Tooth whitening

What is it?

Tooth whitening is a procedure that lightens teeth and helps to remove stains and discoloration. Whitening is among the most popular cosmetic dental procedures because it can significantly improve how your teeth look.

The outer layer of a tooth is called the enamel. Every day, a thin coating forms on the enamel and picks up stains. Tooth enamel also contains pores that can hold stains. Whitening is not a one-time solution. It will need to be repeated from time to time if you want to maintain the brighter color.

When is it used?

The most common reasons for teeth to get yellow or stained are tobacco, tea, coffee, red wine and aging, . All of these can stain the surface of the teeth.

It is also possible to have stains that are inside the tooth. These are called intrinsic stains. For example, intrinsic stains can be caused by exposure to some drugs for example tetracycline antibiotics. They can stain a child’s teeth if taken by a mother during the second half of pregnancy or by a child who is 8 years old or younger. Teeth are still developing during these years.

Tooth whitening is most effective on surface stains caused by age, foods or drinks.

Preparation

Cavities need to be treated before teeth are whitened. That’s because the whitening solution can pass through decayed areas and reach inner parts of the tooth. If this happens, your teeth could become sensitive. Whitening also will not work on exposed tooth roots, which do not have an enamel layer. Receding gums can cause roots to become exposed. Whitening also does not work on old fillings, crowns or veneers.

It is very important that the dentist or a dental hygienist cleans your teeth first as the bleach will not penetrate tartar and reach the surface of your teeth. Once this is done, the whitening procedure begins.

At Sims Dental we use one of the most controllable and cost effective whitening systems available. Dr. Sims or the hygienist will make trays to hold the whitening gel that fit your teeth precisely. Home whitening usually takes two to three weeks.

Over-the-counter kits also are widely available for home use. The trays provided are a poor fit, are uncomfortable and do not keep the bleach off your gums. It is not advisable to use them to due to the much higher risk of damage to your teeth and mouth.

How it is done

There are two main types of whitening procedures. Non-vital whitening is done on a single tooth that has had root-canal treatment and no longer has a live nerve. Vital whitening is performed on teeth that have live nerves.

Non Vital Whitening

Vital whitening may not improve the appearance of a tooth that has had root-canal treatment. If this is the case, your dentist will use a different procedure that whitens the tooth from the inside. He or she will place a whitening agent inside the tooth and put a temporary filling over it. The tooth will be left this way for several days. You may need this repeated until the tooth reaches the desired shade.

Vital Whitening

For in-home whitening, your dentist will take impressions of your teeth and will make one or two custom mouthpieces to fit you. The number will depend on whether you are having both upper and lower teeth whitened. It is important that the mouthpiece fit well. A close fit helps the whitening agent to remain in contact with your teeth instead of irritating your gums. Over-the-counter mouthpieces are unlikely to fit correctly. They can cause gum irritation if the whitening agent seeps out.

At home, you will fill each mouthpiece with a whitening gel your dentist provides. You will wear the mouthpiece for several hours every day. Many people achieve the amount of whitening they want within a week or two. However, you may need to wear the mouthpiece for four weeks or longer.

Follow up

Our dentist will want to make sure the process is working properly by checking your progress usually after about a week.

Whitening is not a permanent solution. The stains will come back. If you smoke or consume a lot of staining foods or drinks, you may see the whiteness start to fade in as little as one month. If you avoid these sources of staining, you may not need another whitening treatment for six to 12 months.

If you have a custom-made mouthpiece and whitening agent at home, you can whiten your teeth as frequently as you want to. You should discuss your whitening schedule with your dentist. You can talk about what whitening products would work best for you.

Risks

Whitening is unlikely to cause serious side effects, although some people’s teeth may become more sensitive for a short while. You may get mild gum irritation as well.

Whitening procedures should not be done while a woman is pregnant. The effect of the whitening materials on the development of the fetus is not known. Since the procedure is cosmetic, it should be postponed until after delivery.