How to whiten your teeth
Teeth whitening was discovered in the 1980s when dentists discovered that hydrogen peroxide whitens teeth. Teeth whitening as a dental treatment has evolved greatly over the years.
If you search online today for teeth whitening products, you will see there are thousands of options. With so many options available, it is hugely important to know what types of treatments work, and which don’t. There are many myths which I’ll try to address, but it really helps if you have a brief understanding of the science behind teeth whitening, so you can make an informed decision as to what will be right for you.
How Does Teeth Whitening Work
The active ingredient in teeth whitening is hydrogen peroxide. It’s important to understand that teeth are naturally made of white crystals and are naturally porous. This allows whitening gels to sink into them. When applied to teeth, hydrogen peroxide seeps into the enamel and dentine and breaks down the large staining molecules, resulting in the teeth’s natural white crystals being left to shine.
Will My Teeth Be “Hollywood White”?
Natural teeth will only whiten up to a certain point, which dentists call the saturation point, at which your teeth will not whiten any further. This is about as white as the whites of your eyes, and is considered a natural bright white smile. I often hear patients worry that their teeth will become too white. The advantage of tray whitening techniques vs in-surgery whitening is that the former give the patient the control. People who have “Hollywood white” teeth have usually had crowns or veneers which are white beyond the natural spectrum. This is not what most people tend to be looking for.
Teeth Whitening Myths: What Doesn’t work
Teeth whitening toothpaste
I often get asked whether teeth whitening toothpaste does what is says on the label. The answer is no. The minimal amount of hydrogen peroxide that this type of toothpaste contains (usually around 0.1%) is so low that it will make no noticeable difference to your teeth. They are only available in the supermarket because people keep buying them, not because of their results. Although they contain a whitening ingredient, don’t expect them to whiten your teeth.
Teeth whitening light
In days gone by, the teeth whitening light was used to activate whitening gels by starting a reaction with UV light. In the UK and the rest of the EU, it is no longer legal to use whitening gels that contain more than 6% hydrogen peroxide. There is therefore no longer any need for them to be light activated. Some dentists still use a whitening light, even though none of the whitening gels are light activated… maybe they are so fond of their light that they can’t give it up!?
This technique involves taking impressions of your teeth which are turned into moulds. The moulds are used to make whitening trays which are essentially thin gum shields for the top and bottom teeth. The whitening trays are used to carry whitening gel and hold it against your teeth. Patients are often instructed to wear the trays overnight which allows the gel time to sink in and whiten the teeth. The most common gel used for this technique is called carbamide peroxide which comes as either 10% or 16% gel. The carbamide peroxide turns into 4% or 6% hydrogen peroxide respectively before turning into water. The gel is active inside the trays for approximately 4 hours. It is important to understand that hydrogen peroxide is deactivated when it touches the water in saliva and is therefore not harmful to the body in any way.
For more difficult cases, or for people who are looking for something extra, I would recommend a professional teeth whitening package. The science is the same as described above but it utilises a more complex routine to achieve better and faster results.
The dentist takes silicone impressions instead of alginate impressions. These are very detailed impressions which are taken using the same material that is used when making crowns. The impressions are poured into stone models instead of plaster models. The models are modified in a dental laboratory to create bumps on the teeth which results in reservoirs in the superior whitening trays. The effect of these upgraded materials and added attention to detail is that the tray is extremely tight fitting. In addition the reservoir creates a pool of whitening gel against each tooth. The tight fit holds saliva and water out away from the gel and prevents it from being deactivated, and allows the gels to penetrate the teeth more deeply.
The specific product I recommend is Enlighten, and as part of the supplied package, the patient is supplied with sensitive toothpaste called Evo-white and with desensitising gel called Tooth Serum. These products are used to reduce sensitivity and make the whitening process as comfortable as possible for the patient. The patient is supplied with large tubes of 10% carbamide peroxide gel to use in the first week and 16% carbamide peroxide gel to use in the second week. The increasing concentration of gel is designed to reduce the sensitivity the patient experiences and increase the depth of whitening.
After 2 weeks of night time whitening the patient attends the dental surgery for a 1 hour whitening appointment. The dentist uses a retractor to retract the lips and keeps the mouth dry using the dental surgery suction. The controlled environment prevents the teeth getting wet and deactivating the gel. During this appointment, the dentist applies 4 applications of 6% hydrogen peroxide gel directly to the teeth (this is the point at which some dentists can’t resist but to use the light in the hope that is still does something – it doesn’t!).
As you can see, the advanced whitening is a more complex and comprehensive process.
Top Tips For Tray Whitening Techniques:
• Use sensitive toothpaste for a few weeks before you start whitening.
• Dry the teeth before you put the tray and the gel on your teeth. Saliva near the gum line can prevent the necks of the teeth from whitening fully.
• Frequency of gel application is more important than volume. It is better to use a very small amount of gel and use it many times, rather than fill the tray with gel and only use it a few times.
If your teeth become too sensitive to complete the two week course, take a night off and wear the trays overnight loaded with sensitive toothpaste, then continue whitening the next night.
How Long Does Teeth Whitening Last?
Diamonds may last forever but unfortunately teeth whitening does not: it should be thought of as an ongoing process. This is because, after you have whitened your teeth, they will gradually absorb food colourings which will inevitably make them fade darker or more yellow over time. This has led to dentists favouring tray based whitening techniques because trays can be used over and over to top up and keep the teeth white.
Both techniques are highly effective and can be used to great effect to brighten your smile. The decision as to whether home whitening or advanced whitening is more appropriate for you will depend on what your goals are.
Hopefully this answers any questions you may have about your options for teeth whitening, and how it all works. If there is something you want to know that I haven’t covered off, please feel free to ask in the comments below.
Alternatively if you are interested in finding out more about advanced teeth whitening packages, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me using the online booking form.