It’s easy to understand why there are so many teeth whitening products available; everyone would like to have sparkling white teeth.
Most of us have to settle for less than perfect teeth, but what are the teeth whitening options open to us?
It’s important to understand that the best whitening solution depends on the type of discolouration you have. There are four main kinds of tooth discolouration:
- extrinsic discolouration
- intrinsic discolouration
- age related discolouration
- genetic related discolouration
Staining on the outer surface of the teeth is extrinsic discolouration. One of the main causes is smoking; the other main offenders tend to be the things we most like to eat and drink. These include coffee, wine, fruit juices and almost any foodstuffs with high sugar content.
Whitening treatment for extrinsic stains
Discolouration often can be removed by applying a bleaching agent to the enamel of the teeth.
There are numerous over the counter whitening options you can purchase directly. They contain a weaker solution of bleach than the products you can get from your dentist
- whitening toothpastes
- whitening strips
- whitening rinses
- whitening kits
- oil pulling for teeth whitening
Whitening toothpaste contains some extra chemicals or compounds that act on the surface of teeth to remove staining that has built up over time. While they offer the same cleaning power as other toothpaste, there is typically a bleaching agent added to help whiten the teeth.
Teeth whitening strips are thin, flexible plastic (polyethylene) strips with a thin film of hydrogen peroxide bleaching on one side. The bleaching agent is applied by placing the strips across your teeth and gently pressing the strips into place to ensure contact with all your teeth. Teeth whitening strips are typically worn for 30 minutes a day, twice a day.
Whitening mouthwashes or rinses generally contain a bleaching agent, often diluted hydrogen peroxide, to help whiten your teeth.
Before brushing your teeth, you just swish the rinse around in your mouth for 60 seconds. Manufacturers say it may take 12 weeks to see results. However, some experts say that rinses may not be as effective as other over-the-counter whitening products as the rinse is only in contact with the teeth for two minutes a day.
Kits generally consist of a whitening tray or mouthpiece and whitening gel. The process is quite simple:
- soften the tray by holding it in hot water for a few seconds
- trim off the tray’s excess bits and pieces with scissors
- pop the tray into your mouth and bite down on it to create the mouthpiece impression
- remove the mouthpiece and apply the whitening agent to the mouthpiece
- pop the mouthpiece back into your mouth
- remove mouthpiece after the recommended amount of time
It’s quite a fiddly and time consuming process but it’s more economical having it done by your dentist.
Oil pulling for teeth whitening
Oil pulling is an age-old remedy that uses natural substances to clean and detoxify teeth and gums. Its proponents believe it also has the added effect of whitening teeth naturally.
The basic idea is that a solution of natural oil is swished around in the mouth for a short time each day. Coconut, sunflower, sesame, olive and palm oil are some of the natural oils used for oil pulling.
Professional extrinsic whitening treatment
Over the counter treatments are relatively cheap and as such they are becoming increasingly popular. As we know all too well, getting professional dental treatment is never going to come cheaply.
In office (chair-side) whitening
In office whitening, as the name suggests, is performed at your dental surgery. The process is very much on the same lines as the DIY teeth whitening kits you can buy over the counter.
After a consultation, your first appointment will involve having a mould of your teeth cast using dental putty. From the mould, a custom made tray or mouthpiece is made for you. Once the tray is ready, you’ll go back to the dentist who will perform the whitening process.
In-office whitening allows your dentist to use a more powerful whitening gel and usually takes 30 to 90 minutes. You will need one to three appointments. The number will depend upon the method used, how severe your stains are and how white you want your teeth to look.
Expect to pay over £500 on completion of the treatment.
Dentist-supervised home whitening
This is essentially the same as in-office whitening except that, once you’ve had your mould made, your dentist will instruct you how to perform the rest of the whitening treatment in your own home. This option considerably reduces the cost and saves you from making repeat trips to your dental surgery.
Expect to pay over £200 on completion of the treatment.
Laser teeth whitening, sometimes known as ‘power whitening’, is a quicker, if more expensive treatment. Like other whitening methods, the teeth are bleached so as to appear whiter. However, in the case of laser treatment, this is achieved by applying a teeth whitening gel and then shining a powerful light on your teeth to accelerate the process of removing the internal tooth stains.
The bleaching solution used for a laser whitening treatment usually contains a higher concentration of peroxide than would be used in other methods, so a protective gel will be applied to your lips and gums. In addition, the gums will be covered with rolls of cotton wool and a retractor will be used to keep your lips and cheeks a safe distance from your teeth.
The whole process is very quick and you can be in and out of the dentist’s practice within the space of an hour or so.
Expect to pay around the £900 mark for laser teeth whitening.
Intrinsic stains are the discolouration of the layer beneath your tooth enamel known as dentin. These stains may cause the tooth to have a yellow or grey appearance. It’s much more of a problem to deal with than the staining on the outer surface of the teeth.
There can be many causes of intrinsic discolouration
- too much exposure to fluoride during early childhood
- certain diseases and infections in pregnant mothers can cause intrinsic tooth discolouration in the child
- certain antibiotics or other medications during the second half of pregnancy can cause tooth discolouration in the child
- certain antibiotics or other medications were taken before the age of 8
- a fall that damaged the teeth when young
Whitening treatment for intrinsic stains
Intrinsic stains are caused by the discoloration of the dentin layer rather than the surface (enamel) layer of a tooth. This means that all the whitening options previously discussed will not be suitable for these types of stains. The alternative solution for intrinsic stains is permanent teeth whitening treatment and is discussed later in this post.
Age related discolouration
This is a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic discoloration, and it’s what you can expect from years of wear, tear, and exposure to different substances. As we get older the biting edges of our teeth look translucent or almost grey/blue in colour; this is due to the tooth enamel gradually thinning.
Treatment of age related discolouration
Treating age-related tooth discolouration will sometimes involve multiple treatments in order to address the surface and internal stains of the tooth.
Genetic related discolouration
If most of your family members have yellow teeth, it’s highly likely it’s genetic. It isn’t the colour which is genetically transmitted but the thickness of a tooth’s enamel. A thin enamel layer will show more on the underlying colour of the yellow/grey dentin layer.
Treatment of genetic related discolouration
Genetically related stains are intrinsic stains; such stains are more of a problem to deal with than the staining on the outer surface of the teeth. Your dental professional is best placed to advice you on the available options but it’s likely to include some cosmetic dentistry.
Permanent Teeth Whitening
All the whitening treatments so far discussed are not going to permanently keep your teeth white. Even the most expensive treatment, laser whitening, will only last about 3 years before you will have to have the treatment repeated. As you can imagine; this is going to add up to quite a sum of money over the years.
If you are looking for a more permanent teeth whitening solution you are likely to need cosmetic dentistry treatment. Your dental professional will be able to advice you on the options that will best suit your own individual needs. Some of the available options are:
- dental bonding – a procedure in which a tooth-coloured resin material (a durable plastic material) is applied and hardened with a special light that bonds the material to the tooth
- dental veneers – a thin layer of porcelain or natural-colour composite is made to fit over the front surface of a tooth
- dental crowning – a crown or cap that fully encases the entire visible portion of a tooth
I think that about covers the options for teeth whitening for now. There’s a lot to consider and you should definitely consult your dental professional before you choose your course of action.
Most dentists recommended using an electric toothbrush as they do tend to help improve overall dental health and may help brighten up your teeth.
The Oral-B 6500 is a state-of-the-art electric toothbrush that I consider to be the best brush available.