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Tooth whitening can be a simple yet highly effective way of lightening the colour of you teeth without harming them.
The most common, effective and cost efficient method is tray whitening. Your dentist will take an impression of your mouth and use this to make a tray which fits into your mouth like a gum shield. You will be shown how to apply the whitening gel using the tray. The tray is worn with the gel for a few hours each day, usually at night while sleeping, and for about 3 weeks or until the desired colour is achieved.
You will need 2 or 3 visits to your dentist. At your first appointment they will check your teeth to make sure there is no active decay or leaking fillings. If there is, or if you need to see the hygienist for professional cleaning, this will be dealt with first. After this, they will take impressions for the trays to be made. At your next appointment you will be given all the material, advice and instruction you need to proceed over the next 2-4 weeks or so.
Everyone is different and, just as our hair and skin colour varies, so do our teeth. Some teeth have a yellowish tinge, some are more beige – very few are actually ‘white’. But the main problem is that teeth tend to darken with age as well as becoming stained on the surface by food and drinks such as tea, coffee and red wine. There could also be tiny cracks in the tooth enamel which take up the stain.
The vast majority of patients are very pleased with the results they see. However treatment results can vary depending on the original shade of the teeth. In some cases it may take longer than the usual 3 weeks to achieve a good result. For example, if your teeth are dark because you had the antibiotic tetracycline at an early age, then you may need to continue treatment for a lot longer until you are happy with the result. The effect lasts for about 2 years. Since your teeth will tend to darken slightly over time, we recommend “topping up” the whitening with your trays and gel once or twice a year to maintain the whiter shade you have achieved.
Some people find that their teeth are sensitive during treatment and for the first few days afterwards. This does wear off after a short time and there are ways to reduce the sensitivity during the treatment, if needed. Your dentist will advise you about this.
Over-the-counter kits are not recommended. Anything bought over the counter will only contain a tiny amount of hydrogen peroxide, and not enough to make any significant difference to the shade of your teeth. Some products, in particular those available on the internet, may also contain mild acids or abrasives which will actively damage tooth enamel. Whitening is a complex treatment procedure and should only be carried out by a dentist after a thorough examination and assessment of your teeth. It is very important to follow the instructions your dentist gives you and to make sure that you go for any recommended follow-up appointments.
Whitening can only lighten your tooth colour, and it only works on natural teeth. Whitening will not work on any fillings, crowns, veneers or bridges. If these are stained or the wrong colour, they may need replacing after the whitening treatment, especially if they are visible restorations. Your dentist will advise you about this before you begin.
There are now several whitening toothpastes you can buy. Although they do not affect the natural colour of the tooth, they can be effective in removing staining and therefore in improving the overall appearance of the teeth.
1. Is everybody suitable?
Most people are suitable candidates for whitening. If you have existing crowns/veneers/fillings on your front teeth, then these will not whiten, and results may be unpredictable.
2. How long do the teeth whitening effects last?
Teeth whitening results are long-term, but not permanent. People who smoke or expose their teeth to foods and drinks that cause staining will see the whiteness fade more quickly than those who don’t. Once your whitening trays are made, they can be reused, and it is a simple and inexpensive process to “top-up” from time to time. We recommend topping-up one night every second month to maintain optimum whiteness.
3. Do teeth whiteners damage tooth enamel?
Studies of teeth whitening products have shown little to no effect on the hardness or mineral content of a tooth’s enamel surface.
4. Are there any side effects?
Sensitivity is experienced by 10-20% of people who whiten their teeth, either during the night when whitening or the following day. This sensitivity will normally goes away within 24 hours, and you can use sensitive toothpastes or special desensitizing gels to help with this process – both of which are available from our Practice.
5. Do teeth whiteners damage a tooth’s nerve?
There’s no evidence to date that the teeth whitening process has a harmful effect on the health of a tooth’s nerve. One study reported that at both a four and a half year and seven year follow up, no individual who used a teeth whitening system needed a root canal procedure on any teeth that had been whitened.
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