Teeth whitening (or “bleaching” as it is also called) is becoming more and more popular as people pay more attention to how their teeth look. Tooth bleaching is not an essential for your dental health, but whiter teeth can improve your confidence, happiness, and make you feel better about your teeth! Tooth bleaching involves applying a peroxide to your tooth surface. The peroxide breaks down into free radicals, which oxidise pigments within your tooth, whitening it.
How do I whiten my teeth?
Firstly, you need to check with your dentist if teeth whitening is right for you – your dentist will also be able to discuss with you which option for whitening will be best for you. They will also be able to discuss any potential complications as well as the prognosis of the whitening. For example, some people with gum recession may experience sensitivity with whitening procedures if their teeth are not suitably protected. One person’s teeth may whiten a lot, while someone else’s might not whiten as much.
There are multiple ways you can whiten your teeth:
At home trays
Your dentist will take an impression (mould) of your teeth, and have custom-fitted trays made to fit your teeth. They will then supply the trays with a gel to wear at home – generally for a couple of hours, and maybe overnight. At home trays are a great way to whiten teeth as it as the results are generally longer lasting, and you can stop the whitening treatment when you reach the desired shade. If the whitening fades over time, it’s simple to use more bleaching agent to whiten the teeth again. One disadvantage is that it takes longer, generally at least 3 weeks.
Whitening can be performed in the dental chair with a higher concentration of peroxide that is applied to your teeth. In-chair whitening has faster results, but is generally less stable in the long term and sometimes may require a “top up”. If you need a bright smile for an event like a wedding, in-chair whitening can be a great option for you. Teeth sensitivity can be increased due to the higher concentration of peroxide, but management of this is easy and mostly preventable. We generally do recommend following in-chair whitening with at-home tray use for long term stability .
Both in chair and at home
- Has the advantages and disadvantages of both methods! This is recommended for patients who want the best of both worlds – an immediate improvement and a long term pearly white smile.
What should I be careful of?
Whitening agents not approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)
Some whitening agents are not approved by the TGA for use in Australia. These have not been assessed whether they are safe to use in your mouth and may contain harmful ingredients, or may not have a suitable whitening agent2,3.
Abrasive or acidic whitening agents
Some “whitening” products can be especially abrasive (rough) to your teeth, and wear them down. Others (for example, some people use lemon juice and bicarb soda as a natural whitening agent) are acidic and can wear your teeth.
Over-whitening your teeth
With any whitening agent, using too much or bleaching for too long can damage the surface of your teeth, making them weaker and potentially altering the way they look. This is why it’s important to follow the instructions given with a particular whitening procedure, and not to use too much.
When shouldn’t I whiten my teeth?
Contraindications for bleaching include: pregnancy and breastfeeding, heavy smoking, children, claustrophobia, untreated hypersensitive teeth, untreated periodontal (gum) disease, and oral mucosal conditions. Make sure you get a thorough check-up by a dental professional before any bleaching procedures. Whitening your teeth without knowing the potential outcome or complications can lead to problems!
- Terry, D, Geller, W. Esthetic and Restorative Dentistry. Illinois, USA: Quintessence Pub.; 2018.