Why should I have to get my teeth whitened at a dental clinic when it is offered by cosmetic clinics and mobile whitening services for what is arguably a fraction of the price? Moreover, many over-the counter products (such as whitening toothpastes, ‘activated charcoal’ pastes and strips) promise whiter, brighter teeth, and are more easily accessible – if these are effective, why should I have to see a dentist at all?
Teeth whitening is a procedure used to lighten discoloured teeth and remove surface stains. The process is safe and effective when appropriately provided by a trained professional, resulting in teeth that are 3-8 shades lighter than their presenting colour. Teeth whitening is considered one of the most conservative methods of achieving an aesthetically pleasing change to the colour of teeth, without placement of prosthetic material (as is the case with dental veneers or crowns) and can be an incredible confidence boost to those struggling with yellowing or stained teeth.
But the question still stands – why is it so crucial for teeth whitening to be done with supervision by a dental professional?
Why should I get my teeth whitened by a dentist?
Firstly, the active ingredient in tooth whitening, hydrogen peroxide, is a powerful compound that, when isolated from moisture and used appropriately, yields great success and a visually pleasing result. However, when applied incorrectly, may exacerbate pre-existing dental disease e.g. active gum disease or dental caries (commonly referred to as ‘cavities’) – conditions that only dentists are trained to appropriately diagnose and treat prior to whitening. It is always recommended to have a comprehensive dental check and clean prior to getting your teeth whitened, as a fraction of staining on teeth may also be attributed to the build-up of plaque or tartar, which is removed during a thorough dental cleaning.
Your dentist will also be able to let you know when teeth whitening is not recommended or may not yield the results you are after. For example, if you have porcelain or composite veneers, crowns or root-canal treatment completed on your front teeth, teeth whitening may not be effective. Only a dentist will be able to accurately assess the dental treatment you have previously had and offer you the appropriate treatment solutions for your cosmetic concerns.
Additionally, when applied incorrectly to soft tissues (such as your gums), whitening gel may result in superficial soft tissue burns. Teeth whitening in the dental setting allows us to protect the soft tissues from harm; a procedure that may be poorly applied or eliminated entirely by under-regulated mobile teeth-whitening services.
Should I be using activated charcoal products and whitening toothpastes? Do they work?
‘Activated charcoal’ pastes and whitening toothpastes work to remove surface stains to a certain degree by incorporating an abrasive into their ingredients. These abrasives, while they may appear to be initially successful, may result in enamel-wear over time, especially if they are paired with an aggressive tooth-brushing technique. Enamel wearing down exposes’ dentine, the yellow, underlying second structure of the tooth, which may cause teeth to appear darker or yellower over time. Once enamel is worn away, teeth become more sensitive, and teeth whitening, when applied is rendered unsuccessful.
Toothpastes that are marketed to contain ‘the whitening ingredient used by dentists’ (that is, hydrogen peroxide), do not whiten teeth, as the hydrogen peroxide in them is neither isolated from water nor is it left on teeth for long enough to have any whitening effect.
What options can my dentist offer me if I want my teeth whitened?
1. The ‘in-chair’ system: this is usually offered in a single 60-90-minute session, using a hydrogen peroxide gel that averages approximately 30% in concentration. This is a considerably higher concentration than any ‘over-the-counter’ products. At the end of the session, teeth are visibly brighter, with results lasting approximately 12 months*
2. The ‘at-home’ system: the alternative to the in-chair method, the at-home method uses approx. 6-18% concentration whitening solution, which is placed sparingly by you, at home, into custom ‘whitening-trays’ made by your dentist to fit your teeth and protect your gums. Trays are worn for 30 mins to 1 hr, or alternatively, overnight. This process gradually whitens your teeth over the course of 5-7 days.
*Results may vary depending on pre-existing shade of teeth and dietary factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and food pigmentation in coffee, tea and the like. Always consult with your dentist.