It wasn’t until just recently that the common way to whiten teeth was to soak them in a solution of hydrogen peroxide – or similar. This procedure could be completed one of two ways – at the dentist’s office – using a strong solution, or by using a do it yourself kit at home – which contained a weaker hydrogen peroxide solution. The whitening process would then be completed over a few weeks.
Once teeth whitening became more popular some cosmetic dentists started using lasers or similar sources of light to speed up the chemical reaction of the whitening solution. This allowed the teeth to become whiter, faster and eliminated the need for so many whitening sessions. Unlike peroxide whitening, you can’t perform laser whitening at home, it must be completed at a dental practice, under the supervision of a qualified dentist.
All types of teeth whitening work by releasing oxygen ions from the teeth whitening gel to lift stains from the teeth gently. In a nutshell, the laser just lifts the stains from teeth faster. Depending on the type of laser used, another advantage is it can be used to target one tooth at a time, which is extremely helpful if one tooth is slightly more discoloured than the teeth around it.
If you have decided to have your teeth whitened, your dentist will follow a few basic steps –
- SCREENING – It’s recommended that teenagers and pregnant women delay the tooth whitening procedure if possible. If teenagers are really concerned about the colour of their teeth they can have their teeth whitened, but, only under the CLOSE supervision of a dentist. During the first appointment, the dentist will check to see if you have any receding gums and if there is any significant amount of tooth root exposed. If this is the case your teeth may end up bleaching unevenly – this is because the roots of teeth are resistant to bleaching. Your dentist may be able to offer some alternative treatments for you.
- PRE-TREATMENT – The next step is for your dentist to clean your teeth, and to treat any existing cavities. If cavities are not filled the whitening solution could penetrate through the cavity and inside your tooth.
- MEDICATION – Any form of teeth whitening can cause temporary sensitivity, especially if you are someone who already has some sensitivity in your teeth. If this is the case your dentist may prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication for you to take prior to the first whitening treatment.
- WHITENING – when it is time to have your first teeth whitening session, it will be like any other dental procedure – you’ll sit in the dentist chair with a plastic or rubber guard – this is used to keep your mouth open. The dentist then applies a barrier over your gums to protect it from the whitening solution, this is generally applied as a gel which hardens to protect your gums with a rubber-like layer. Once your gums are protected the dentist uses a syringe to apply a whitening compound on the front of your teeth. A pen-style laser is then used to activate the compound – this causes the compound to foam a little as it lifts stains away. Once all the teeth have been whitened by the lasers, the compound is left for a few minutes and then removed from the teeth using a small vacuum like tool. Your dentist will then repeat this process up to three times.
You will know you are reaching the end of the session when the dentist rinses your mouth and removes the protective layer from your gums.
FOLLOW UP – This process is NOT permanent, teeth can be re-stained especially by coffee, tea, cigarettes, wine and other food and drink, so, you may need to schedule a follow-up whitening session. The effectiveness of teeth whitening can last anywhere from as few as six months to as long as several years.
After the process is finished you may find some tooth sensitivity for a few days, but this varies from patient to patient, your dentist can prescribe medication that can reduce, or avoid the sensitivity, but of course, it can just wear off naturally after a few days. You should also contact your dentist if you find that your gums are sore or white.
If you think you are ready to have your teeth whitened professionally then call your cosmetic dentist today, he or she can describe the process in more detail for you, answer any questions you may have and decide if teeth whitening is the right process for you.