your teeth. Bleach needs to be held up against the tooth for several minutes or more to seep into the inner part of the tooth and produce a color change, if done daily for a few weeks.
Plus, every time you rinse, you’re exposing the sensitive inner tissues of your mouth and gums to bleach, harming them.
DIY Strawberry or Lemon Paste
You’ll get results, yes, but at a cost. These DIY pastes “work” because the fruit’s acid wears away the top layer of enamel, revealing whiter enamel underneath.
When enamel is worn away by acid, teeth begin to look worn, old, and discolored. Just like sun tanning means you’ll get wrinkles faster, the acids in these DIY pastes speed up the aging process of your teeth.
This is why I don’t recommend these acidic pastes under any circumstances. For surface-whitening (extrinsic whitening), use a whitening toothpaste instead.
4. Do Your Homework
Whitening is an easy way to make money, with lots of demand. Compared to a filling or surgery, it doesn’t require a lot of work by the dentist. Everyone wants to know where they can get it quickest and cheapest because they’ve got a blind date next week or a high school reunion to go to. The big corporations are in on it, and the dentists are in on it – everyone’s fighting for a piece of the action.
Methods like these are often used for the sake of convenience and time. When people see teeth whitening offered at the shopping mall, that’s way more convenient than making an appointment at the dentist. Whenever you need whiter teeth immediately – for an upcoming date or big event – and don’t have any time to wait, you’re much more likely to be taken advantage of. Take your time and do it right. It’s worth it.
5. When You May Not Want to Whiten
If you fall into one of these groups, I recommend you talk with your dentist about your unique case, as whitening might not be right for you:
Contact Family Care Dental Clinic for your consultation today!
We at Family Care Dental Clinic offer our clients a wide range of comprehensive dental services for the whole family. Our dentists can help everyone in your family understand the importance of proper oral hygiene over time and the positive effects it has on your health. At Family Care Dental Clinic, we treat our clients to a soothing environment where they can receive quality dental care no matter what their needs are. Call (604) 987-3545 or write us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment with a member of our excellent team!