Teeth whitening is a cosmetic treatment that involves the use of bleach or other chemicals or equipment to fade unsightly food and beverage stains, and/or yellow, brown or gray hues to make the teeth appear whiter. The standard rule of thumb for bleaching the teeth is to not bring the teeth to a shade higher than the whites of the eyes. It is important for the dentist to discuss the expectations of the patient when they are considering teeth whitening services so that they can be completely satisfied with the final results. Contrary to many patients’ belief, there is no standard shade of white used in teeth whitening. Therefore, the patient will be guided by their dentist as to which shade is most suitable for their gender and age.
Teeth Whitening Recommendations
Before teeth whitening is done, a dentist will perform an exam of the patient’s mouth. This is to ensure that the patient has no oral issues that could cause significant discomfort during the procedure. People with receding gums, sensitive teeth, and gum disease would be refused teeth whitening services. Moreover, people with cavities would need to have them filled before treatment starts. Pregnant women are advised to avoid any whitening treatment with the exception of toothpaste. Teens should not get whitening services until they are between age 14 and 16. Also people who are allergic to peroxide should have their teeth whitened with an alternative bleaching agent.
It appears that teeth bleaching is most effective on yellowish stains, but not as much on brownish or grayish according to the American Dental Association (ADA). It is important to note that bleaching does not affect the shade of porcelain restorations, crowns, tooth-colored fillings, dentures or other modifications and will contrast to newly bleached natural teeth.
Where Teeth Bleaching Can Be Done
Teeth whitening may be done in the dental office, or at home with guidance from a dentist. Oral health professionals use products that carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance which meets the criteria for safety and effectiveness which are based on the patient using the product as directed.
Chairside bleaching is provided by dentists within an office setting. First, the dentist protects the patient's gums and tissue by applying a rubber shield or a protective gel. The dentist then applies a whitening solution on the teeth which generally contains the bleaching agent hydrogen peroxide to fade surface and encrusted stains. Hydrogen peroxide solutions with the ADA Seal have a 35% concentration of hydrogen peroxide. A whitening agent’s bleaching effect can be accelerated by a light being shined on the teeth to accelerate the whitening agent or the whitening agent is enhanced by lasers. Chairside bleaching treatment may last between thirty minutes to sixty minutes. In order to get maximum results, patients may need to return for additional treatments. The cost of treatment for the whole mouth varies by the patient’s location and the number of treatments involved. The average patient will spend from $500 to $1,000. A laser treatment could cost $1,000 or more.
Dentist supervised treatment allows the patient to whiten their teeth at home using a whitening solution and a teeth tray. Before treatment begins, the dentist
takes an impression of the patient's teeth and fashions a mouthpiece tray that will conform over the teeth. The patient will then be provided with a whitening gel which will be placed in the customized mouth tray. He or she will also be provided with instructions as to when to wear the teeth tray for up to two weeks. The dentist generally conducts follow-up exams to track the patient's teeth whitening progress. He or she will test the placement of the whitening tray and the patient’s gums to spot signs of irritation. Dentist-supervised bleaching costs vary when done to treat both rows of teeth.
Products carrying the ADA Seal have a 10 percent concentration which contains 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. The ADA recommends that a dentist be consulted before starting any teeth whitening treatment. This is because the dentist can look over the patient's oral health history and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Patients need to be aware that there are certain risks associated with teeth whitening before they undergo treatment. There is a possibility that getting the teeth whitening treatment may cause hot and cold sensitivity to food/beverages. However, this side effect is temporary and typically subside when the whitening treatment is completed. Some patients also experience irritation with their gums when the mouth tray does fits incorrectly.
Points to Remember
Although there are many products designed to whiten the teeth on the market, not all carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Moreover, dentists use higher concentrated bleaching agent than that found in OTC products, so chair-side whitening treatment creates a more brilliant smile. A whitening treatment can last from 6 to 12 months, or in some cases, longer.
Patients should take note, that these positive effects can be reversed within a month if they smoke or eat food and beverages that can discolor the teeth. Other teeth-staining culprits include medications like tetracycline or when a patient absorbs too much fluoride (fluorosis). Lastly, aging also causes teeth to fade from their original color. A patient interested in whitening their teeth should be aware that their dental insurance will usually not cover this type of treatment since it is considered as a cosmetic procedure.