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Can Teeth Whitening Help Your Smile?

Do you already like the shape and contours of your teeth?  Do you eventually want porcelain veneers or cosmetic bonding in the future but want to enhance the smile quickly?  If your teeth are stained from years of coffee, tea, red wine, or other dark beverages the you may be a great candidate for teeth whitening.  Teeth whitening is also called teeth bleaching and it’s a safe and easy way to really boost the attractiveness of your smile.  The cost of whitening is much less than that of veneers or bonding and it still can be an effective way to brighten your smile.  Most systems are based on peroxide which is the active ingredient in whitening.  If you want professional options to whiten your teeth then contact Dr. Tony Kim’s Honolulu cosmetic dental practice for a free consultation.

Before Teeth WhiteningAfter Teeth Whitening

Here is a sample before and after from just professional teeth whitening.  As you can see, it can make a dramatic difference in color.

Below is a video covering the basics of teeth whitening:

Major Types of Teeth Whitening

  1. In-house teeth whitening is the fastest way to get results.  The most famous in house technique is Zoom teeth whitening.  It involves coming to the office for a 1.5 – 2 hour appointment where the dental staff member prepares you with protective gear and then begins the process.  There is usually a protective coat that covers the gums because the whitening agents can whiten the gums too!  It’s a temporary situation but can be irritating to the gums so the layer is important.  Once in place, the whitening agents will be applied to your teeth, usually the front ones which show when smiling.  Sometimes there is a light or laser that “activates” the whitening agents and sometimes it’s a chemical base which does not require light activation.  Although Zoom is the most famous it’s not necessarily the most effective.  Some other common in house bleaching systems are Opalescence and Kor.
  2. Take home systems are very effective but take longer to use.  Custom fit trays must be made by the office to hold the teeth whitening materials against the teeth surfaces.  The trays can be worn from 15 minutes to several hours depending on the strength of the solution and your tolerance for sensitivity.  Teeth whitening at home will give you the best overall results but will take longer than Zoom whitening.
  3. Over the counter whitening strips can work too.  There are many OTC strips now which are basically weaker and less precise version of the professional take home trays.  The strips are molded to your teeth and will whiten them over time.  It’s a bit slower as you can imagine than take home versions but they do work.  They may not get the stains between the teeth very well because the strips can’t reach those areas well.  And because the concentrations are weaker they may not be quite as effective too.
  4. The best teeth whitening results come from combining methods.  For example, at our Honolulu office we will make take home trays for anybody who does the in office teeth whitening.  That way the teeth whitening is boosted by the in office and if you want even whiter teeth than that, additional home whitening with trays can really get the results you want.  And if you have trays, you can always touch up the whitening in the future.  It’s always more much more affordable buying refills of whitening agent, it is actually probably cheaper than buying a set of over the counter strips.

Things to Expect After Teeth Whitening

  1. Your teeth will feel sensitive after the procedure and sometimes during the whitening itself.  They could become temperature sensitive and to chewing.  Anti sensitivity toothpaste can decrease this effect.  Sometimes brushing with baking soda can help and staying away from sugary acidic foods will also help.  This effect is temporary and the teeth should return to normal after a day or so.
  2. Stay away from dark staining drinks and foods for a few hours after teeth whitening.  You don’t want to ruin your results with some stains right after whitening.  The teeth are more susceptible to stains right after the teeth whitening procedure.
  3. Some of your gums may be bleached too!  if you notice some of your gums are white then the whitening agent touched the gums.  It’s fairly common for some bleach to leak into the  protective layer, don’t worry it’s just temporary.
  4. If you have any fillings or crowns on the front teeth, you may notice these more after whitening.  As your natural teeth become white, the other restorations if darker will become more noticeable.  It’s a perfect time to consider switching older restorations to new color matched ones after whitening is complete.  You should avoid getting any dental work which involves matching colors because it takes around 2 days for the color to stabilize.
  5. You should expect your teeth whitening results to last a long time.  As long as you minimize the staining foods and drinks, you teeth should maintain their whiteness.  Take home trays will allow short touch ups to maintain whiter teeth over time.

Does Whitening Damage My Teeth?

  1. The nerves in the teeth do feel sensitivity during and after bleaching.  I don’t recommend whitening on teeth that have decay for that reason.  You don’t want to irritate the pulp too much.  But regular bleaching when there are no cavities should not harm the nerves, just irritate them temporarily.  This sensitivity goes away which shows that the effect is temporary.  So I would not back away from whitening if you want to have a whiter smile.
  2. Whitening can effect the enamel in a negative way.  There was some research in the past but they performed 3 full bleaching sessions in a row over 3 weeks.  This is a very excessive amount of powerful bleaching.  I don’t know of any dentist that would recommend doing this many sessions in a such a short period of time.  I correlate this to a person who drinks an occasional acidic soda or glass of red wine versus somebody who drinks a 6 pack or an entire bottle in a day.  If you whiten once a year or every other year, I would not be afraid of any long term damage. Remineralizing agents should help strengthen teeth after whitening.
  3. It has been reported that whitening may accelerate the mercury release on amalgams.  So if you have mercury amalgams in your mouth, just be aware that the mercury release is increased.  If you’re interested in whitening teeth, most likely you’re probably interested in removing the amalgams anyways since they look dark and are unattractive.

Limitations of Whitening

  1. If you have sensitive teeth or gums then you should be aware that teeth whitening may be extra uncomfortable.  There are things that can be done to reduce the amount of sensitivity but just be aware that the process may still be discomfort.
  2. If you have active decay or teeth problems, then whitening can cause significant pain.  Additionally, elective procedures like teeth whitening should be done after active decay and gum disease are stabilized.
  3. Existing crowns or dental work in the front will not whiten along with the natural teeth.  This could lead to unattractive differences in color when smiling.  If you are planning to replace the darker restorations then it won’t be a problem but if you weren’t planning additional cosmetic dentistry then it would be an unpleasant surprise when you notice the differences in color between natural teeth and filling materials.
  4. Whitening should not be done on children or pregnant women.  Kids have larger pulps and because of the temporary irritation to the tooth during whitening, we don’t recommend whitening on children.  And obviously pregnant women should avoid all unnecessary exposure and ingestion of chemicals or materials.
  5. If you’re allergic to peroxide or have lots of chemical allergies then you should be careful before attempting whitening.  Ask your dentist to see if you can get an ingredient list to see if you’re reactive towards any of the materials.

I currently use Kor whitening products in the office.