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Teeth tend to change colour over time and they usually yellow with age. These changes can be reversed with a tooth whitening or bleaching procedure. Current modern techniques are very straightforward, and are usually done by you at home over a period of weeks with supervision and instructions provided by your dental team. Alternatively, you can have your teeth bleached at a dental surgery. Usually the chemical applied to the teeth is carbamide peroxide. This reacts with the acid on the teeth to change and become hydrogen peroxide, a powerful bleaching agent. The procedure itself is painless, but there are a few side effects that may affect some patients. The most common problem is sensitivity of the teeth and gums. If you visit a cosmetic dentist, prices can range from around £40 for a single tooth to over £500 for the whole mouth.
Tooth bleaching or whitening is not new in dentistry; in fact some techniques are 120 years old! Modern whitening, however, is simple, safe and involves no major dental work or damage to your teeth. Teeth tend to change colour over time and they usually yellow with age. These changes can be reversed with a tooth whitening procedure, which is the simplest dental treatment that you can have to change your smile.
Current modern techniques are very straightforward, and are usually done by you at home over a period of weeks with supervision and instructions provided by your dental team. Alternatively, you can have your teeth bleached at a dental surgery.
If you are considering bleaching your teeth, the following information will give you a basic understanding of the procedure. It can't answer all your questions, since a lot depends on the individual. Please ask your dentist about anything you don't understand.
How Does It Work?
Usually the chemical applied to the teeth is carbamide peroxide. This reacts with the acid on the teeth to change and become hydrogen peroxide. This is a powerful bleaching agent and is the same chemical that is used to bleach hair blonde, for example.
After this treatment, your teeth will never return to their former colour, as the colour change is permanent. Stains from tea, coffee, wine and foods, will continue to discolour the outer surfaces of your teeth, over time, so periodical re-treatment will be required.
Regular sessions with your dental hygiene team are also recommended to maintain healthy teeth as well as their new colour.
Your dentist should examine your teeth to assess your suitability for a tooth whitening procedure. He should also talk to you about whether this is going to be successful on your teeth.
Different whitening procedures are available, with both home-based treatments and in surgery procedures as options. You would normally be advised, however, to have a visit to a dental hygienist to remove plaque and tartar before beginning whitening treatment.
At home bleaching
Home bleaching is the most popular way to lighten your teeth. Your dentist will take a mould of your teeth before treatment. This mould is sent to a laboratory, where a cast is made. From this cast a small soft plastic tray is created that gently fits over your teeth. Your dentist will then show you how to place bleaching gel inside the tray. Depending on the bleaching agent recommended by your dentist, you wear the tray for a few hours each day, or possibly overnight for a week to ten days. These trays are very comfortable and easy to get used to. You will probably notice your teeth starting to get whiter immediately, but to achieve the long-lasting effect and the degree of whiteness that you desire may take up to 3 – 4 weeks.
Usually, you will be returning to the dental team for regular visits to review your progress and monitor the response of your teeth to the bleaching process and any side effects that you may have had.
As home whitening is a gradual process, you have more control over this treatment and can stop when the degree of whitening that you require is achieved.
Repeat bleaching every 6 months to a year may be required to maintain your new brighter smile.
This is a quicker way of achieving tooth whitening, although you have less control than in the above method over how white your teeth become. Depending on the technique chosen, your dentist may use a special shield to protect your gums. A more concentrated bleaching agent than that used in home kits is then usually applied to your teeth, and this works after it is exposed to a special light source which helps to speed up the bleaching process. Individual teeth can be targeted using this method, or the whole mouth can be treated. This procedure can take from 15 minutes to over an hour, depending on the number of teeth requiring treatment.
Repeat treatments may be required to achieve the overall whitening effect that you desire, and repeat bleaching every year or so may be needed to maintain your new brighter smile.
Side Effects and Risks
The procedure itself is painless, but there are a few side effects that may affect some patients. The most common problem is sensitivity of the teeth and gums. This can be controlled with the use of desensitising toothpastes.
If you are bleaching at home, you may be advised to cut down the bleaching time, by having shorter treatment sessions over a longer period of time. In addition, varying the type and strength of the bleaching gel used may be suggested.
Some patients find that wearing the tray makes the teeth tender afterwards when they try to bite things. This can happen because the original impression of the teeth was not made quite accurately enough, and the trays would then probably have to be remade.
Although hydrogen peroxide has been used for many years as a mouth rinse and there appear to be no apparent problems with its use, no-one can say for sure that its use will not cause harm to the teeth or gums that may become apparent years from now.
Smokers should stop smoking before having their teeth bleached. Smoking not only defeats the effect of bleaching, but some researchers are concerned about the effect of smoke on hydrogen peroxide bleaching gels. There is some evidence to suggest that the combination of the gel and smoke may add to tissue damage, which we already know to be caused by smoking.
You can have your teeth whitened if you are pregnant, although many practitioners would probably advise you to wait until after you have given birth to avoid any possible risks.
Who Can Do It
Before using a home bleaching kit, we would recommend that you go to a dental surgeon experienced in the use of these products, as they may not be suitable for you.
A qualified dentist would normally perform treatments in a dental surgery. Not all dentists specialise in cosmetic dentistry, so it is important to find a dental practice that does a lot of cosmetic dental work.
The General Dental Council (GDC) believes that it is illegal for non-dental professionals to be offering tooth whitening treatment. They advise any member of the public wanting tooth whitening to speak to their dentist. For more information please see the GDC website.
If you visit a cosmetic dentist, prices can range from around £40 for a single tooth to over £500 for the whole mouth.
Tooth bleaching procedures can be a quick and simple way to brighten teeth and improve your smile.
The effectiveness of bleaching for any individual patient can be hard to predict, and certain grey stains (especially those that have been caused by taking the antibiotic tetracycline) can be difficult, if not impossible, to bleach.
Bleaching will not change the colour of existing dental fillings, veneers or crowns. If such treatment is planned for the front part of your mouth, it is advisable to have the bleaching first and then match the new crowns or fillings to the now much whiter teeth.