All About Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening is the most popular cosmetic dentistry procedure. Whether a blazing-white Love-Island (or was it Hollywood?) teeth or a more natural looking but still pearly Chelsea smile, there are more ways than ever to make your teeth brighter.

Whiter teeth are considered to be more attractive, and the more people have theirs whitened, it becomes less of a luxury status symbol and more of a standard, too. Improved confidence is one positive result of whiter teeth, and feeling more secure in your appearance and less reluctant to smile or expose your teeth might make you feel generally more socially confident: all good reasons to consider teeth whitening.

Let us start at the beginning though.

Why aren’t all teeth pearly white?

Firstly, people’s teeth just vary in colour naturally, and this is determined by genetics which influence the thickness and whiteness of tooth enamel. Some people simply have white teeth, others’ are more yellow or grey, and it runs in families.

Conditions or circumstances that affected the development of tooth enamel can affect teeth colour from early age, even before birth, for example certain infections during pregnancy or use of antibiotics including tetracycline and doxycycline in early childhood.

Trauma (e.g from sports, fights or accidents) can affect developing enamel, as can radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments.

Teeth also get darker with age: the outer layer of enamel wears off,  and the yellow (more porous) dentin underneath gets more exposed. The Teeth also become less translucent, which makes them look darker.

And finally, lifestyle factors, i.e. what you eat, drink and generally put in your mouth, will affect teeth and can lead to discolourations. Caffeine-containing brown drinks, such as coffee, tea and colas, as well as tannin-containing red wines cause staining. Smoking is one of a big reasons for yellow teeth.

My teeth are yellow or stained! What can be done?

Solutions to stained teeth depend on how much of an effect you want to achieve and the state of your teeth.

Keeping good basic dental hygiene habits is a great start (and will improve not just the colour of your teeth) and avoiding teeth-staining foods, drinks and tobacco will go some way to prevent and remove staining.

As far as actual whitening treatments go, not all treatments are suitable for all people, so you should check with your dentist before deciding, even if you decide to use a DIY at-home method like whitening strips. Teeth whitening is most suitable for people with healthy gums and teeth.

How does teeth whitening work?

Most teeth whitening products work by bleaching, and are peroxide based, with the percentage of peroxide varying by product (it’s lower in DIY over-the-counter preparations).

It’s important to remember that whitening will only work on natural tooth enamel. It will not work on fillings or crowns, so if you have those matched to you old teeth shade, after whitening there might be a noticeable contrast, especially if you go several shades whiter.

There are several ways to use those whitening products, depending on the way they are applied.

Teeth Whitening Toothpaste

This is the simplest way to slightly brighten your smile, though it has a limited power and will only make your teeth whiter by about a shade.  Whitening toothpaste contains gentle abrasives and polish agents, and will remove some surface staining, but there is no bleaching agents in those products.

DIY Whitening Strips, Gels and Rinses

These strips and gels can be bought over the counter and applied at home, and as they contain bleaching agents,  they produce some noticeable whitening, with effects usually visible after about two weeks and lasting for approximately four months.

A whitening rinse also contains a bleaching agent (usually hydrogen peroxide) and because of relatively short period of contact with teeth (not more than a few minutes a day even with careful swishing), are less effective and take much longer (even several months of regular use) to work.

Tray Whitening Systems

This is the most effective of teeth whitening methods that can be done at home, because it allows for the use of much stronger bleaching agents. The “tray” is a mouth-guard like device that is filled with a bleaching gel and worn for up to several hours every day.

Tray-based systems can be bought over the counter and online, but also provided by your dentist. Which are better? The professional kits deliver faster and stronger results for two reasons: dentists are allowed to use stronger bleaching agents than those contained in the OTC kits, and the trays in a dentist kit will be custom fitted to your teeth. This will improve the adhesion of the bleaching gel to your teeth and make irritation of the gums less likely, both particularly important if you have unusually large or small teeth.

Professional Whitening

This is the fastest and most efficient way to whiten teeth and combines the application of the whitening product to teeth which is then activated and enhanced by  heat source, light, or a laser.  Striking results (up to eight shades lighter teeth) can be achieved in a single treatment lasting an hour. A protective gel or rubber shield is used to keep the gums protected during this procedure.

The importance of consultation and proper planning of your treatment

Professional treatment – ideally a combination of in-surgery whitening and at-home use of dentist-provided tray-based bleaching – is not only by far the most effective but also the safest way to brighten your smile.

Even if planning a DIY route, we strongly advise consulting a dentist before starting. The dentist will check the state of your teeth and gums and tell you if you are a suitable candidate for teeth whitening. It is suitable for stains and tooth discolorations but may not be as effective when taking certain medications such as antibiotics.

Also, remember that fillings, crowns, bridges and implants will not whiten.  With a change of several shades, these might need to be replaced after  the teeth whitening process.