Article written by Dr. Horn
Want whiter teeth and a brighter smile without a major dental engineering project and the attendant costs? Then tooth whitening (or bleaching) may be for you.
Essentially tooth whitening or bleaching uses bleaching agents either singularly or with light activation to remove entrapped minerals and compounds that incorporate into your teeth over time from the outer layer or the enamel on your teeth. It is basically safe and not harmful to your teeth with some conditions and caveats we’ve listed below.
Basically there are three broad teeth whitening techniques;
Rapid Whitening Technique: Usually accomplished in the dental office with the application of whitening agent followed by activation with a laser or near ultra-violet light.
At Home Whitening Technique: Usually accomplished with either tray contained whitening agents or malleable strips containing whitening agents that form around the front teeth. Both tray and strip types are available from your dentist or over the counter. Although, the ones from your dentist can be custom formed and/or contain stronger concentrations of the bleaching agents it will work faster.
Whitening Toothpastes Technique: The third type is the broad range of whitening toothpastes. These are most effective at extending and maintaining the effect of the other whitening techniques but can be used as a primary, although slow, whitening technique.
Before starting any whitening procedure on your teeth you need a thorough dental examination because, although whitening has been shown to be safe and effective on healthy teeth there are some conditions that can cause increased sensitivity and even damage the tooth nerve. Some of these conditions are:
- Cracked or broken teeth,
- Old leaking, worn or stained fillings,
- Decay (caries)
Results of bleaching can also be affected by the initial color of the teeth, existing fillings or crowns that will not bleach, internal staining from drug or chemical exposure when the teeth were developing (tetracycline staining is an example) or developmental defects in the enamel. Additional directions must be followed for application of material, time of use and use of desensitizing agents must apply and be followed scrupulously.
In our office a thorough examination and discussion with the patient as to their goals and expectations are completed prior to recommending a custom tray or strip system and the strength of the whitening solution to use. We review usage of the whitening system, requisite hygiene instructions and record the starting shade of your teeth. A one week follow-up appointment to check for the change in tooth color and to make sure there are no complications like sensitivity or gingival irritation.
Generally, for healthy teeth the most common cause of sensitivity or gingival irritation is the overzealous application of whitening; either too much time on the teeth in the case of sensitivity or too much whitening material in the tray in the case of gingival (gums) irritation. Correcting these conditions is usually as simple as a short vacation from whitening and the application of desensitizing agents we provide.
The maximum bleaching effect usually occurs at three to four weeks after starting while there will be a slower that time most people will obtain their lightest shade at that time. After obtaining your desired lightening, the use of whitening toothpaste and once weekly to once monthly reapplication of your bleaching trays or strips.