In the blossoming world of cosmetic dentistry, teeth whitening procedures reign supreme. Universally valued by men and women alike, whitening (or bleaching) treatments are available to satisfy every budget, time frame and temperament.
Whether in the form of one-hour bleaching sessions at your dentist's office, home-use teeth bleaching kits purchased at your local drugstore or teeth whitening toothpastes; teeth whitening solutions abound. Yet only 15 percent of the population has tried the cosmetic procedure, and misinformation on the subject is rife.
The long and the short of it is that teeth whitening works. Virtually everyone who opts for this cosmetic treatment will see moderate to substantial improvement in the brightness and whiteness of their smile. However, teeth whitening is not a permanent solution and requires maintenance or "touch-ups" for a prolonged effect.
Bleaching vs. WhiteningAccording to the FDA, the term "bleaching" is permitted to be used only when the teeth can be whitened beyond their natural color. This applies strictly to products that contain bleach – typically hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide.
The term "whitening," on the other hand, refers to restoring a tooth's surface color by removing dirt and debris. So any product that cleans (like a toothpaste) is considered a whitener. Of course, the term whitening sounds better than bleaching, so it is more frequently used – even when describing products that contain bleach.
There are various dental tooth whitening procedures to help people fulfill their cosmetic desire. The following reveal the three most prominent types of dental tooth whitening:
In Office Tooth WhiteningSignificant color change in a short period of time is the major benefit of in-office whitening. This protocol involves the carefully controlled use of a relatively high concentration peroxide gel, applied to the teeth by the dentist or trained technician after the gums have been protected with a paint-on rubber dam. The teeth are cleaned first and a protective gel is applied around the mouth to protect the soft tissues. Next, a special gel containing peroxide is applied over the teeth and a light is used to activate the gel. The gel penetrates the enamel and releases certain compounds, turning your teeth white and bleaching it in the process. This is called laser teeth whitening. Side effects including sensitivity may exist but only for a few days, after which it subsides. Generally, the peroxide remains on the teeth for several 15 to 20 minute intervals that add up to an hour (at most). Those with particularly stubborn staining may be advised to return for one or more additional bleaching sessions, or may be asked to continue with a home-use whitening system. The two most popular in office tooth whitening systems are the ‘Zoom Whitening System ‘and ‘Britesmile’.
In-office teeth whitening cost: $650 per visit (on average) nationwide.
Professionally Dispensed Take Home Whitening KitsDental whitening can also be achieved with the help of trays and kits dispensed by dentists. Many dentists are of the opinion that professionally dispensed take-home whitening kits can produce the best results over the long haul. The whitening gel is kept in place over the surface of the teeth with a tray worn over the teeth. Different types of trays are available; one size-fits-all tray or custom made trays specially made for each patient. The custom trays are obviously more effective since they provide the correct fit and keep the gel in contact with the teeth to be bleached. In this method the gel usually used is 10-15% carbamide peroxide. The tray is advised to be worn for a particular amount of time accordingly. Take-home kits incorporate an easy-to-use lower-concentration peroxide gel that remains on the teeth for an hour or longer (sometimes overnight). The lower the peroxide percentage, the longer it may safely remain on the teeth. The two most popular take home tooth whitening kits are Opalescence, Dash, NiteWhite, and DayWhite.
Take-home teeth whitening kit cost: $100 to $400.
Over The Counter WhiteningThe cheapest and most convenient of the teeth whitening options is over-the-counter teeth whitening. In many cases this may only whiten a few of the front teeth unlike custom trays or in-office teeth whitening that can whiten the entire smile. Here are the three most common over the counter teeth whitening products:
- Tooth Whitening Strips: Out of the other effective teeth whitening procedures available, tooth whitening strips may be the most economical. Most of these strips are available commercially, over the counter. The effectiveness of the result achieved depends on the brand used. These strips contain peroxide of a low concentration 6-15%, and should be worn for about an hour once or twice a day for a particular number of days. It is said to achieve a shade three times lighter than that of the teeth originally present. The strips are generally comfortable when worn and may produce only mild difficulty while talking.
- Tooth Whitening Toothpastes: Tooth whitening toothpastes seem to be one of the easiest dental tooth whitening types and are available over the counter. They are used just like normal toothpastes and may cost a little higher than the regular toothpaste. However they are not very effective and do not cause any obvious whitening effect on the teeth; though they function as well as any other toothpaste. The disadvantage may lie in the case of overeager individuals who may brush vigorously and many times a day hoping to achieve a productive result, which may do more harm than good to their teeth.
- Tooth Whitening Chewing Gum: Most commonly advertised are tooth whitening chewing gums which contain bicarb soda, also used in the tooth whitening toothpastes. May be considered the best teeth whitening products available since they are easy to use. They do not contain any bleaching agent as that used in normal bleaching systems which are more effective. The gum should be chewed for around 20mins each, four times a day. Any difference in shade would take up to four weeks to appear.
Over-the-counter teeth whitening cost: $20 to $100.
Hydrogen Peroxide vs. Carbamide PeroxideThe bleach preference for in-office whitening, where time is limited, is powerful and fast-acting hydrogen peroxide. When used in teeth bleaching, hydrogen peroxide concentrations range from approximately nine percent to 40 percent.
By contrast, the bleach of preference for at-home teeth whitening is slower acting carbamide peroxide, which breaks down into hydrogen peroxide. Carbamide peroxide has about a third of the strength of hydrogen peroxide. This means that a 15 percent solution of carbamide peroxide is the rough equivalent of a five percent solution of hydrogen peroxide.
Teeth Whitening RisksTeeth whitening treatments are considered to be safe when procedures are followed as directed. However, there are certain risks associated with bleaching that you should be aware of:
- Sensitivity: Bleaching can cause a temporary increase in sensitivity to temperature, pressure and touch. This is likeliest to occur during in-office whitening, where higher-concentration bleach is used. Some individuals experience spontaneous shooting pains down the middle of their front teeth. Individuals at greatest risk for whitening sensitivity are those with gum recession, significant cracks in their teeth or leakage resulting from faulty restorations. It has also been reported that redheads, including those with no other risk factors, are at particular risk for tooth sensitivity and zingers. Whitening sensitivity lasts no longer than a day or two, but in some cases may persist up to a month. Some dentists recommend a toothpaste containing potassium nitrate for sensitive teeth.
- Gum irritation: Over half of those who use peroxide whiteners experience some degree of gum irritation resulting from the bleach concentration or from contact with the whitening trays. Such irritation typically lasts up to several days, dissipating after bleaching has stopped or the peroxide concentration lowered.
- Technicolor teeth:Restorations such as bonding, dental crowns or porcelain veneers are not affected by bleach and therefore maintain their default color while the surrounding teeth are whitened. This results in what is frequently called "technicolor teeth."
In ClosingIn addition to the aforementioned risk factors, a number of caveats should be considered before undergoing teeth whitening:
- No amount of bleaching will yield "unnaturally" white teeth.
- Whitening results are not fully seen until approximately two weeks after bleaching. This is an important consideration if you are about to have ceramic restorations and want to be sure the color matches that of your newly bleached teeth.
- If cosmetic bonding, porcelain veneers or other restorations are part of your treatment plan, they should not be placed until a minimum of two weeks following bleaching to ensure proper adhesive bonding, function and shade matching.
- To avoid the technicolor effect, tooth-colored restorations will likely need replacement after bleaching.
- Recessed gums often reveal their yellowish root surfaces at the gum line. That yellow color has proven difficult to bleach.
- Pregnant or nursing women are advised to avoid teeth whitening. The potential impact of swallowed bleach on the fetus or baby is not yet known.
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