Teeth whitening is one of the most popular cosmetic procedures due to its relatively low cost and large impact on appearance. Unlike over-the-counter methods such as whitening tooth pastes, rinses, strips, and trays professionally supervised tooth whitening can lighten teeth by up to eight shades (compared to a tooth paste’s one) and assures minimal discomfort due to ill-fitting devices which can damage soft tissue in the mouth, particularly the gums. Chair-side whitening is a procedure conducted in the dentist’s office and is the fastest and most effective method of bleaching. The whitening product is applied directly onto the teeth and is used in combination with heat, a special light, or a laser. Results are visible after a single treatment which usually lasts less than an hour, however many patients make several appointments for truly dramatic results.
Take-home tray-based systems are also available as a cheaper option and utilize a custom-made tray which is filled with a gel whitening solution containing a peroxide bleaching agent and worn for several hours or overnight for up to a month. Dentists usually recommend making several brief check-up appointments during the process in order to assure that the process is having the desired effect and not causing any collateral damage. One of the risks of over-the-counter treatments is extreme sensitivity of gums which come in direct contact with the bleaching solution, an event caused by “one-size-fits-all” trays and strips which do not adequately prevent contact between whitening agent and soft tissue. Professional supervision assures the best results and the smallest risk to oral health, as well as consultation regarding the best bleaching method for a patient’s particular medical history and stain patterns.
Whitening is not a permanent procedure, but can easily last up to a year with proper maintenance which includes proper oral health and avoiding smoking and drinking beverages which stain teeth such as red wine, tea, and coffee. Patients should note that individuals under sixteen are not advised to engage in teeth whitening as their pulp chambers (nerves at the roots of teeth) are enlarged and therefore more sensitive. It is also not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women. Furthermore, because bleaching only works on real teeth, those with extensive restorative work are generally discouraged from whitening their teeth as it results in unnatural color-patterns due to the unbleached crowns, veneers, and fillings. Cavities must be filled before a patient can undergo a whitening procedure as exposing the interior of a tooth to a bleaching agent can result in extreme sensitivity and pain. Bleaching works best on teeth with a yellowish hue, and those with brown stains, grayish-blue, or purple stains are usually counseled to consider other options such as veneers. Patients are advised to use a tooth paste especially designed for sensitive teeth during and after the whitening procedure in order to prevent discomfort, and should avoid extremely hot or cold foods and beverages.
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