In recent years teeth whitening has become one of the most popular cosmetic dental treatments available as it can be a fast, effective way to achieve whiter teeth – and thus enhance your smile and boost your confidence!
Teeth whitening is generally considered a non-invasive, safe and cost-effective treatment. However, as there are different types of whitening treatments, you are advised to consult your dentist to determine the most appropriate one for you. Starting a whitening treatment without prior professional examination and consultation is not recommended as tooth discoloration or staining sometimes denotes a disease or condition requiring dental treatment or may have a cause that doesn’t respond to whitening agents.
Before discussing the potential risks or adverse effects of dental whitening, let’s first discover a little more about this treatment and why we may want to consider it for ourselves.
What actually is teeth whitening?
Teeth whitening is a cosmetic dental treatment that helps to brighten tooth enamel by removing staining. Most dental whitening products contain a form of peroxide (namely hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide), which helps to break down the stains on your teeth. Results of tooth whitening will vary from one individual to another due to factors such as initial tooth shade, age and type of discolouration.
So, what causes discolouration of teeth?
There are several reasons why our teeth may become stained or discoloured and lead us to seek whitening treatment, but the most common are:
- diet – coffee, tea, red wine, tomatoes, soft drinks, curries, etc.
- poor oral hygiene
- developmental defects
- certain medications, including antibiotics.
What types of whitening are available?
- In-chair whitening (e.g. Zoom® whitening)
- This provides the most “instant” result, taking around 90 minutes to complete.
- A highly concentrated whitening gel is applied to the teeth by a dental professional and activated by a light to accelerate the process.
- You can expect to see your teeth become six to eight shades lighter in one session!
- Take-home trays and whitening gel
- Custom-fitted trays are worn either during the day or at night.
- Results are usually seen within two weeks.
- Over-the-counter products
- These contain lower concentrations than professionally prescribed take-home whitening kits and can take much longer to achieve results.
- Several other chemicals can be included in different over-the-counter products, and these have the potential to damage your enamel, especially if used incorrectly.
- Whitening toothpastes
- These may help to remove minor surface staining but will generally not attain significant whitening results.
- Whitening toothpastes can be quite abrasive and may damage tooth enamel and increase sensitivity in some patients.
Risks related to whitening
Most risks associated with dental whitening arise from inappropriate or incorrect use. Studies have shown that, when used correctly and in consultation with your dentist, whitening is safe and effective.
Some after-effects can still be experienced by certain patients, but these are usually mild and transient. They include:
- Sensitivity – during and after whitening treatment, patients may notice increased sensitivity to temperature or pressure. This is generally related to the concentration of the whitening agent and it decreases within a couple of days.
- Gum irritation – this can occur more commonly with high-concentration gels or if gums are not adequately protected during treatment. Dental professionals understand the best way to protect your gums during whitening treatment, whether in the chair or at home.
As outlined, professionally supervised dental whitening is generally considered to be safe and effective, with minimal risks, but consulting your dentist before any kind of whitening treatment is always in your best interests; that way, you can be sure of a comfortable and effective result! And it should be noted that whitening is not a permanent fix; it must be maintained, so you will need to follow up your initial treatment at home and avoid foods and drinks that stain teeth.
Dr Claire McCullough
BHSc (Dent), MDent (La Trobe)