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Millions of people suffer from dental discoloration to varying degrees. Even those who brush, floss, and visit the dentist regularly may find that food, environmental factors, and the passage of time will eventually take their toll on the natural radiance of their teeth. Fortunately, professional teeth whitening is an incredibly effective way to lighten or altogether eliminate stains and achieve a naturally white smile.
Today, you have more whitening options than ever before. Although there are many over-the-counter products to choose from, professional, dentist-supervised treatment is safer and offers more dependable results. Many cosmetic dentists offer both in-office and at-home treatment options from reputable, trusted manufacturers.
Results vary depending on your dental health and the treatment you choose. However, the vast majority of patients have been satisfied with the outcome of their whitening treatment. Side effects are rare and mild, and the treatment is convenient and non-invasive. Following a professional whitening regimen, you could enjoy a dramatically improved smile and a huge boost of self-confidence.
In many cases, the terms "whitening" and "bleaching" are used interchangeably. Technically, however, any product that removes food or debris from teeth can be classified as a "whitening" product. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the term "bleaching" can only be used when a product contains bleach (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide). Bleaching can lighten teeth beyond their natural shade. As oxygen molecules penetrate your dental enamel, they will break apart the chemical bonds between stains.
Teeth whitening is a low-risk procedure, and therefore it is suitable for a wide range of patients. Candidates for teeth whitening typically have mild to moderate discoloration, and they want to achieve a sparkling smile. However, there are certain factors that may preclude patients from being good candidates for treatment. These include:
- Patients with fabrications or restorations on the front facing teeth (such as porcelain veneers, dental crowns, or dental bonding): Unlike natural teeth, restorative material does not respond to bleaching agents. Typically, if these patients do choose teeth whitening, they will also need replace their restorations. The new crowns or veneers will match the enhanced color of their smile.
- Patients with intrinsic stains: Intrinsic stains are gray discolorations, white spots on the teeth, or discoloration that results from a "dead" tooth. These stains affect the underlying layers of the tooth. In general, teeth whitening is most effective on extrinsic stains (the yellow or brown stains) that affect the outer enamel. However, new KöR® Whitening Deep Bleaching™ can target both extrinsic and intrinsic stains.
- Patients with extreme tooth sensitivity or worn enamel: Whitening may exacerbate these conditions.
- Patients with bruxism or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD): Whitening trays may worsen these conditions. If patients with these health concerns wish to lighten their smiles, they may be better candidates for in-office whitening.
The final cost of teeth whitening will vary, depending on the type of whitening you choose, your dentist, the duration of your treatment, and more.
The type of whitening is the biggest factor when it comes to calculating the cost of your treatment.
- Over-the-counter treatments typically range from $5 to $50. Although these methods are the cheapest form of whitening, they are also the least effective. Additionally, some whitening products (especially the very inexpensive ones) may contain dangerously high levels of peroxide. In general, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!
- Take-home treatments typically cost between $200 and $400. The final figure will include the cost of whitening trays and gel. If you require a longer treatment, your final cost will be on the higher end of the spectrum.
- In-office whitening can run anywhere from $300 to $1000. The full total will depend on the number of sessions you undergo and whether you choose a more advanced treatment, such as laser whitening.
For each of these methods, there are various brands that are fairly comparable. However, their prices will fluctuate slightly.
Teeth-whitening is an elective procedure. Although it can have dramatic benefits for your appearance and self-confidence, whitening is not necessary for your oral health. Nevertheless, this does not mean that teeth whitening will fall outside of your budget. There are numerous whitening options that can make a dazzling smile a reality.
Many dentists offer in-house repayment plans. Because whitening treatment is an affordable procedure to begin with, you can typically pay off the full cost of the procedure within a few months. Additionally, many dentists offer whitening promotions and specials. For example, some practitioners will offer free touch-up treatments or discounts if you pay in full before you begin treatment.
However, be cautious about dentists who frequently offer incredibly steep discounts. If a dentist is working that hard to drum up business, it could indicate a safety problem with his or her practice. Whitening is very safe when performed by an experienced practitioner. However, when it is not properly administered, it could cause long-term sensitivity and gum irritation. Again, if it seems too good to be true, be skeptical.
You may also qualify for third-party financing through a bank or another lender. Often, patients use medical financing companies such as Compassionate Finance® to obtain cosmetic dentistry loans. These companies provide fixed, low, and even no-interest repayment plans with approved credit. The administrative team at your dentists' office can usually help you find a lender that meets your budget. They can also assist you with any required paperwork.
Although whitening treatment is not covered by insurance, in a few cases, it may be tax deductible. For example, if you are an entertainer, model, or broadcast journalist, a whiter smile could enhance your career. Therefore, it could be considered a business expense. Your dentist will not be able to answer questions about taxes. However, it is something to consider and research when calculating the cost of your treatment.
How to Choose a Whitening Provider
A large number of dentists offer teeth whitening. However, because the treatment can have such dramatic results for your overall appearance and self-confidence, it is important to be selective as you choose a cosmetic dentist.
Experience and Treatments
When researching a dentist, you should first make sure that he or she is properly accredited. For optimal results and safety, look for a practitioner who is certified by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. You should also choose a dentist who performs teeth whitening on a regular basis. If you are interested in a particular method, such as laser whitening or KöR® Whitening Deep Bleaching™, inquire about these techniques before you make your final selection.
Past Results and Reputation
Many cosmetic dentists have galleries of past treatments. Take a look at these pictures and ask yourself if you like the final results. Is there a noticeable difference before and after treatment? Do the patients' smiles look natural and healthy? Ask friends for recommendations. Your regular dentist may also be able to refer you to a cosmetic specialist. For further assistance, use DocShop's handy search tool.
You will want to choose a dentist with whom you feel at ease. Although teeth whitening is a short treatment, you may want to return to the same dentist for routine touchups. Additionally, you are more likely to enjoy optimal results when you feel comfortable with your dentist. Therefore, you should select someone who truly listens to your needs and goals. Never choose a dentist who pressures you to undergo more cosmetic treatments than you actually want.
The Initial Consultation
Before beginning any dental treatment, you will have a complete consultation with your cosmetic dentist. To decide whether teeth whitening will work well for you, your dentist will first examine your teeth and gums. After determining your candidacy for treatment, you will discuss your goals and likely results. Your dentist will want to help you achieve natural-looking, satisfying results. With realistic expectations for treatment, you are more likely to be pleased with your outcome. You will also discuss your budget and lifestyle.
With this information, your dentist can help you decide whether in-office or at-home whitening is the right option for you. Finally, he or she will perform a shade analysis. Your dentist will match your smile to a shade guide both before and after treatment. By documenting your transformation, you will be able to see the measurable difference in the color of your teeth.
Types of Whitening
When you are looking to lighten your smile, you have many options to choose from.
As stated above, over-the-counter methods are the cheapest form of whitening. These methods can include:
- Toothpastes: These products strictly whiten and will not bleach your teeth. Whitening toothpastes have a mildly abrasive effect, and some can lighten teeth by up to one shade.
- Gel: Whitening gel can offer comparable results to strips. The exact treatment regimen will depend on the type and strength of gel you choose.
- Rinses: Whitening mouthwash contains small amounts of peroxide. You will use these rinses just as you would use a traditional anti-bacterial mouthwash. Many experts believe that whitening rinses are not as effective as other methods, since the peroxide is only in contact with your teeth for about 60 seconds.
- Pre-made whitening trays: Store bought whitening trays often fit uncomfortably. Because they are not customized for your smile, the gel may ooze out and irritate your gum tissue. Dental professionals recommend dentist-provided trays instead.
- Strips: Whitening strips are thin pieces of plastic coated in peroxide. You will attach the strips to the front of your teeth, and you will wear them about 30 minutes a day for two weeks. The results typically last around four months. Most experts and consumers agree that whitening strips are the most effective form of do-it-yourself whitening.
Dentist-prescribed whitening offers much more dramatic results than over-the-counter products. At the same time, it is still quite affordable, making it an excellent investment in your smile. If you choose this method, you will receive custom-made whitening trays. They will fit comfortably in your mouth, and you will fill them with whitening gel. This gel will use a lower concentration of peroxide than in-office treatment. Therefore, the procedure will pose little risk for gum sensitivity, even without complete dentist supervision. You will wear the trays for 30 minutes to several hours every day, depending on your dentist's instructions and the whitening method you use. You could also choose overnight whitening.
Although take-home whitening is quite effective, in-office care usually offers the most dramatic results
Although take-home whitening is quite effective, in-office care usually offers the most dramatic results. Your dentist will use whitening gel with a much stronger concentration of peroxide. After an hour or less, the gel will break apart the bonds between stained molecules, giving you a dramatically brighter smile. Many dentists use lasers or specially formatted lights to achieve optimal results. The high-power light will activate the gel, allowing the oxygen to penetrate your teeth more thoroughly. Your dentist may also combine in-office and take-home methods for more dramatic and long-lasting results.
Popular Professional Whitening Brands
With the increasing popularity of teeth whitening, more and more manufacturers have developed their own bleaching products. Most companies offer both in-office and at-home options in various strengths.
Philips Zoom!® is perhaps the most well-known teeth whitening brand. In-office treatment uses whitening gel with a 25 percent concentration of peroxide. Additionally, chairside whitening utilizes a proprietary blue light, which stimulates the whitening process. If you choose take-home Zoom!®, you can choose from Day White Maximum White and Nite White Maximum White. The whitening gel used in both has a unique formula to give you smoother, more sparkling enamel.
Philips also offers several other options to meet patients' unique needs. For example, Day White Gentle contains ACP and potassium nitrate to combat sensitivity. Nite White Quick 3-Day may be the optimal solution for patients who need a fast change before a big event.
BriteSmile® is strictly an office-based treatment. Dentists have been using this method of whitening for over a decade. Like Philips Zoom!®, the treatment uses a combination of whitening gel and a blue light to achieve dramatic results. To further protect your sensitive gum tissue, the gel only contains about 15 percent peroxide. It also has a nearly neutral pH level. BriteSmile® takes about one hour to complete. Your dentist will apply the whitening gel three times, and it will remain on your teeth for about 20 minutes each time.
Opalescence offers a wide range of treatment options. In-office treatment uses a powerful gel with a 40 percent concentration of peroxide. Despite the high levels of peroxide, it also contains potassium nitrate to reduce sensitivity. Added fluoride can also strengthen enamel and help to prevent decay. Opalescence® also makes custom-made whitening trays, as well as pre-made trays, available only through your cosmetic dentist.
LUMIBRITE by DenMat®
LUMIBRITE is specially designed to achieve dramatic results with minimal sensitivity. The treatment combines whitening gel with the Sapphire Plasma Arc Curing and Whitening Light. The light does not use harmful UV rays, and the gel is strong enough that it can work on its own, even without the light. LUMIBRITE Desensitizing Gel also helps to prevent discomfort during and after treatment.
GLO Science Professional
GLO Science Professional uses a Guided Light Optics (G.L.O.) mouthpiece, combined with whitening gel, to lighten patients' smiles. The mouthpiece will deliver both heat and light to the treatment area to prevent oxygen from escaping and to maximize the strength of the gel. The entire treatment takes about 40 minutes, and it can achieve dramatic results. When you complete your treatment, you will be able to take the mouthpiece home for safe routine touchups.
KöR® Whitening Deep Bleaching™
KöR® Deep Bleaching™ is an innovative new treatment that combines both in-office and at-home methods to achieve outstanding results. KöR® is the only method of whitening that can target both intrinsic and extrinsic stains. The process can lighten your teeth by up to 16 shades. Best of all, the results are permanent. You can continue to enjoy coffee, red wine, and other stain-producing substances will no ill-effects on the color of your smile. KöR® does cost significantly more than other forms of whitening. However, because you will not need touch-up treatments, it can be an economical choice in the long run.
The In-Office Whitening Process
In-office bleaching is the safest and most effective form of teeth whitening treatment available. Treatments, including ZOOM!® Whitening, BriteSmile®, Rembrandt®, and other popular brands, are generally performed in following four stages:
Preparing Your Teeth
Before beginning your in-office treatment, your dental hygienist will clean your teeth and gums. This will ensure that food particles, bacteria, and tartar do not interfere with the power of the bleaching agent.
Applying the Whitening Agent
After the initial prep work, your dentist will apply the whitening gel to the surface of your teeth. There is a lot of precision and thought involved in this step. Your dentist will brush the whitening solution onto all exposed surfaces of your smile. He or she will evenly cover your dental enamel so your results appear natural and seamless.
It is important that the whitening solution does not come into contact with your gums
It is important that the whitening solution does not come into contact with your gums. If not properly applied, the solution can irritate your soft tissues. This is why your dentist will typically place a protective barrier over your gums. Once the barrier is in place, he or she will apply the whitening gel.
Letting the Whitening Gel Work
The gel will remain on your teeth for a prescribed amount of time. Depending on which treatment you select, your dentist may use a specialized light to activate the whitening agent. Typically, the longer your enamel is exposed to the bleaching gel, the more dramatic your results will be. Most treatments are performed in intervals. Typically, your dentist will apply the gel three times, with five to ten minutes between each application. The gel will remain on your teeth for about fifteen minutes before your dentist removes the layer and applies a new round of whitening agent. Your smile may be up to eight shades lighter after just one hour.
Your dentist may recommend multiple treatments in order to help you achieve desirable cosmetic results. Most patients require at least two in-office whitening treatments in order to reach their cosmetic goals. Additionally, the whiteness of your smile may fade over time. You may want to undergo treatment every few months or years to maintain treatment results.
Many dentists offer "lifetime" whitening when patients pay for their procedures in full. With this special offer, you will receive take-home whitening trays and gel to perform routine touch-ups. At your initial consultation, you should consult with your doctor on the promotions that he or she is currently offering.
The Take-Home Whitening Process
Take-home teeth whitening treatments are another way to dramatically improve the luster of your smile. Because this type of whitening treatment is dentist-supervised, it is safe and effective. This method uses custom-made trays to deliver whitening gel to your smile Take-home treatments generally involve the following four stages:
Customizing Your Whitening Trays
In order to tailor whitening treatment to your needs, your dentist will create impressions of your teeth. Lab technicians will use these measurements to create whitening trays that fit comfortably and securely in your mouth. After the aligners are finished, your dentist will check to see that the fit properly. He or she will then educate you about the best ways to use and care for your trays.
Applying the Whitening Agent
Typically, you will place whitening gel directly into the bleaching tray using a syringe. Then you will fit the whitening tray over your teeth. At that time, the gel will evenly cover the surfaces of your teeth and oxygen molecules will start to penetrate your enamel. Because your tray will fit securely around your teeth, the whitening agent should remain inside while your tray is in place.
The duration of your treatment will depend on the strength of the whitening gel
Letting the Whitening Gel Work
The duration of your treatment will depend on the strength of the whitening gel. Generally, you should wear your tray daily anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. For your convenience, you could also select overnight whitening treatment. The full treatment regimen will last about two weeks.
Your dentist may advise you to perform teeth whitening treatments every few months, or whenever stains begin to reappear. You should only perform touch-up treatments with the guidance and advice of your dentist. Over-whitening can cause permanent enamel erosion. Additionally, you should stop whitening your teeth if you are pregnant. The whitening agent contains chemicals that can harm your baby if swallowed.
Professional vs. Over-the-Counter Whitening
With the ever- growing popularity of teeth whitening treatment, dentists around the globe are offering a greater variety of bleaching systems. Additionally, the ability to whiten your smile has become a high demand. More manufacturers are placing whitening agents in polishes, fluorides, strips, and other hygienic products. Nevertheless, the use of certain bleaching products can actually harm your dental health.
Dentist-supervised whitening systems are safer for your enamel. They are also more effective at penetrating and removing deep-set stains. If you do choose to whiten your teeth yourself, you should only choose products that bear the American Dental Academy® seal of approval.
Make the Investment in Your Smile
Although dentist-provided whitening does cost more than over-the-counter methods, professional treatment is a worthwhile investment. Not only will it have stunning results for your appearance and self-confidence; it could save you money in the long run. Unsafe or improper use of whitening products could necessitate costly restorative treatment.
Combining Whitening with Other Treatments
Although teeth whitening can achieve outstanding results on its own, cosmetic dentists often perform whitening in conjunction with other procedures. In this way, they can more thoroughly transform your smile. Some of the most common procedures to combine include:
Dental veneers can be a great way to conceal severe intrinsic stains, which do not respond to traditional whitening treatment. They can also reshape your teeth, close gaps in your smile, conceal erosion, and make minor orthodontic adjustments. These thin shells will be custom-made to match your smile, and they will attach directly to the front of your teeth. Like many patients, you may choose to have a veneer placed on one or two teeth, while you enhance the rest of your smile with whitening treatment. In this case, your dentist will perform whitening first, so your veneers will match the new color of your teeth.
Remember that veneers will not respond to future whitening. Therefore, it is important to stay up-to-date with your touch-up treatments. By maintaining the whiter shade of your smile, you can ensure that your natural enamel and veneers will still match.
With dental bonding, your dentist can perform many of the same functions that he or she can with porcelain veneers. Your practitioner will apply tooth-colored composite resin to your teeth. He or she will carefully sculpt the material so that it covers up cosmetic flaws and matches the shape of your teeth. After hardening the material with a curing light, he or she will polish your teeth to give them a natural luster. Again, if you choose bonding in conjunction with whitening, your dentist will typically perform whitening first. You will also need to maintain your routine touch-ups.
Dentists typically recommend more conservative treatments, such as veneers or bonding, to correct aesthetic concerns. However, if you have a severely compromised tooth, a porcelain crown may be a better option. Crowns are tooth-shaped caps that fit over your natural tooth. In the past, crowns were always made of metal. Today, dentists also offer restorations made of porcelain, zirconia, and other state-of-the-art materials. These restorations will match your nearby teeth and further enhance your whiter smile.
Like many patients, you may desire both whiter and straighter teeth. Teeth whitening can be a great option after traditional braces come off. Many braces wearers experience significant dental discoloration. This is because metal brackets and wires can easily trap food and bacteria. However, even if you choose an alternative form of orthodontia, such as Invisalign®, whitening can further enhance your healthy smile. In most cases, dentists will perform whitening after your orthodontic care is complete.
Whenever you combine two or more cosmetic treatments, this is referred to as a smile makeover. Teeth whitening is one of the most common treatments to include in a makeover. It is often the finishing touch for the treatment. In addition to the treatments mentioned above, a smile makeover could include gum contouring, dental contouring, fillings, and restorative treatments. Your dentist will discuss your options, and help you select the right procedures for your goals.
Just as every patient's smile is unique, the results of teeth whitening treatment will vary. Although most patients are pleased with the results, they are not 100 percent predictable. There are several factors which contribute to the overall outcome of teeth whitening treatment. The final color of a patient's smile will depend on several factors. These include:
- The severity of the stains
- The level of the tooth the stains reside on
- Lifestyle and dietary habits
- The type of teeth whitening system used
- The number of treatments a patient undergoes
- Whether the patient wears whitening trays as directed (in cases of at-home teeth whitening)
What You Can Expect
Although results are different for each person, following treatment, you should notice a definite improvement in your smile. Most whitening manufacturers tell patients that their smiles may be lighter by six to eight shades. As stated above, KöR® Deep Bleaching™ can lighten your smile by up to 16 shades. If you choose in-office treatment, you should notice your results immediately. With at-home care, the results will appear gradually as you progress through the course of your treatment.
Although treatment results can be instantaneous, stains may reappear in the months and years following professional teeth whitening. Because treatment does not make your smile less susceptible to staining, you may need routine whitening treatments in the future to maintain desirable results. Nevertheless, there are several ways that you can protect your white smile and prolong the effects of your treatment.
The most important thing you can do to protect your smile is to maintain good dental habits. Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Although you should certainly brush after meals, dentists advise you to wait about 30 minutes before you do. If you brush immediately after eating, you will rub stain-producing molecules and harmful sugars into your soft dental enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water right after a meal. You should also floss and use antibacterial mouthwash daily. Be sure to schedule your biannual exams and cleanings.
Certain habits can increase your risk for discoloration, as well as the severity of dental stains. To protect your white smile, you should avoid the following:
- Routine consumption of black tea, soda, coffee, and red wine
- Frequent consumption of berries, tomato sauce, soy sauce, and other highly pigmented foods
- Frequent consumption of citrus, fruit juices, and other acidic food and drink
Additionally, certain medications can cause dental stains. Talk to your doctor or dentist to find out if you can combat the effects of these medications.
Even with careful maintenance and lifestyle changes, teeth will typically darken over time. For optimal results, you should maintain regular whitening touchups. In most cases, you will require touchups every six months or so. However, the exact time frame varies for each person. You may be able to wait a full year before touching up, or you may benefit from treatment after four months. In either case, you should never perform whitening without the recommendation of your dentist. Too much whitening can cause permanent sensitivity and enamel erosion.
A dazzling, white smile is the hallmark of professional teeth whitening. When you choose bleaching treatments, the results are beautiful and natural-looking. Many times the treatment can make you look significantly younger and healthier.
The benefits of teeth whitening extend beyond your appearance. In-office or take-home whitening treatments have both physical and emotional effects. Your whiter smile can positively affect other people's perceptions of you, as well as your own self-esteem. The procedure is meant to accentuate your facial features and natural beauty. With your whiter teeth, you may be more willing to smile and laugh in public. In turn, this can have important benefits for your professional and social life.
Whether you choose to undergo treatment in the convenience of your home or the comfort of your dentist's office, teeth whitening is a quick and convenient way to brighten the natural pigmentation of your teeth.
- Professional take-home systems allow you to whiten your smile at your own convenience. Typically, you will use an in-home system over several weeks. However, in some cases, you may require longer treatment to achieve optimal results.
- Through in-office, doctor supervised treatments, you can achieve a whiter smile in as little as an hour. Office treatment often has slightly more dramatic results that at-home care; in some cases, it can lighten your teeth by up to eight shades in an hour.
Safe and Non-invasive
Bleaching is one of the most non-invasive cosmetic dentistry procedures on the market. Therefore, the treatments is a wonderful option for patients with dental anxiety, as well as those who want to avoid lengthy treatment. It is also more affordable and far less invasive than other cosmetic dentistry procedures, such as crowns or porcelain veneers.
Teeth whitening has very few long-term risks. Nevertheless, if you are considering using whitening products, whether professional-grade or over-the-counter, consult your dentist first. When a dentist is aware of pre-existing conditions and your dental health history, he or she can take steps to minimize potential damage. Though rare, the risks of teeth whitening include:
- Permanent gum or tooth sensitivity
- Damage to your dental roots
- Enamel erosion
- Uneven results
- Damage to the mucous membranes in your mouth
Minimizing Your Risks
Typically, whitening-related damage results from over-whitening, improper use of whitening agents, unsafe concentrations of peroxide, or problems with the protective seal over your gums. To minimize your risks, choose professional whitening treatment, performed by an experienced cosmetic dentist. Follow your practitioner's instructions precisely, and never perform extra whitening treatment without your dentist's approval.
Teeth Whitening Addiction
With the advent of at-home treatment options, teeth whitening addiction is a growing problem. Patients with this addition, sometimes referred to as "bleachorexia," never feel that their smile is white enough. As a result, they continually whiten their teeth without the approval of their dentists. Sometimes, they will visit several dentists, hiding their past whitening treatment from each practitioner. In other cases, they will use over-the-counter whitening products, many of which contain unsafe levels of peroxide. Eventually they strip away the enamel from their teeth. They may also have chemical burns on their soft tissues. They may even have irritated sinus passages from constantly breathing in the bleach fumes. Again, these risks are rare, and they are typically associated with over-whitening or improper whitening.
Temporary Side Effects
Although teeth whitening rarely causes long term damage, temporary sensitivity is not uncommon. If you experience any discomfort following your treatment, your dentist can often help you to minimize irritation.
Dental sensitivity is the most common side effect of teeth whitening. It will typically dissipate within a few days of your treatment. While there is no way to predict who may develop the condition, certain patients face a higher risk for post-whitening sensitivity. You are more likely to experience this side effect if you:
- Already have sensitive teeth
- Notice changes in the sensitivity of your teeth following a hygienic cleaning
- Experience sensitivity following brushing, flossing, or fluoride treatments
You can manage and decrease sensitivity with gentle cleansing products and as toothpastes. If you experience irritation, you should also abstain from touch-up treatments until otherwise instructed by your dentist. If the level of your sensitivity increases and begins to affect your daily routine, consult with your dental practitioner.
Gum irritation is one of the most common side effects associated with teeth whitening. This condition may result from:
- Using an ill-fitting bleaching tray
- Failure of the protective barrier during in-office treatment
- Overuse of a whitening agent
Undergoing teeth whitening treatments with an experienced cosmetic dentist will help to minimize risks and side effects. Most professional at-home treatments use custom-made trays. Your dentist or lab technicians will craft the bleaching tray from a mold of your bite. In this way, your dentist can help to ensure that the whitening gel does not come in contact with your gum tissue.
In its September 2009 report, the American Dental Academy® addressed the safety of teeth whitening treatment. According to the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs:
- Over 20 years, dental professionals collected information about professional at-home teeth whitening. According to their study, there are no long-term health risks when the whitening agent contains a carbamide peroxide concentration of 10 percent or less (or a hydrogen peroxide concentration of 3.5 percent or less.)
- As many as two-thirds of all whitening patients experience mild to moderate sensitivity in the early stages of treatment. Sensitivity correlates to the concentration of peroxide and the length of time the whitening agent remains on a patient's teeth.
- In 2005, the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) declared that at-home whitening products containing up to 6 percent hydrogen peroxide are safe for use. They noted that patients should consult with their dentists before using these products.
- The ADA concluded that there is not enough information regarding teeth whitening and pregnancy. They recommend that expectant mothers delay whitening until after their babies are born.
Alternatives to Teeth Whitening
If you are not a candidate for teeth whitening, or if you have severe intrinsic stains, you can still enjoy a bright and dazzling smile. There are several alternative treatments to choose from. Your dentist will examine your dental health and discuss your treatment goals to help you choose the right procedure for your smile. Some of your options include:
Rather than lightening stains, porcelain veneers completely conceal them. These thin shells can be an especially effective option if dark internal stains mar your smile. At the same time, they can cover up a number of additional flaws, including chips, worn edges, cracks, gaps in your smile, and more. Your dentist will provide custom-crafted veneers that match the shape and natural healthy color of your teeth.
Bonding, like veneers, can transform intrinsically stained teeth. When your dentist places composite resin over your teeth, the material will cover up discoloration and other flaws. Your dentist will carefully select the shade of resin that matches your teeth. Then he or she will sculpt and polish the material to give it a natural shine.
Dark intrinsic stains often appear because of certain medications. In some cases, however, they may be the result of past dental fillings. Over the years, metal will start to show through your teeth, giving your smile a gray tint. Your dentist can remove old fillings and replace them with a composite resin restoration. He or she will select the material that most closely resembles the natural shade of your teeth. In addition to the cosmetic benefits, tooth-colored fillings have some important advantages for your dental health. The material will form a stronger bond with your tooth. Additionally, unlike metal, it will not expand and contract with temperature variations.
The Snap-On Smile® is a custom-crafted set of teeth that fits directly on top of your existing teeth. It can completely transform your smile with no need for extensive treatment. Many patients use the Snap-On Smile® as a temporary measure. They can enjoy a brighter, healthier-looking smile as they prepare for a smile makeover or another treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Am I too old for teeth whitening?
Teeth whitening can benefit adults of all ages. However, whitening gel will not lighten dental restorations. Therefore, if you have crowns or bridges that show when you smile, whitening may not be the optimal treatment for you. Additionally, if your gums have gotten more sensitive with age, you may not be a good candidate for whitening. Your dentist will help you discover whether this is the right procedure for your needs.
Can teens undergo teeth whitening?
Responsible teens who have their permanent teeth can receive teeth whitening with their dentist's approval. Most dentists recommend that adolescents wait until their late teens before receiving the treatment. The exception to this is KöR® Whitening Deep Bleaching™. Younger teens around age 14 or so are often the best candidates for this treatment, since their teeth are able to absorb oxygen more effectively.
Which type of whitening is right for me?
Both in-office and at-home professional whitening can be great options. There is no "right" or "wrong" choice when it comes to dentist-provided treatment. In general, in-office whitening may be a better choice if you are looking for the fastest and most dramatic results possible. If you already have some dental sensitivity, you are likely to be a better candidate for office care. At-home treatment may be the optimal choice if you are on a budget or you want to whiten your teeth in the convenience of your own home. Your dentist will provide a thorough consultation and help you choose the right treatment for your budget, lifestyle, and dental health.
How long will my results last?
Results are different for each patient, although you will eventually experience some re-staining. Depending on your dental health and diet, your results could last up to a year. However, if you are naturally predisposed to dental stains, or if you routinely consume stain-producing food and drink, you may benefit from touch-up treatments every few months. KöR® Whitening Deep Bleaching™ is the only method of teeth whitening that can yield permanent results.
Can I just rinse with peroxide to whiten my teeth?
Despite what you may have heard, you should never rinse your mouth with peroxide! Doing so will cause serious damage for your teeth and oral tissues. It will also do little to improve the color of your smile.
Are my teeth more susceptible to stains after whitening treatment?
Yes, your teeth will be more sensitive to stain-causing foods and drinks for the first few days after your treatment. Teeth whitening dehydrates your teeth for 24 to 48 hours, making them more porous. If you must consume coffee, tea, or wine, it is best to do so through a straw.
What can I do to lighten my implants, crowns, or bridge?
Although restorative materials are not typically susceptible to stains, smoking and other factors can cause discoloration. Unfortunately, whitening treatment will not remove these stains. Your dentist may be able to eliminate discoloration by buffing the restorations with a non-abrasive cleaning solution. To correct severe discoloration, your dentist may recommend an entirely new restoration.
 ADA Council on Scientific Affairs. Tooth Whitening/Bleaching: Treatment Considerations for Dentists and Their Patients. (American Dental Association, 2009)
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