Teeth whitening has become one of the most popular dental procedures because of its ability to provide a white and bright smile. As the name suggests, it is a procedure that removes stains from the surface of the teeth and improves the color of your smile. Teeth whitening not only drastically change the appearance of your smile, but it also improves your self-esteem and confidence.
Although there are a lot of teeth whitening products out in the market, professional teeth whitening procedures deliver the best results. A dentist performs these procedures after a thorough evaluation of your dental condition. Typically, professional teeth whitening procedures include vital teeth whitening and non-vital teeth whitening.
People who prefer to carry out teeth whitening at home may consult for an at-home teeth whitening kit. The latest addition to the cosmetic dental treatments is laser teeth whitening which use high-frequency light rays to provide brilliant results. Let’s dive into the article to read more about different tooth whitening procedures that can bring a positive change in your life.
What do you mean by teeth whitening?
Teeth whitening is categorized as a cosmetic dental procedure which restores the natural shade of the teeth by removing surface stains. Additionally, the bleaching gel used in this procedure helps to lighten the teeth. (1) This procedure is popular among teens and adults who wish to have a clean, bright smile.
A wide range of teeth whitening tools and kits are used for both in-office and at-home teeth whitening. These kits, typically consist of whitening strips, gels, toothpaste, and creams. Laser teeth whitening is an advanced procedure which uses blue ultraviolet teeth whitening light to speed up the process and provide better results.
What is the purpose of teeth whitening procedures?
As the name suggests, teeth whitening enhances the natural color of the teeth and makes it brighter. Usually, hydrogen peroxide is used as an active ingredient in the bleaching gel to provide effective results of teeth whitening. Hydrogen peroxide, when applied on the tooth surface, acts with the organic pigments or stains on the enamel and oxidizes them.
This process helps to remove the surface stains and provide a uniform natural shade to the teeth. Usually, the in-office teeth whitening procedures use a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide to provide instant results. At-home teeth whitening kits use a relatively lower level of hydrogen peroxide. (2)
What are the types of teeth whitening procedures?
Professional teeth whitening procedures are usually carried out under the supervision of a dentist. These treatments use a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide or bleaching gel to provide an instant change in the color of the teeth.
While this may be the best option for people who like to have their teeth whitened in a single dental visit, professional teeth whitening procedures can also damage teeth.
One of the most common after-effects of professional teeth whitening procedure is tooth sensitivity and increased irritation of the gums. Sometimes, the gum irritation can aggravate to form swollen red areas. For this reason, extreme precautions are taken to properly seal the area between the gum line and teeth to ensure no leakage of the bleaching agent onto the gums.
Professional teeth whitening procedures are mainly categorized into two types – the in-office teeth whitening treatment and professional at-home teeth whitening kits. Let’s take a closer look at both of the dynamic cosmetic dental procedures –
In-office teeth whitening
Professional teeth whitening procedures are done by using whitening trays or direct application of whitening gel. Typically in-office whitening procedures provide instant results and take at least two to three hours. (3) Although in-office teeth whitening can be completed in a single visit, sometimes, the dentist may call for a second visit to enhance the results. Depending on the vitality of the teeth, professional whitening procedures are divided into two types –
Vital teeth whitening
As the name suggests, vital teeth whitening id performed on healthy teeth with no pulp infection or root canal treatment. In this procedure, the whitening gel is directly applied to the tooth surface. The gel is activated using a specialized laser light which allows absorption of the gel into the enamel layer. Usually, it takes around 30-60 minutes for a single sitting teeth whitening procedure. Depending on the desired result, the patient may schedule two to three appointments for professional teeth whitening.
Non-vital teeth whitening
Most of the times, root canal treated teeth show toot discoloration, which cannot be treated by superficial tooth whitening procedure. For such cases, the dentist performs non-vital tooth whitening, also known as intracoronal tooth whitening. (4)
In this procedure, the dentist removes the tooth filling and clears the cavity until the pulp chamber. The whitening gel is placed inside the tooth cavity, and it is covered with a temporary filling. Once, this process is completed, the tooth is left for several days. A follow-up appointment is scheduled to check the change in the color of the tooth. Non-vital tooth whitening may take several appointments depending on the desired shade.
Laser teeth whitening
Laser teeth whitening is one of the most advanced and least invasive professional teeth whitening procedures. It utilizes a blue ultraviolet light to activate the bleaching gel and speed up the process of teeth whitening. These advanced light equipment have a blue light with a wavelength of 480 nm and 520 nm. (5) Laser teeth whitening mainly involves the following procedural steps –
- Dental screening – here, the dentist examines the dental tissues like teeth and gums before starting the primary oral health care. A check for gum recession or tooth decay is done to correct it before the teeth whitening procedure.
- Pre-treatment procedures – the dentist, performs professional teeth cleaning to ensure that all the plaque and bacteria have been removed. The cavities have been filled, and the health of the teeth and gums has been restored.
- Medications – often, people with sensitive teeth are given anti-inflammatory drugs before the treatment so that they can feel comfortable during and after the teeth whitening procedure.
- Laser treatment – first, the dentist uses a gel to form a barrier between in the teeth and gum line to protect the gums from the bleaching agent. A whitening gel or compound is applied on the front teeth with the help of a syringe. The laser unit activates the gel, which makes it foamy. (6)
Usually, the foamy effect helps to remove the stains from the tooth surface. This step takes a few minutes. After this, the whitening gel is wiped off the tooth surface. The dentist then applies a new layer of the whitening gel, and the process of laser teeth whitening is repeated for at least three times to achieve the desired results.
At-home teeth whitening
If you are a person who finds professional in-office teeth whitening treatments costly, an alternative to this treatment is professional at-home teeth whitening kits. Usually, at-home professional teeth whitening kits consist of custom-fitted teeth whitening trays fabricated by the dentist. For this, the dentist first takes an impression of both the arches, prepares a mold, and makes the trays.
The kit also consists of a teeth whitening gel which has a slightly lesser concentrated formulation of the bleaching gel as compared to in-office teeth whitening gel. The patient is instructed to place the gel on the trays and fit the trays comfortably on the tooth surface. (7) The trays are placed and left for at least 15-30 minutes. Usually, at-home teeth whitening trays around one to two weeks to show the desired results.
However, this process is much cheaper and comfortable for many people. At-home teeth whitening kits usually cost around $150 – $600. Apart from the professional teeth whitening treatments, there a several over-the-counter teeth whitening products available. It is always best to consult your dentist before buying any such products.
One of the most trending teeth whitening procedures in today’s world is by natural methods. Let’s look at some of the best natural teeth whitening techniques –
- Baking soda paste – baking soda is very well known for its natural teeth whitening properties. It creates an alkaline environment in the mouth, which prevents bacterial growth in the mouth. Studies have shown that baking soda removes yellow stains from the surface of the tooth and improves the color of the teeth. (8)
This paste is typically made by using one teaspoon of baking soda with two teaspoons of water. Brushing with this paste for 3-4 days in a week can gradually whiten the teeth.
- Hydrogen peroxide paste – we all know that hydrogen peroxide is a natural bleaching agent. However, studies have shown that hydrogen peroxide is effective when used as a toothpaste ingredient. If that’s not what you are looking for, you can make your teeth whitening paste by mixing baking soda with 1% hydrogen peroxide.
Another effective way is to use a hydrogen peroxide mouthwash. This can be made by using 1.5 – 3% of hydrogen peroxide with water.
- Apple cider vinegar – apple cider vinegar is known for it’s disinfectant and cleaning properties. The active ingredient acetic acid effectively clears the bacteria and removes the stains from the tooth surface. However, this acidic content is known to erode the enamel. Therefore, it is advised to use apple cider vinegar occasionally in a week. (9)
The best way to use apple cider vinegar is to dilute the solution with water and swish it around in your mouth for several minutes. Rinse your mouth with water afterward to neutralize the acidic contents in the mouth.
- Other natural methods of teeth whitening include – strawberry and baking soda mixture which exfoliates the superficial stains on the tooth. Some people claim that pineapple also helps to whiten the teeth. However, there is no clinical evidence regarding this.
- Oil pulling – while oil pulling using coconut oil or sunflower oil may be useful in improving your oral hygiene, it is not significantly known for enhancing the tooth color.
How to maintain your smile after getting a teeth whitening procedure?
Maintaining the results of teeth whitening procedure are essential to have long-lasting effects of the treatment. Some of the tips to maintain your smile post-whitening treatment may include –
- Proper oral hygiene by following a healthy oral care routine
- Use whitening toothpaste to maximize the effects
- Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol
- Avoid acidic food and beverages like berries, lemons and citrus fruit juices
- Red wine can cause excessive straining
- Drink plenty of water after every meal to wash away the stains
How to know if you are the right candidate for teeth whitening?
Ideally, the teeth whitening procedure is performed for patients who have healthy teeth without any tooth decay, gum disease, or periodontal problems. Moreover, people who are planning to get crown and bridge or dentures should get teeth whitening before these procedures. The ideal candidate for teeth whitening should fulfill the following criterion –
- Should have healthy teeth and gums
- General tooth discolorations
- Surface staining of the teeth
- No signs of extensive tooth decay, cavity and gum disease
- Should have realistic expectations of the results
Additionally, the following conditions may require a thorough consultation with the dentist to plan proper teeth whitening treatment –
- Tooth sensitivity – often receding gums, defective restorations, tooth decay, and enamel erosion cause tooth sensitivity. This condition is hugely contraindicated for teeth whitening procedures.
- Hydrogen peroxide allergy
- Gum disease – tooth decay and gum disease often change the color of the teeth. However, teeth whitening is not the right procedure to fix this problem. Moreover, the high concentration of bleaching agent may worsen the disease.
- Tooth restorations and fillings – often tooth fillings and restorations like crown and bridge do not respond to teeth whitening procedure. Moreover, undergoing a teeth whitening treatment with crowns in the mouth may cause shade discrepancies between the teeth and the restorations.
It is advised to always schedule teeth whitening procedures at least two weeks before getting any tooth filling or restorative prosthesis. This way, the color of the crown, bridge, or denture can be matched to the new, improved color of the teeth.
- Pregnancy and children – usually, teeth whitening procedures are not recommended for children under the age of 16 years. This is because of the presence of large pulp chambers, which increases the risk of pulp inflammation. Pregnant or lactating women are also asked to get teeth whitening procedures after delivery.
- Unrealistic expectations – having realistic expectations is essential for undergoing teeth whitening procedures. Teeth whitening procedures are performed within limits. Excessive use of bleaching agents to achieve an unrealistic smile color may cause more damage to the teeth.
What is the cost of professional teeth whitening procedure?
Teeth whitening procedure like any other cosmetic dental procedure is a little expensive as compared to other means of teeth whitening. Usually, the cost of teeth whitening procedures ranges around $450 – $650 for a single visit, which takes about two to three hours. Laser teeth whitening procedures go a little higher than the normal range and may cost up to $1500.
FAQs on teeth whitening procedures
How long does teeth whitening last?
Teeth whitening is not usually permanent. Often, the teeth can get stained again when they are exposed to foods and beverages such as coffee, tea, grapes, and wine. The whitening effect may start to fade gradually. Smoking or chewing tobacco also affects the longevity of teeth whitening.
Therefore, it is advised to avoid foods and beverages that can potentially stain the teeth. If taken proper care, the effect of teeth whitening can last for at least one to two years.
Do you brush your teeth after whitening strips?
You can brush your teeth after using whitening strips. Tooth brushing does not damage the surface of the teeth when done after the whitening procedure. However, the reverse situation is not valid. It is advised not to use tooth whitening strips immediately after tooth brushing.
Using fluoride toothpaste before the whitening procedure may block the peroxide gel from penetrating the tooth surface. It is best always to begin the whitening process.
What are the teeth whitening side effects?
Typically, teeth whitening is a safe cosmetic dental procedure. However, a person must always be cautious while using the bleaching agent as it consists of acidic components. Usually, tooth bleaching gels comprised of 10% carbamide peroxide.
Some of the side effects associated with teeth whitening may include –
- Post-treatment tooth sensitivity – it is usually caused by the acidity of the bleaching agent. Mostly, people with thin enamel are prone to post-treatment tooth sensitivity.
- Mild gum irritation and discomfort – the bleaching agent used for tooth whitening is extremely irritating to the surrounding soft tissues. Therefore, care must be taken to apply the bleaching gel slightly away from the gum tissue.
- Too white teeth – most people who use home teeth whitening kits use large amounts of bleaching gel on the tooth surface. Additionally, they may leave the whitening gel in contact with the tooth for long. Such situations can lead to unnatural tooth whitening.
Why do my teeth hurt after whitening strips?
In some cases, teeth whitening may cause sensitivity after the treatment. This happens due to the acidic effect of the bleaching agent on the tooth enamel. Usually, there are three main reasons for post-treatment discomfort –
- People who have thin enamel often experience sensitivity after teeth whitening.
- People who do not follow the instructions and leave the bleaching gel in contact with the tooth surface for longer than usual time.
- People who use excessive amounts of bleaching gel on the tooth surface. Moreover, they frequently use the whitening kit for quicker results.
Although, this effect of tooth whitening is temporary, and the sensitivity may subside within a few days. It is best to consult the dentist if you experience prolonged tooth sensitivity and discomfort.
Take away message
Teeth whitening procedures typically use chemical bleaching agents to improve the color of the teeth. Moreover, these procedures remove the stains from the tooth surface and provide a clean and bright smile.
Although this cosmetic treatment is one of the most popular of all, it is not suitable for everyone. People with fillings, restorations, crown, and bridge or dental problems may not be an ideal candidate for teeth whitening.
It is essential to consult the dentist and list your options for smile enhancement. Usually, professional teeth whitening procedures can be carried out in vital teeth and non-vital teeth using bleaching gel. A new advancement is the laser teeth whitening procedure wherein the dentist uses a high-frequency light to set the whitening gel and improve the color of the smile. At-home professional teeth whitening kits are also useful. However, they may take a long time to show the desired results. If you are looking for the right teeth whitening procedure, head to your dentist, and discuss the different whitening methods.