An Ultimate Guide To Teeth Whitening: Everything You Need To Know

An Ultimate Guide To Teeth Whitening: Everything You Need To Know By Dr. Jon ( Junyi ) Ho | September 9, 2022

Teeth whitening is one of the most desirable cosmetic procedures in dentistry because of its ability to improve someone’s smile by making their teeth whiter. This increases confidence, making them feel more comfortable in social situations. While it is true that teeth whitening is a popular treatment, there are still many people who do not know much about it.

Read on because this guide will explain teeth whitening, its methods, benefits, and other important things related to it so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not you will proceed with the treatment.

What Is Teeth Whitening?

What Is Teeth Whitening?

Simply put, teeth whitening is a cosmetic treatment in dentistry that involves using effective chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide, to lessen or eliminate discolouration or stains on teeth. However, you have to note that this is not for everybody. For instance, a pregnant or lactating woman is not recommended to undergo such a procedure. Also, if you have oral problems such as gum disease, your dentist needs to manage these first before performing teeth whitening.

When Does One Need Teeth Whitening?

There are instances when you need to have your teeth whitened, such as:

  • Your confidence is affected due to your discoloured teeth. You may be embarrassed to talk or smile often because of the colour of your teeth. This is especially true if your job requires you to meet new people frequently or if you need to speak in front of a group often. Teeth whitening can help by lightening the colour of your teeth, boosting your confidence in the process.
  • You want to look good for your upcoming wedding. A whiter smile can add to your overall beauty on your big day. If you have brown, yellow, or dark teeth, you may not be happy smiling often in your wedding photos. You can avoid this problem by undergoing teeth whitening a few months before your wedding day.
  • You want to leave the first impression in your job interview. If you have whiter teeth, you are more likely to smile more often, which can make a good first impression on your potential employer. Remember, smiling is one of the non-verbal cues that can say a lot about you.
  • Your teeth are stained due to certain foods and drinks. Drinking stain-causing foods or beverages frequently can discolour or darken your teeth over time. If you want to remove or reduce these stains, teeth whitening can help.
  • You have successfully quit smoking. Smoking cigarettes can lead to yellow teeth because of tobacco products’ nicotine content. If you have recently stopped smoking and want to achieve brighter teeth, you can benefit from teeth whitening.

What Can Cause Tooth Discolouration?

There are a few reasons why teeth can become discoloured, even if you regularly brush and floss them. These include:

  • Ageing. As you age, your tooth enamel (outermost layer) starts to wear down, exposing the dentin (inner layer). The dentin is yellow in colour, unlike enamel, thus making your teeth look darker.
  • Food And Drinks. Certain types of food, like blueberries and drinks like red wine, coffee, and tea, can cause stains on teeth because of their pigments.
  • Smoking. Nicotine in tobacco products can cause teeth discolouration by turning them yellow, brown or even black.
  • Medications. Some medications, such as tetracycline and doxycycline, can cause discoloured teeth in children whose teeth are still developing.
  • Trauma to the teeth. Tooth trauma results from a tooth injury, which can harm your tooth and cause it to die without immediate treatment. Because the tooth is no longer vital, it can darken over time.
  • Poor dental hygiene. If you don’t follow a healthy dental routine, plaque and tartar can build up over time. These can retain stains from the food and teeth you consume, making your teeth appear darker.
  • Some medical conditions. Certain medical conditions, including celiac disease, eating disorders, acid reflux, and diabetes, can lead to discoloured teeth. One of the reasons is that some of these conditions can cause vomiting, which in turn can result in tooth erosion, exposing the dentin. This leads to the teeth appearing yellow.

It’s also important to note the two types of tooth stains that teeth whitening can help address. These are:

  • Extrinsic stains. These tooth stain types are found on the tooth surface, which may be reduced or removed with over-the-counter teeth whiteners. However, if these are left unmanaged, they can eventually penetrate your teeth, making them difficult to remove. They are usually caused by drinking coffee, red wine, tea or smoking.
  • Intrinsic stains. These stains occur deeper and can’t be removed with over-the-counter teeth whitening products. They are usually caused by certain medications, such as tetracycline, as well as trauma to the teeth. Intrinsic teeth stains often require professional teeth whitening treatment.

How To Prepare For My Teeth Whitening Treatment?

While teeth whitening procedures are not invasive and complex, there are things you need to do in preparation for your treatment. You have to:

  • Let your dentist know about any current medical conditions you have. Doing so reduces the risks of complications associated with the procedure. This also ensures that the whitening agent used will not cause any adverse reactions. Inform your dentist about any medications you are taking because some drugs can make your teeth more sensitive to whitening agents.
  • Stop smoking at least two days before your treatment. It’s best to avoid smoking at least 48 hours before your treatment so that the whitening agent can effectively work on your teeth.
  • Avoid eating or drinking stain-causing food and beverages. It’s recommended to avoid these at least two days before your treatment so the results of your procedure will be pleasing.
  • Make sure your teeth are clean. Before your treatment, clean your teeth thoroughly so that the whitening agent can better adhere to your teeth.

Who Can Perform Teeth Whitening?

Under Australian law, only registered dentists can use teeth whitening products that contain more than 6% hydrogen peroxide and 18% carbamide peroxide. However, a registered or licensed dental hygienist can also perform professional teeth whitening under the supervision of a dentist.

On the other hand, you can do the treatment at home using over-the-counter tooth whiteners with lower concentrations of active ingredients. Mostly, these items have a 3% concentration of peroxide and are made to be safe for home use.

What Happens During The Teeth Whitening Procedure?

What Happens During The Teeth Whitening Procedure?
  • Your dentist will clean your teeth before starting the procedure for better results.
  • They will cover your lips and gums with a rubber shield or gel to avoid contact with the whitening agent. If this happens, it could result in irritation.
  • A teeth whitening gel is then applied to your teeth.This gel contains an active ingredient like hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which helps bleach your teeth and make them several shades lighter.
  • To speed up the whitening process, a special LED or laser light may be used.
  • After about 10-20 minutes, your dentist will remove the whitening gel from your teeth and repeat the process about three times until you achieve the desired results. During your initial consultation, your dentist may have already asked you about the shade you want your teeth to be.
  • After the process is done, your dentist will remove the protector and any residue from your teeth.
  • Before you leave their office, they will provide aftercare instructions to help you maintain your bright smile

How Long Do Teeth Whitening Results Last?

This differs depending on the method used and how well you take care of your teeth afterwards. Over-the-counter whitening products usually last up to four months, while results from in-chair treatment can last up to three years with proper care. Your whitened teeth from custom trays you get from your dentist can last up to a year if you take care of your teeth.

How To Maintain Whitened Teeth

You will play an essential role in maintaining the results of your teeth whitening procedure. These include:

  • Avoiding stain-causing food and drinks. As much as possible, avoid consuming dark-coloured food and beverages that can cause your teeth to stain. These include coffee, tea, soft drinks, red wine, and soy sauce. If you can’t avoid them altogether, at least brush your teeth or rinse your mouth with water afterwards.
  • Practising good oral hygiene. This means tooth brushing at least twice a day, flossing daily, and using mouthwash. These will help remove plaque and bacteria that can cause staining.
  • Visiting your dentist regularly. Make sure to schedule at least two dental office visits a year for regular check-ups and cleanings. This way, they can also monitor the condition of your teeth and determine and address problems before they become worse.
  • Avoiding smoking. Aside from the fact that smoking is not good for your health, cigarettes contain tar and nicotine that can stain your teeth fast. If you can’t quit, at least try to cut back or smoke less often.
  • Using a straw when drinking stain-causing beverages. If possible, consume these types of drinks with a straw so they will not come in contact with your teeth as much.
  • Use whitening toothpaste and mouthwash. There are now many whitening products available in the market that can contain mild abrasives and peroxide that can help remove or reduce surface stains on your teeth.

What Are The Benefits Of Teeth Whitening?

Numerous advantages come with teeth whitening, and these include:

  • A whiter, brighter smile. Teeth whitening can help give you a whiter and brighter smile. This can boost your confidence and self-esteem, making you feel good about yourself.
  • A more youthful appearance. Yellow or discoloured teeth can make us appear older than we really are. Teeth whitening can help reduce these stains and give you a more youthful appearance.
  • A better first impression. Because you know you have whiter teeth, you tend to smile more often, which can help you leave a good first impression on people, whether in a business or social setting.
  • A more affordable way to improve your teeth’s appearance. Teeth whitening is a more affordable way to achieve whiter teeth as compared to other procedures such as veneers.
  • A non-invasive procedure. Tooth whitening is a non-invasive treatment that doesn’t require any drilling or anaesthesia like other dental procedures.

What Are The Teeth Whitening Options Available?

Both professional and DIY teeth whitening treatments are not permanent. But with proper care, in-office whitening can last up to 3 years and up to a year for custom-made at-home whitening kits. For teeth whitening products you can purchase from stores; their results may last up to 4 months if you take care of your teeth. But, you can maintain your newly whitened teeth and maximise the results of your treatment with proper care.

Which Teeth Whitening Method Is For Me?

There are two main teeth whitening methods, including;

1. In-Office Or In-Chair Teeth Whitening

This teeth whitening method is performed by a dentist or licensed dental hygienist in a dental clinic and typically takes an hour. It is known to be the most effective and safest way to achieve brighter teeth because dentists use higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Because they are professionals, trained and experienced, they also know how to protect your gums and teeth to avoid risks.

Based on the severity of your teeth stains and discolourations, you may need up to two or three sessions to achieve your desired results.

2. At-Home Teeth Whitening

This is a method of whitening your teeth that you can do at home using teeth whitening products with lower concentrations of bleaching agents. Consistency and following the manufacturer’s instructions are essential when whitening your teeth by yourself. This is because incorrect usage can cause gum irritation and tooth sensitivity. While this is less expensive than in-chair treatment, it is also less effective, and the results last for a shorter time.

At-home teeth whitening products can come in the form of:

  • Take-home custom-made trays. This product comes with a teeth whitening gel that is dispensed into a mouthguard-like tray. You put the tray over your teeth for a recommended period of time, usually 30 minutes twice a day for 14 straight days.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) strips and gels. These are available without a prescription and come in different concentrations. They are usually applied to your teeth using your finger or a toothbrush.
  • Over-the-counter whitening tray. This is similar to the customised trays you get from your dentist, but the difference is that it’s not customised to fit your teeth.
  • Whitening toothpaste. This type of toothpaste uses mild abrasives to reduce surface stains from your teeth. It does not contain bleaching agents and can only make your teeth appear slightly brighter.
  • Whitening rinses. There are various rinses or mouthwashes available containing different bleaching agents. Some contain a low concentration of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide that can help reduce surface stains with consistent usage.

Who Can't Have Teeth Whitening?

In general, having good oral health makes you a suitable candidate for this procedure. However, there are some instances where teeth whitening may not be recommended. These include:

Pregnant Or Breastfeeding Women

While there is no research that shows teeth whitening is risky for pregnant or lactating women, there is a lack of evidence to show that it’s safe for the baby and the mother at this stage. That’s why dentists recommend having it after you have given birth and have finished breastfeeding.

People With Tooth Decay Or Cavities

If you have tooth decay or cavities, it is best to have these oral health issues managed first before undergoing teeth whitening. Bleaching agents used in this procedure can cause pain and increase sensitivity in areas with these dental problems. Once your cavities are filled, or your tooth decay is addressed, you can then have your teeth whitened.

People With Worn Enamel

If you have worn enamel, the outermost layer of your teeth that protects the inner layers, it is best to avoid teeth whitening. This is because the bleaching agents can cause irritation and increased sensitivity since the enamel is already thin. Your dentist may recommend other ways to help you achieve brighter teeth.

People With Exposed Roots

If your gums have receded and the roots of your teeth are now exposed, it is best to avoid this procedure as well. The bleaching agents can cause sensitivity and pain. This is because the cementum of teeth (the outermost layer that covers the roots) is thinner compared to enamel. Your dentist can recommend other ways to help you achieve brighter teeth.

People With Sensitive Teeth

Consult your dentist if you have sensitive teeth and are planning to undergo teeth whitening. It’s because bleaching agents used in teeth whitening can cause even more pain and sensitivity. Your dentist can recommend a desensitising toothpaste to help with this condition or a different method to help you achieve brighter teeth.

Children Under 16 Years Old

Dentists don’t recommend teeth whitening for children under 16 years old. This is because the teeth are still developing. The chemicals in bleaching agents can cause damage to the enamel and sensitivity to the pulp of teeth. It’s best to wait or ask your dentist for safer alternatives if you wish to whiten your child’s teeth.

Can I Have Teeth Whitening With A Crown Or Veneers?

It’s not recommended to undergo teeth whitening treatment if you have other dental procedures done, such as a crown or dental veneers. The materials used for these procedures are not affected by teeth whitening products. In other words, your crown or veneer will remain the same colour while your surrounding teeth are being whitened. You may end up having mismatched teeth colours, which can affect your smile’s overall appearance.

Does Teeth Whitening Have Any Side Effects?

Tooth whitening has some potential side effects, especially if you use over-the-counter products and do not follow instructions properly. These include:

  • Gum irritation. Gum irritation can occur if the bleaching gel comes into contact with your gums. This can cause redness, swelling, and discomfort.
  • Tooth sensitivity. Teeth whitening products can cause increased sensitivity to hot or cold foods and beverages or increased pain in individuals who already have sensitive teeth. This is because the bleaching agents can penetrate through the enamel and irritate the nerves inside the teeth.
  • Burning sensation in the mouth. A burning sensation in your mouth can occur if you have used a bleaching product that is too strong for your teeth.
  • Stomach or throat pain. If you accidentally swallowed the bleaching agent used in teeth whitening, this can cause stomach or throat pain.
  • Allergic reaction. Some may be allergic to the bleaching agents used in teeth whitening. This can cause symptoms such as itching, swelling, and difficulty breathing. Stop using the products and see a doctor immediately if you start to experience these symptoms.

Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

There are known risks associated with teeth whitening, but these can be avoided by following the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and seeking professional help from a dentist if necessary. In general, teeth whitening is safe if done correctly and by a dental professional.

How Much Does Teeth Whitening Cost?

The cost of teeth whitening is different, but on average, a take-home teeth whitening kit can cost up to $610, while you can spend up to $260 per tooth on in-chair whitening, plus an additional $280 for a complementary check-up and plaque removal. Although professional teeth whitening is more expensive, it is also safer and more effective. It must be noted that the fees can vary individually, so it’s best to check with your dentist for an accurate estimate.

Also, keep in mind that health fund providers generally don’t cover the cost of teeth whitening, but some private providers can cover a portion, depending on your fund. Call your health fund provider before the treatment to be certain.

Final Thoughts

Teeth whitening is a common and straightforward cosmetic dental procedure that helps you achieve a brighter smile by making your teeth whiter. As a result, you can have increased confidence and self-esteem, which can lead to an improved quality of life. Based on your needs, you can choose from the different whitening methods, but the in-office is the most effective, safest, and longer-lasting. This is because dentists are experienced and trained, use a higher concentration of bleaching agents, and practise safety measures to protect your gums and teeth.

If you have been dreaming of whiter teeth, teeth whitening may help you achieve this. However, this procedure is not for everybody. You may call Darch Dental Care at 08 9515 4892 to schedule an appointment with one of our dentists.

We have experienced and gentle dentists who have been performing teeth whitening treatments for many years. During your consultation, they will assess your oral health and let you know if you are a good candidate. If you are, they will work to minimise or avoid risks using advanced techniques. Otherwise, they may recommend other alternatives or manage any dental issues you have before the treatment. We also offer a customised take-home whitening kit if you feel more comfortable doing it yourself at home. Contact us now to book an appointment!

Dr. Jon ( Junyi ) Ho

Dr. Jon is a Perth-based dentist who graduated with a Bachelor of Dental Science in 2005 from the University of Western Australia. He has worked at a range of dental practices, including being a partner and principal dentist for a group of five dental surgeries in Sydney. Dr. Jon has been practising for over a decade in the northern suburbs of Perth. He provides treatment for patients in Darch, Madeley, Landsdale, Kingsway, Kingsley, Marangaroo, Alexander Heights, Wangara, Ellenbrook, and others.

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