Is Teeth Whitening Safe and Effective?

white teeth

Question

I’ve always wanted to get my teeth whitened but is it safe and what are my options?

Answer

We are always admiring people in magazines and on television with their perfectly white teeth and wondering how can I get my teeth to look so white while asking ourselves is it safe for my enamel. Well, let’s answer your long-awaited questions and put your mind at ease. Whitening is a very safe process if done correctly. Whitening is any process that will make the teeth look whiter. This can be accomplished in a few different ways, with some methods having a faster and more effective result. Whitening products or treatments can be administered by dentists in the office, dispensed for home use by your dentist, or they can be purchased over-the-counter. These products are separated by peroxide-containing bleach agents and non-bleaching whitening toothpastes.

The first type of whitening is by using non-bleaching ingredients. This would be some of the over the counter whitening toothpastes, and rinses. All toothpastes help remove surface stains because they contain mild abrasives. Some whitening toothpastes contain gentle polishing or chemical agents that provide additional stain removal but they are limited to only surface or extrinsic or surface stain only. This method might not give you the overall whitening effect you had expected, because it doesn’t penetrate through the teeth to remove deep staining which could still leave behind a yellowish tone or appearance to the teeth. Whitening toothpastes can lighten the color of your teeth by about one shade whereas the prescription strength version can lighten your teeth by three to eight shades lighter.

The second type of whitening is by using an over the counter product containing a bleaching agent. This will actually change the natural tooth color by working from the inside out. These bleaching agents containing carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide to remove deep or what we call intrinsic stain as well as surface stains called extrinsic. Hydrogen peroxide is in many over the counter whitening products up to as much as 10% in strength, but sometimes that strength doesn’t quite do the trick. This will all depend on how prone our teeth are to staining, our daily activities, and or diets. If you smoke or like to drink coffee, tea, wine, or even consume various berries/fruit and or protein/vegetable shakes these activities can all contribute to various degrees of teeth staining. The way this whitening method works is when the bleaching agent called carbamide peroxide comes into contact with saliva it breaks down into hydrogen peroxide which then breaks down again into water and oxygen. Hydrogen peroxide becomes the bleaching agent which is going to whiten your teeth. Hydrogen peroxide is the gold standard of whitening. It is very safe and is considered the most effective way to whiten your teeth. As a matter of fact, hydrogen peroxide has been used as an antiseptic since the 1920’s because of its ability to kill bacteria by destroying their cell wall.

There are over the counter products containing bleaching agents such as whitening toothpastes, rinses, and strips. They typically contain an average of 3-14% hydrogen peroxide and may or may not be strong enough to give you the look you wish to attain. So the third type of whitening is to go through your dentist and use a prescription strength bleaching agent. Your dentist can help you whiten in two different ways. The first is to use a prescription concentration that can range from 20 to 40% hydrogen peroxide gel together with a light or laser for a one-hour treatment, which accelerates or activates the whitening process. However, most studies have reported no additional long-term benefit with light-activated systems. This method is no longer recommended due to severe sensitivity from light/gel combination being reported by most patients after treatment. The second and most effective is a home whitening treatment where your dentist takes molds of your teeth to make you a personal whitening tray. In the tray, you apply a prescription strength hydrogen peroxide gel ranging again from 20-40% but wear it for up to two hours at a time for about two weeks, but be aware that it could take up to six weeks. The most commonly observed side effects of this treatment are mild tooth sensitivity and occasional irritation of soft tissues in the mouth (oral mucosa), particularly the gums. These sensitivity issues can mostly be addressed with a sensitivity toothpaste, like Sensodyne or even spacing out the treatments to every other day instead of every day for two weeks. As for the gum irritation, this is caused by using too much gel in the whitening trays causing it to spill out and onto the gums. If this happens to wipe off excess and use less next treatment.

Hope this answers most of your whitening questions and prompts you to get started towards your dream smile. Happy whitening!

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Posted in: Teeth Whitening

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