Of all the cosmetic dental procedures available, teeth whitening has become one of the most popular options for Australians looking to improve their smile.
As a result, the market is awash with over-the-counter products ranging from low-grade bleaches to “take-home LED teeth whiteners” claiming to replicate the methods used by professional dentists.
At best, over the counter products take longer to reveal a result and at worst they have the potential to damage your teeth or cause injury.
The truth is, teeth whitening is a dental procedure that should be undertaken after consulting your dentist.
If you’re considering whitening your smile here’s what you need to know including the truth about take home LED Teeth Whiteners.
Why teeth discolour
Over time, it’s almost inevitable those once-pearly whites you had as a child will begin to discolour, and there are few reasons for that.
Firstly, the white appearance of teeth is a result of light reflecting off the enamel and the colour of the dentin beneath it.
The roughness and thickness of enamel can vary due to genetics, dental hygiene practices and diet.
This means in some people’s teeth, the colour of the dentin is more likely to show through due to thin enamel, while in others the rough texture of the enamel may impact the reflection of the light and therefor affect the colour.
Dental professionals have identified three main categories of tooth discoloration:
- External Teeth Stains: This is staining on the outer surface of the tooth due to stain particles, such as pigmented from food or drink, build-up in the film of protein that covers the tooth enamel. These are typically caused by tobacco use or by regularly drinking coffee and tea, wine or cola drinks.
This type of tooth stain responds well to regular dental cleaning and brushing the teeth with whitening toothpaste.
- Internal Teeth Stains: This type of staining is below the surface of the tooth. It occurs when stain-causing particles work through the exterior of the tooth and accumulate within the tooth enamel. This could be caused by medication especially excessive use of antibiotics and fluoride use. This type of tooth stain is trickier to remove, but it can be done by using professional bleaching material obtained from the dentist.
- Age-Related Teeth Stains: Age-related teeth stains combine the results of both external and internal tooth discoloration. Because the core tissue of your teeth, the dentin, naturally yellows over time, teeth discolour with age. As we age, the enamel that covers the tooth becomes thinner, allowing the dentin to show through. These intrinsic causes of discoloration combined with extrinsic causes such as the effects of certain foods, beverages, and tobacco, will cause most adults’ teeth to discolour with age.
In short all the following cause teeth staining:
- Tobacco use
- Staining foods and beverages such as coffee, tea, cola, red wine and tomato sauce
- Diseases and Medication
- Inadequate cleaning of teeth
How teeth are whitened
To start with we have to establish few facts:
- Teeth are living material with nerves and blood vessels
- Teeth can’t be whitened beyond the original natural colour
- Fillings and crowns can’t be whitened
- It is best to start by consulting your dentist and undertake professional cleaning and scaling to remove Dental Plaque and Tartar from all surfaces so the whitening material can access all tooth surfaces
- Identify the cause of the staining and implement the most effective method to remove discolouration and whiten teeth.
Teeth whitening gels (bleach) uses either hydrogen peroxide or Carbamide peroxide to reduce surface stains and penetrate deeper into the teeth. These materials are usually administered as a gel and sometimes need to be activated using specific light waves to speed up the whitening process.
When eliminated by special lights, the peroxides break up and two things happen. First peroxide generates Oxygen which reacts with the surface stains and bleaches them. Second the peroxide will penetrate the teeth outer layer and whiten the internal stains.
A non-bleaching whitening product contains agents that work by physical (abrasion) or chemical action to remove only surface stains from your teeth.
Up until recently teeth whitening using bleach was a procedure restricted to the dentist’s chair, but now there are products available in supermarkets and chemists which profess to use a similar technique.
Professional versus over the counter
In Australia, over-the-counter teeth whitening products (bleach) are required to have a hydrogen peroxide concentration of less than six per cent, or a carbamide peroxide concentration of less than 18 per cent. In the interests of safety, Australian law restricts the use of more concentrated whiteners to registered dental practitioners only.
The upshot of Australian legislation is that only registered dental practitioners have the expertise to access and administer higher-strength teeth whitening products, with over-the-counter remedies taking longer to work, with less result.
One of the important things that the dentist will do before applying the high concentration whitening gel is to apply an isolation dam at the gum line to prevent any bleaching gel from coming in contact with the gums and causing irritation.
But that’s not the only thing you need to consider if you’re weighing up whether to consult a dentist or try at-home whitening yourself, because there are very real risks involved in undertaking the unsupervised procedure at home.
The risks of over-the-counter (or imported) whitening
Your teeth are meant to last you a lifetime, and teeth are the only part of the body that doesn’t regenerate or heal itself which means protecting them should be front of mind, and there are risks associated with whitening your teeth, particularly if you choose to do so without the guidance supervision of a trained professional.
- Abrasive damage to the enamel from excessive use of whitening toothpastes
- Teeth sensitivity, and mouth blistering from bleaching gels
- Bleach injury to the gums due to poorly fitting bleaching trays
- Possible skin and eye damage from improperly used UV lighting.
And here’s just some of the research around the issue…
According to research published in the US National Library of Medicine in 2015: “New studies have shown that aggressive tooth bleaching can cause increased tooth sensitivity, changes in tooth microstructure, and restoration changes”.
Aggressive bleaching can also “chemically react with composite restorations, glass ionomer cements, sealants, and ceramic crowns, thus reducing their stability”.
The study concludes: “Supervision of the tooth whitening strategy by an oral healthcare professional will reduce the potential risks and optimize benefits of tooth bleaching”.
Furthermore, a 2006 article in the British Dental Journal found that “until further clinical research is concluded to address the question of possible carcinogenicity, it is recommended that tooth-bleaching products using concentrated hydrogen peroxide should not be used without gingival protection”.
Some common offenders
There are numerous over-the-counter products now available in Australia that offer bleaching using hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide and/or LED lights to whiten teeth.
Available under brand names such as HiSmile, WhiteGlo, Pearly Whites and Advanced Whitening, they all claim to offer similar results to those undertaken by a professional dentist.
But as dentists who have built a career out of caring for people’s general and oral health, their teeth, mouths and gums, and working to ensure their function and longevity, we’d offer a word or two of caution.
Not only are the products used in these brands likely to be less effective than in-chair whitening, the way they are applied may also be more risky for a couple of important reasons.
- When you visit a dentist for teeth whitening, an assessment of the teeth condition and the cause of discolouration is always undertaken first. This determines whether your teeth and dental health are suitable for whitening procedures and if so which one would be the most suitable for your condition.
- Should the dentist recommends a teeth whitening procedure, then best practices are utilised and implemented to assure best results. This includes protecting the gums, customising bleaching trays to ensure best fit and eliminate leakage and careful monitoring of the impact of the products used.
So, let’s examine the difference between amateur and professional whitening in detail.
What you need to consider
In addition to weighing the risk factors associated with undertaking what is in effect a medical procedure at home, you should also consider that any tooth whitening procedure should first take into account the condition of your teeth and the results you hope to achieve.
Factors to investigate include:
The cause of teeth discolouration
Most teeth staining occurs as a result of aging and the foods we consume, but sometimes there’s a greater cause like tooth decay or a problem with the root canal.
Cavities will need to be treated before teeth can be whitened, otherwise the whitening solution can pass through decayed areas and reach the inner parts of the tooth causing pain, irritation and sensitivity
Meanwhile, there are other causes of teeth discolouration that mean teeth whitening can be less or entirely ineffective.
These include dental trauma, and gum disease where the gum has receded to reveal the yellow surface of the tooth beneath the gumline. Intrinsic stains like those caused by excess fluoride and some antibiotics, can also be resistant to whitening.
Prior to any teeth whitening you should consult a professional to determine whether there’s greater factors at play and whether whitening will work for you.
This allows a dentist to assess the condition of your teeth prior to treatment and recommend the best course of action.
Your teeth are individual
Your teeth are as individual as you are and should be treated as such. As we mentioned earlier teeth can discolour for a variety of reasons including genetics, aging, and dental hygiene but the method of application used in professional whitening is also as unique to you as your smile.
Professional whitening involves assessing your suitability, selecting the right strength and type of products for your discolouration, discussing your desired results, ensuring mouthguards fit properly, protecting the gums against chemicals and light, and remedying any underlying issues like cavities first.
We then tailor the results to your liking, carefully working to achieve the desired result.
In contrast, over-the-counter teeth whitening is designed to suit the general population. That means it’s a one-size-fits-all approach.
The treatments used by a professional dentist to whiten teeth are professional grade. The upshot is the results are more effective and last longer.
As they are professionally applied, they are also safer. They won’t damage the enamel of your teeth or cause sensitivity, like over-the-counter options can.
With good nutritional habits, in-chair whitening can last between three and five years. That’s because the alkaline used penetrates deep into the dentin to create that lighter and brighter long-term smile.
Few, if any, over-the counter options can achieve this longevity. The result is, with over-the-counter methods, you have to whiten more often, increasing the potential to damage your teeth.
Speed and efficiency
Professional in-chair whitening takes about one hour to complete with no mess and no fuss. The process is designed to be comfortable and unobtrusive.
In some cases, the process will need to be repeated to achieve the desired result, but your dentist is the best expert to advise the right course of action for you.
What we do at Brite Dental
At Brite Dental, we use two in-chair whitening systems, Smart Bleach® and Zoom®. These systems are renowned as the world’s most effective laser whitening systems. Both systems utilise specially designed light source emitting specific wave lengths with especially formulated alkaline gel to whiten teeth without acids, harsh chemicals or high-heat.
The process ensures results are even, natural and safe. Your teeth won’t be left dehydrated or demineralised as both systems are tested by international companies and known to be gentle and safe.
We offer complimentary assessments to ensure teeth whitening is the right step for you.
- Teeth whitening is a medical procedure that should be undertaken under the guidance of a trained dentist
- The condition of your teeth and general oral health should be assessed by a dentist before any whitening commences
- Not all teeth or discolouration is suitable for whitening
- Over-the-counter teeth whitening is not as strong or as effective as in-office teeth whitening
- Privately imported high strength bleach should be avoided as they are not legal in Australia and could have adverse health effects.
- Used improperly, over the counter products have the potential to damage your teeth, and your gums.
If you’re considering whitening your smile, the dentists at Brite Dental are happy to assist with expert advice and professional services. You can learn more about our safe, effective and professional teeth whitening here, or contact us directly to schedule on obligation-free appointment.