Whitening Your Teeth

How can you brighten your smile?

Your wedding is coming up and you want your smile to be its brightest. Or maybe you have an important speaking engagement or your 25th high-school reunion. Whatever prompted you to consider it, tooth whitening isn’t just for movie stars and it isn’t just for a special occasion. Many people have had their teeth whitened and millions more are thinking about it. The desire for a healthy, bright smile with whiter teeth is very strong and tooth bleaching safely lightens the color of teeth, lasting for up to five years. The most effective and safest method of tooth whitening is dentist-supervised bleaching.

Is bleaching for you?

Generally, bleaching is successful in at least 90 percent of patients, though it may not be an option for everyone. Consider tooth bleaching if your teeth are darkened from coffee, tea, smoking, or just the passage of time. Teeth darkened with the color of yellow, brown, or orange respond better to whitening. Gray stains caused by fluorosis, smoking or tetracycline are lightened, but the results are not as dramatic and take longer to achieve. If you have very sensitive teeth, periodontal disease, or teeth with worn enamel, you may not be a good candidate for bleaching. Cracked and leaking fillings or decay must be restored before bleaching can be started.

What’s involved?

First, we will determine whether you are a candidate for tooth bleaching and what type of bleaching system will provide the best results.

If you’re in a hurry for whiter teeth, you may decide to have your teeth whitened with an in-office bleaching system while you sit in the dental chair. This typically takes one to two hours, and is the most costly and most likely to cause some temporary teeth or gum sensitivity. Most of our patients choose dentist-supervised custom home bleaching, which is more economical and provides the same results.

For custom home bleaching, the dental assistant will make impressions of your teeth to fabricate a whitening appliance for you. This mouthguard-type appliance is thin and comfortable so that is can be easily worn while you are awake or sleeping. It is so thin that you should even be able to talk and work while wearing your appliance. Along with the appliance, you’ll receive the bleaching materials and instructions on how to use it.

Some whitening systems require bleaching your teeth half an hour once a day. Generally this system requires two to four weeks to complete, and works best on patients with sensitive teeth. Other systems require bleaching overnight while you sleep. This type of system usually requires only 10 to 14 days to complete.

A third option is to use dentist-supervised stock bleaching, which eliminates the need for custom trays. This is the most economical, but produces the least dramatic results.

How long does it last?

Lightness should last from one to five years, depending on your personal habits such as smoking and drinking coffee and tea. At this point you may choose to get a touch-up. A custom home bleaching touch-up will not be as costly if you can still use the same appliance.

The retreatment time is also much shorter than the original treatment time.

How does this work?

The active ingredient in whitening agents is either carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. Peroxide releases oxygen, which whitens the teeth.

Is it safe?

Several studies over the past ten years have proven bleaching to be safe and effective. The American and Canadian dental associations have granted their seals of approval to some tooth whitening products.

Some patients may experience slight gum or tooth sensitivity during the bleaching process, which we can alleviate for you, and which will resolve when the treatment ends. We have a special whitening protocol for patients who have problems with sensitivity. Studies have indicated that the use of bleaching products reduces decay-causing bacteria.

What are realistic expectations?

No one can really predict how much lighter your teeth will become. Every case is different. Typically, there is a two-shade improvement as seen on my shade guide. The success rate depends on the type of stain involved and your compliance. Whitening can only provide a shift in color from gray to a lighter shade of gray, for example. It is important to remember that bleaching does not lighten artificial materials such as fillings or crowns.

This material is adapted from the Academy of General Dentistry Fact Sheet on bleaching.

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