Teeth whitening is becoming more accessible – both over-the-counter and at your dentist – and fortunately the processes have come a long way. If you’re considering whitening your teeth, we spoke to the experts about everything you should know first.
It’s a relatively straightforward procedure. Teeth whitening involves bleaching your teeth to make them lighter. Teeth whitening can’t make your teeth brilliant white, but it can lighten the existing colour by several shades, explains clinical director Steve Williams at Mydentist.
The dentist will check that your teeth are healthy and suitable to proceed, whilst also discussing your expectations. If you’re happy to continue, the dentist will first take an impression of the teeth.
“This is a simple procedure that takes a mould so that the whitening trays can be made bespoke for yourself. A shade of your teeth before treatment is taken, so that you are able to compare the difference at the end. Another appointment is usually needed so that the whitening trays can be fitted and they will then demonstrate how to use the kits. There are different types of kit, but all will contain less than the maximum percentage of bleach, which is legally enforced.”
Teeth whitening will only whiten real teeth
Like so many of us who have had work done at the dentists and have been left with dentures, crowns, fillings or veneers, bear in mind that teeth whitening will not work on these and the colour will remain unchanged.
Mr Williams says: “Teeth whitening will only whiten your teeth. If you already have crowns or fillings these will remain unchanged. Sometimes these can be changed after treatment and matched to your new brighter smile. Usually it is only the fillings on your front teeth, if you have any, that may need changing, as these are the ones that are seen when you smile.”
You may be left with sensitivity
No matter what treatment you use, there is always a chance that your teeth and gums can be sensitive to the chemicals used – especially if you already suffer with sensitive teeth.
“Some people find their teeth and gums may become more sensitive during treatment, but using toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth will reduce or stop this. It is rare for the sensitivity to continue when the treatment has been completed,” Mr William says.
Teeth whitening isn’t permanent
Teeth whitening treatments can provide great results for up to three years, says Steve. But this of course varies from person to person, and if you smoke or drink red wine, tea or coffee then this can also reduce the time that you teeth remain whiter.
“A good tip is to keep the mouthguard made by the clinician (which holds the bleach next to your teeth) in a safe place, as this can be used if you require top ups in future years,” he adds.
You can often then purchase the appropriate strength of tooth bleaching agent from your dentist to use for carefully guided top ups at home, your dentist will advise you how often is safe.
It must be done by a dentist
Teeth whitening can only be legally performed by a dental care professional; either a dentist, hygienist or therapist that has undergone suitable training who is registered with the General Dental Council. Registered dental therapists and dental hygienists can also carry out teeth whitening on the prescription of a dentist. A clinician can only use certain materials of a specific strength and the dentistry profession is highly regulated, Mr Williams says.
“Kits bought over the internet may appear cheaper, but should be avoided as the bleach used may be the incorrect strength and damaging to teeth. Also the mouthguard will not fit your mouth properly and the bleach will not be held in the correct place and is therefore illegal.”
To find out if a dental professional is registered with the GDC you can check online or call 0207 167 6000.
Results can be almost instant
Whitening can take effect as quickly as within an hour. For an immediate change whitening can be carried out in the dental surgery within an hour, advises Mr Williams.
“Usually this is best accompanied with the take home kits for a longer effect. This is popular for people who want that instant change,” he adds.
Some patients get an even better response by having their teeth professionally cleaned prior to whitening as this will remove the stains.
DIY home teeth whitening kits
The home kits are not as effective as they are unregulated so it’s difficult to know exactly what you are putting on your teeth, Mr Williams explains. Some home kits contain very high levels of bleaching material, which can also cause burns.
“The success of bleaching is dependent on a close fitting whitening tray which a dentist can make, but in home kits this will be left to the individual to fit and excess whitening gel can damage the gums. I would never use a home kit bought over the internet as I would not want to risk permanent damage to my teeth.”
What to should ask your dentist first
It’s important to ask some questions before going ahead with the treatment because it’s important to be fully informed before undergoing any treatment, says Steve.
“Some questions you should be asking include; will I need to replace any fillings or crowns on my front teeth, as whitening does not change the colour of these. If I do get some sensitivity, what would your advice be? How much will this cost? If I need subsequent top up treatments, how much will they cost?”
If you’re unhappy with the results
Speak up. There can be no guarantees, but in general the teeth whiten up to two shades. If you do experience some sensitivity, you can either use a sensitive toothpaste or stop the procedure, as there are usually no long-lasting problems, says Mr Williams.
“As long as you see a dentist, they will only use a specific level of whitening gel and severe side-effects are extremely uncommon. If you are unhappy with the treatment you should discuss this with the practice.”
If you’re concerned that teeth whitening by a dental professional has harmed you, contact the Dental Complaints Service. This is an expert, free and independent service that can help if you have a complaint about private dental care.
If you think your teeth whitening has been carried out illegally (that is, by someone not qualified or registered to perform it) contact the General Dental Council.
Remember whether you are having your teeth whitened or not, you may want to avoid excessive intake of food and drink that may stain your teeth. Tannin in strong teas may stain teeth, red wine, coffee, turmeric, strong curries and so on if consumed very frequently may have an effect. Remember something like cola is not only dark to stain the teeth but contains acid to wear down the teeth and increase the chances of stains setting in.
Rinsing the mouth with water after these things may help to reduce staining.
Last updated: 27-04-2020
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