Tooth whitening has become very popular in recent years and it is available in most dental practices. Tooth whitening involves bleaching your teeth to make them lighter. Normally a few shades are achievable, but you are not likely to achieve brilliant white teeth from bleaching. It is a private treatment option the majority of the time, with a few exceptional cases being covered by the NHS. There are 3 main ways to get professional whitening, with benefits and disadvantages of each.
Airflow works to remove stain through a combination of a jet of water, air and sodium bicarbonate. Sometimes, normal dental scaling is required first to remove calculus deposits, however airflow doesn’t damage your teeth and the results are immediate. One painless treatment can get rid of plaque and discolouration from drinking tea and coffee and even smoking, but it doesn’t usually lighten the teeth as much as bleaching.
When it comes to home bleaching, there are two main ways to do this. Both use the same or similar materials however the difference is in how long the bleaching trays are worn for. For home bleaching, dental impressions are taken at your dentist, which are then used to construct customised trays to fit against your teeth. Bleach is then inserted into these trays by you at home, and the trays worn for varying lengths of time. The bleach is usually hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) or carbamide peroxide (CH6N2O3). Carbamide peroxide must break down into hydrogen peroxide in order to lift stains so it takes longer to work and results are not as dramatic if you used it for the same length of time as hydrogen peroxide. The time you need to wear the trays varies from one hour to overnight (8 hours). Your dentist should be able to discuss the options with you and advise you which bleach is more appropriate for you.
It is essential that tooth whitening is only performed by a registered dental professional. You can check whether or not someone is registered on the General Dental Council website. Concerningly, there are incidences of beauty salons offering this treatment and patients are even buying the equipment online to do it themselves. This is dangerous and could not only damage your teeth but cause burns and irreversible painful damage to the soft tissues in your mouth.
Bleaching at the Dental Clinic
Bleaching at the dental clinic is very similar to that done at home, however sometimes a UV light or heat may be used to speed up the process. Some patients find this painless, however others do experience significant discomfort due to sensitivity following bleaching procedures.
Another circumstance in which whitening might be appropriate is if the nerve of the tooth has died and it becomes discoloured as a result of the nerve/pulp of the tooth breaking down. Sometimes regular tooth whitening can help with this, however usually all of the teeth will lighten the same amount therefore one will remain slightly darker than the others. Another way to improve the colour of the tooth is to make a small hole in the back of it and put bleach inside. Sometimes this is left open and the bleach used daily, other times it is sealed inside the tooth. This can be combined with regular bleaching on the outside of the teeth as well. It is possible that further treatment would be required to get the optimum result (such as veneers or composite bonding - see the veneers procedure page for further information).
Some things to consider include the risk of increased sensitivity of your teeth, the fact that the results are not permanent so your teeth will stain again and the fact that false teeth (such as dentures, bridges and crowns) will not lighten, so you could end up with teeth that are different colours.