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Teeth whitening

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When it comes to whiter teeth, even those with an impeccable oral hygiene routine will suffer from some level of discolouration eventually. Conveniently, there are a number of quick and easy teeth whitening methods to lighten the colour of your teeth without causing any damage to the tooth health. Most teeth whitening kits work using a bleaching agent, normally containing peroxide. This, when used at safe levels, is an effective way of removing the stains from within the tooth that cause discolouration.

There are a number of ways you can have a tooth whitening treatment administered:

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Chair-side whitening

This method will take a couple of weeks and require multiple trips to your dentist. After a consultation, your first appointment will involve having a mould of your teeth cast using dental putty. Over the next 5-10 days a technician will use this mould to create a custom-made tooth whitening tray for you. Once the tray is ready, you’ll go back to the dentist who will perform the whitening process.

teeth whitening

teeth whitening

First, a protective gel or a rubber shield will be applied to your gums. Then, the tooth whitening tray is filled with a bleaching agent and worn like a mouth guard. The agent will oxidise stains and get into the enamel and dentine of the teeth, lightening their shade. This will take 30 minutes to an hour. Depending on the look you are trying to achieve, you may need to come back a few more times. This treatment is used less these days as more effective methods are available.

Dentist-supervised home whitening

This is essentially the same as chair-side whitening except that, once you’ve had your mould made, your dentist will instruct you how to perform the rest of the whitening treatment in your own home. This home teeth whitening option is less expensive than chair-side whitening and useful for those with busy schedule who are unable to make repeated visits to the dentist.

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Laser whitening

Laser teeth whitening, sometimes known as 'power whitening', is a quicker, if more expensive treatment. Like other whitening methods, the teeth are bleached so as to appear whiter. However, in the case of laser treatment, this is achieved by applying a teeth whitening gel and then shining a powerful light on your teeth to accelerate the process of removing the internal tooth stains.

The bleaching solution used for a laser whitening treatment usually contains a higher concentration of peroxide than would be used in other methods, so a protective gel will be applied to your lips and gums. In addition, the gums will be covered with rolls of cotton wool and a retractor will be used to keep your lips and cheeks a safe distance from your teeth.

The whole process is very quick and you can be in and out of the dentist’s practice within the space of two hours. Some patients may experience an instant improvement but require dentist-supervised home whitening in addition, particularly when the level of staining is advanced.

Who is whitening appropriate for?

Anyone with a healthy mouth should benefit from a teeth whitening treatment. However, if you have gum disease or other dental problems, your dentist may decide that teeth whitening will not be suitable, until successfully treated. You should also be aware that whitening will only work on natural teeth; false teeth, crowns, bridges, fillings and veneers will be unresponsive to the process. This could potentially leave your with teeth with uneven colouration. If you have de-calcifications (white spots) on your teeth, these might actually become more noticeable after bleaching. It's important that during the pre-treatment consultation you understand the need and cost for additional treatment to replace crowns, veneers and fillings.

Treatment has been successfully carried out by professionals for decades and millions of people worldwide have benefited from this treatment.

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Is teeth whitening painful?

Most people find that their teeth are much more sensitive for the next couple of days following treatment. This is not usually experienced as a constant pain, but intermittent bursts of discomfort. It’s recommended that you avoid especially hot or cold food or drink for around 24-48 hours after treatment. Your dentist will provide advice on how to manage the short-term pain after treatment.

Why go to a dentist when home whitening kits are available?

When dealing with a bleaching agent such as peroxide, it is possible to burn yourself. As a result, DIY home kits, including teeth whitening strips, cannot be sold at the same strength as professionals would use. This means they will be less effective, or require a more frequent use to achieve the same results. This, in turn, could lead to gum irritation and sensitive teeth. Incorrect use or overuse of bleach could also damage the enamel, which is why these treatments should be avoided, even if they appear cheaper than professional treatment.

Legally, in the UK, teeth whitening products which contain or release between 0.1 and 6 percent hydrogen peroxide cannot be sold to anyone outside the dental profession.

Can I get my teeth whitened by a beauty salon?

No. New legislation was introduced at the end of 2012 that means that teeth whitening must only be performed after a clinical examination by a qualified dentist. Additionally, the dentist must perform the first treatment or supervise another qualified dental professional, under prescription. Only after this appointment can the dentist dispense the tooth whitener for supervised home whitening.

Illegal tooth whitening conducted by unlicensed practitioners without dental training who use too much hydrogen peroxide could result in permanent damage to teeth and gums. And should be avoided at all costs.

Will the effects be permanent?

No. Your teeth will still be susceptible to staining after the treatment. This means the effect will fade, particularly if you drink tea, coffee, and red wine or are a smoker. The whitening offered by bleaching kits tends to offer more enduring results than laser treatment effects but takes longer to achieve.

How much does teeth whitening cost?

It depends on the dentist and the method of whitening you opt for, but you can expect to pay between £200-£900, with dentist supervised whitening kits providing the cheapest option and laser treatment being the most expensive, usually.

This article was provided by Toothpick, the leading provider of online dentist appointments in the UK.

Article history

The information on this page is written and peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

  • 24 Feb 2015 | Latest version

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