The Basics of Teeth Whitening

the basics of teeth whitening

Content reviewed by Dr. Singh of our West Edmonton office.

All the coffee, tea, dark sodas, wine and snacks you may partake in can take a toll on your smile. Luckily, teeth whitening has come a long way from being a fad or craze to being a procedure people routinely do. And, as more individuals realize the benefits of whiter teeth and embrace the ease of tooth whitening, the demand for this service has grown remarkably. Today, you have a choice of a variety of teeth whitening products and services, ranging from whitening toothpaste and strips to professional office treatments.

Causes of Discolored Teeth

Many factors can contribute to having discolored teeth. Teeth darken naturally as you age. This occurs because the teeth’s outer enamel layer wears away, gradually revealing darkening tissue underneath.

Factors including using tobacco products and eating and drinking certain foods and beverages can cause surface stains. Unfortunately, certain habits, such as smoking and snacking, can make your teeth lose their whiteness more quickly than normal.

Taking certain antibiotics, such as tetracycline in pregnancy, may also discolor teeth for the expected child. An injury or fall that damages the nerves or cracks or chips the teeth can lead to darkening of teeth in children or adults. Having had chemotherapy or neck and head radiation can adversely affect the color of tooth enamel as well. In teens and children, discolored or stained teeth could be a result of having a condition called fluorosis, which is caused by ingesting too much fluoride as a child, usually under the age of three.

Also, the perception of the color of teeth is affected severely by makeup and skin tone. Individuals that wear dark makeup or have darker skin will look like they have whiter teeth.

Facts About Teeth Whitening Procedures

Several basic teeth whitening strategies and options are available to help achieve a brighter smile. Teeth whitening products fall into two primary categories — surface whiteners and bleaches.

Surface Whiteners

Surface whiteners use special abrasives to help the product remove surface stains. Many surface whitener products come in the form of chewing gum, mouth rinses and toothpaste.

Since the special abrasives in these products are usually only a finer version of what you find in regular toothpaste, it’s unlikely they’ll cause excessive tooth wear. But, the product’s effectiveness is limited to only surface stains and shouldn’t take the place of professional cleanings.

Bleaching

Bleaching can alter the color of the tooth itself and is peroxide-based. Teeth bleaching and whitening is often a good solution for people who want whiter teeth, but also whose teeth are in a healthy condition. Individuals who have stained or discolored teeth because of age, smoking or from drinking beverages like red wine, coffee or tea also make great candidates for teeth whitening.

bleaching teeth

Research shows tooth bleaching is an effective and generally safe way of improving one’s teeth aesthetics, if it’s performed according to the manufacturer’s directions and under a dentist’s supervision and on appropriate candidates.

However, tooth bleaching treatments may not work for all tooth discolorations. Bleaching works best for individuals with yellowish or brownish-colored teeth. Individuals with greyish-hued teeth might want to talk to their dentist about other teeth whitening options as bleaching might not be the optimal choice.

Always consult with your dentist before you try a tooth whitening or bleaching product, particularly if you have a lot of crowns, fillings or extremely dark stains.

Professional, In-Office Services Versus the Do-It-Yourself At-Home Options

Here’s how tooth whitening works. You have two main choices for teeth whitening — in-office and at-home.

In-Office Teeth Whitening

While there are many tooth whitening options and products available that you can do from your home, there are many advantages to having your teeth whitened professionally. When the dentist performs teeth whitening professionally, it can get your teeth brighter quickly. The bleaching solution tends to be much stronger than that in at-home kits. The dentist uses a light, heat or a combination of both to intensify and speed up the whitening process.

In-office whitening procedures don’t take long. The best results generally take one or more 30- to 60-minute in-office sessions. Some dentists use basic teeth whitening strategies where they can perform the treatment in a single appointment. One common cosmetic procedure for individuals looking to obtain a whiter smile quickly is Zoom!® Professional Teeth Whitening.

The Zoom!® teeth whitening system, for instance, can be done in one hour during an in-office visit. It can whiten your teeth up to six shades brighter. The dentist applies a special Zoom!® prescription-strength gel to each of your teeth to achieve the best visual results. The dentist then uses the Zoom!® LED accelerator light, which they use to activate the gel. This achieves a noticeably brighter and whiter smile by the end of the appointment.

at home teeth whitening

At-Home Teeth Whitening

In addition to professional teeth whitening, you have options to whiten your teeth at home.

  • Over the counter whitening strips: These are a popular method of whitening your teeth. They’re cost-effective, and you can start seeing results quickly. While there’s not as high of a hydrogen peroxide concentration as an in-office treatment, your teeth could become more sensitive with prolonged use. The effects are also temporary and depend on the product used and your lifestyle habits.
  • Whitening toothpaste and mouthwash: You may see a slight improvement with stains on the surface of your teeth caused by smoking or coffee, but they can’t improve embedded stains in your tooth enamel. These are relatively harmless but may also cause some sensitivity when used for a prolonged period.
  • Zoom!® take-home whitening trays: Zoom!® also has take-home whitening trays for individuals who would rather whiten their teeth at home instead of making an office appointment. You wear the take-home trays for around one to two weeks. They work reasonably well and can whiten your teeth by up to six shades. The dentist will take an impression of your teeth then create special trays. They’ll provide you with the trays and a solution you’ll use before you go to sleep at night. This option consists of a lower concentration you usually use over a seven- to fourteen-day course. This is usually the preferred option for those with sensitive teeth.

Benefits of Teeth Whitening

Tooth whitening has several benefits, including:

It Can Enhance Appearance

You may have the straightest and healthiest smile, but your teeth are still be susceptible to stains. Dark liquids like tea, soda and coffee can stain our teeth over time. Teeth whitening can help remove these stains and make your teeth whiter. If you have it performed professionally, it can take around an hour.

It Can Give a Boost of Self-Confidence

You may find your self-confidence soaring if you have a white smile. Whether you’re giving a presentation at work or hoping for brighter teeth for your wedding photos, having a whiter smile can contribute to improved self-image.

It’s Available in Professional Strength

A whitening toothpaste can lighten your teeth about one shade whiter. A professional whitening like Zoom!® can help get your teeth up to an average of six shades lighter. The whitening gel used during an in-office professional whitening treatment is a professional strength available to dentists only. The gel can penetrate your teeth enamel, thereby getting rid of the stubborn stains.

It Can Improve Oral Health

improve oral health

Once you’ve spent the time and money to whiten your teeth, chances are you’ll be more likely to take better care of your teeth so they stay looking good. Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly with a whitening toothpaste and visiting your dentist for a professional cleaning will improve your oral health.

It Is a Comfortable Treatment

During a whitening procedure in the dental office, the dental team will place a type of protective cover over your gums to keep the whitening agent from making contact. The dentist may recommend a fluoride treatment afterward to reduce the sensitivity in your teeth. The take-home kit they provide will likely come with a thick gel that stays in the trays and doesn’t leak out.

It Can Be Custom-Made Specifically for You

Most whitening kits you buy at a store, particularly strips and trays, come in a one-size-fits-all size. With the Zoom!® in-office whitening treatment, the dental team paints the gel on each of your teeth to provide even coverage of all your teeth. With the at-home Zoom!® treatment, the dentist creates custom-fit trays for your upper and lower teeth. These custom trays provide consistent treatment application, protecting your gums and lips from coming in contact with the gel.

It Allows You to Choose Your Shade

The Zoom!® Whitening System comes in a few strengths, allowing the dentist to customize your whitening level. You just let your dentist know if you want teeth that are a couple of shades lighter or as white as possible. They’ll then adjust the whitening agent’s strength to work towards desired results.

It Is Considered a Safe Option

Professional whitening treatments don’t usually present safety concerns for most individuals, whether they’re performed in the office or your home. You can notify the dentist should you experience issues with sensitivity or other discomforts.

It Can Offer Long-Lasting Results

A professional whitening treatment by the dentist usually provides longer lasting results. The dentist may give you an at-home maintenance kit that includes your custom-fit trays and the whitening gel you’ll use at home.

Risks of Teeth Whitening

You can experience side effects from bleaching your teeth.

Teeth Sensitivity

Your teeth can become sensitive when you’re using the bleaching agent, particularly during a first or second treatment. However, this sensitivity should diminish over time. If you’re prone to tooth sensitivity, the dentist may inform you about tooth sensitivity products you can use to help minimize this side effect.

Soft Tissue Irritation

When you don’t use a whitening product as directed and your gums make contact with the solution, you could also experience temporary soft-tissue irritation. When this occurs, your gums may appear white. In extreme situations, you could experience pain or bleeding in tissue areas affected by the whitening solution. Also, if your mouthpiece doesn’t fit properly, it could irritate your gums.

Results Can Vary

The results from whitening treatments vary from person to person and will depend on the types of food and beverages you consume in your diet. They’ll also depend on your overall oral hygiene habits.

Results can last for up to several years, but again, this depends on your daily habits. You may require periodic treatments if you smoke or consume wine, coffee, soda or other staining beverages or food. You may need touch ups periodically.

Dental Choice offers our patients “White for Life” – a program that allows our patients who have had professional whitening here to receive a free touch up whitening gel every year when they come in consistently for their six month hygiene appointments and their yearly dental exam.

 May Not Match Other Dental Restorations

If you have inlays, veneers, crowns, fillings or implants, the teeth whitening shade on your natural teeth may not match that of your implants or crowns. Bleach products will not change the color of the crowns, fillings or other materials, only natural tooth. Because of this it is recommend that individuals with crowns, fillings and root canal treatments who are considering tooth bleaching should see a dentist to discuss whether bleaching treatment will provide the desired result.

Unexpected Results

If you have internal tooth discoloration or heavy staining, you may not notice as much of a change in the shade of your teeth after whitening as you were hoping. The dentist will let you know if your teeth discoloration is due to an underlying factor that won’t respond to external whitening treatment. This will keep you from continually using a store-bought product trying for impossible results and potentially damaging your teeth. There is an option of internal tooth whitening that is a possibility for these cases.

If you experience these or any other side effects, discontinue use of the whitening treatment until you can consult with a dentist. The long-term effects of repetitive bleaching, especially when you don’t use the products correctly or if you use them excessively, are not entirely understood, but could include nerve damage and tooth pitting.

dental choice for teeth whitening

Schedule an Appointment for Teeth Whitening

Now that you know more about teeth whitening procedures, call or visit one of our Dental Choice offices in Airdrie, Edmonton or Calgary to schedule your tooth whitening appointment. We can discuss other alternative treatments too, like veneers or bonding. We’ll work closely with you to help restore the brightness of your smile.


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