A popular trend in recent times is to whiten one’s teeth. I’ve had a number of patients ask my hygienist and myself about different treatment options for bleaching the teeth. They also wonder how effective the treatment would be and how long it would last.
Firstly, it should be noted that there is a difference between cleaning the teeth and bleaching the teeth. Cleaning the teeth will remove the stain that occurs on the surface of the teeth. This staining usually occurs due to smoking, coffee or tea, medications, and certain other foods. For the most part, these stains can be removed with regular brushing and flossing, or when you have a professional cleaning done at the dental office with the dental hygienist. What some people do, and is definitely not recommended, is to use things like baking soda or salt with which to brush their teeth. These compounds do remove stain, but they are very abrasive, and will cause premature tooth wear which can also lead to sensitivity and the need for crowns and root canals. A good fluoride toothpaste with proper brushing technique 2-3 times per day will remove the majority of these surface stains.
Over time, teeth may develop a deeper internal stain. This is mostly caused by ageing, but smoking, medications, and certain foods can also contribute. This type of stain can only be removed by bleaching the teeth. Bleaching is effective on vital teeth (teeth that haven’t had a root canal). Any existing fillings or crowns will not bleach; they will remain the same colour as before, although they may appear to get more yellow or darker because the rest of the tooth is getting whiter.
The teeth would be exposed to a bleaching gel for various periods of time, depending on the system used, and the teeth would get whiter by removing this internal stain. The popular systems we use in the office are Nightwhite and Crest whitestrips. Nightwhite is a system where we make custom trays to fit your teeth, and you would place the bleaching gel in the trays and wear them overnight to cause the whitening to occur. The whitestrips are thin plastic strips, with the bleaching gel on them already, that are placed on the teeth twice a day for 30 minutes each time. Both systems will bleach the teeth, but one may be better than the other for any particular patient based on convenience of use. Feel free to ask the hygienist when you next come in to discuss these options in more detail.
Other types of bleaching that you may have heard of are in office bleaching and use of lasers. The in-office bleaching will give a good initial result, but we have found that it doesn’t last as long as the other systems, can cause more transient sensitivity than the other systems, and it’s quite a long, tedious appointment. Similarly, the use of lasers will not really produce any better results. The laser is only used to activate the bleaching gel, but otherwise doesn’t cause any whitening of the teeth on its own. In all these systems it’s the bleaching gel itself that does the work.
This brings up another point about over the counter type bleaching agents, such as toothpastes, mouthwashes, and paint-on materials. The bottom line is that these could potentially work, but they would need to be on your teeth for at least 20 minutes at a time, not the 1-2 minutes that they are usually on your teeth, so they aren’t very practical. I would not recommend any of these materials as they can be quite expensive, and really don’t produce good results. The only product you can buy at drug stores or places like Wal-Mart that does work, is the Crest whitestrips. The boxes they sell at these stores, however, are of much lower strength, and it is estimated that you would need 3-4 boxes of the store bought ones to get equivalent results to the professional strength boxes that can only be sold through a dental office. Please discuss this with myself or our hygienist for further information.
A final situation that could arise where whitening is desired is on a tooth that has either been traumatized or had root canal therapy. These teeth tend to have a much darker stain. The only way to “whiten” these teeth would be to place a crown or veneer to cover the stained tooth, as bleaching will not be able to remove these stains.
If you are interested in whitening your teeth, please don’t hesitate to ask myself or one of our hygienists when you next come to our downtown Milton dental office, and we can discuss the options with you.
If you’d like to learn more, get started by booking an appointment online.