What’s Teeth Whitening?
There are many things in our everyday environment that can stain teeth. Coffee, tea, wine, and other beverages can cause staining. Smoking often leads to yellowing of the teeth. Other foods, medicines, and even environmental factors like air pollution can potentially leave their marks on our teeth.
For people with stains on their teeth who would like to remove them, there are a few options available. Most people have seen the variety of over-the-counter teeth whitening kits available. These kits provide only a very modest whitening, and are best used for touch-ups or very mild cases of staining. The next strongest option is a take-home whitening kit provided by your dentist. This has stronger bleaching agents that can take care of tougher stains. The top-of-the-line option is an in-office whitening treatment by a licensed dentist. All of these options use peroxide as the whitening agent. However, the concentration of peroxide, the type, and the amount of time it’s left on are different.
These teeth whitening methods will only work on extrinsic discoloration — that is, stains on the outside of the teeth. If your teeth have intrinsic discoloration — the enamel itself is discolored — then teeth whitening won’t help. In that case, you could consider dental bonding or dental veneers as options to give you the look of pearly white teeth. Also, the teeth whitening procedure cannot whiten dental composite resin. If you have had fillings or bonding with resin that’s matched to your discolored teeth, it may look darker than your regular teeth after they’re whitened.
When you’re considering any dental procedure, it’s important to know the risks and weigh them against the benefits. Once you understand the procedure, then you can make your decision about whether or not to proceed. To help you in your decision-making process, we have some information about the risks and benefits of having teeth whitening at Teeth Whitening: Risks and Benefits.
Please note that this page is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for qualified, individualized medical advice. You should discuss your potential dental procedure with your own dentist.
How it’s done
An in-office teeth whitening procedure uses a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide. To protect the gum tissue from being damaged by the peroxide, the dentist places a protective covering over it. Any teeth you don’t want treated are also covered. The whitening agent is applied, and sometimes special lights are used to speed the process of whitening. When enough time has elapsed to achieve the desired effect, the whitening agent is removed, followed by the protective coverings.
Preparing for the procedure
Choosing your dentist
Because cosmetic dentistry is not a recognized dental specialty, if a dentist calls himself or herself a “cosmetic dentist,” it doesn’t necessarily mean much. More importantly, you want to find out whether this particular dentist has experience performing the procedure you’re interested in. It’s at least as important to find a dentist with whom you feel comfortable, who listens to you, tries to understand your goals, and answers your questions. Referrals from friends and family, especially if they’ve had the particular procedure you’re considering, can be especially valuable.
Planning for the Cost
Of course, you’ll want to know the cost of your procedure, whether insurance will cover it, and how you’ll finance it. For more, visit our Teeth Whitening Cost page.
Getting ready for the procedure
The only thing you need to do to get ready for your teeth whitening is to make sure your teeth are clean by brushing and flossing before your appointment. It’s best to have a regular cleaning as close as possible to your teeth whitening, because any plaque on the teeth will block the whitening agents.
Teeth whitening is not painful and, if performed correctly, does not damage teeth or gum tissue. Therefore, there’s virtually no recovery time needed. You should just be aware that, if you continue to consume the beverages, foods, or smoke that caused the staining in the first place, then your teeth will gradually become stained again and the whitening procedure will need to be repeated.