The Secret to Whitening your Teeth...

What's the secret to getting results like the one below?

Note that the pictures above HAVE NOT been edited apart from cropping i.e. the exposure is exactly the same, taken with the same camera in the same condition but have been taken 2 weeks apart.

I will tell you the secret to results like those above...

2 weeks at home whitening at night time PRESCRIBED BY A DENTIST!

The above patient was a chap I saw who was unhappy with the gradual darkening of his teeth (he was in his late 40s). I prescribed him 16% Carbamide Peroxide for 2 weeks to be worn in his custom made whitening trays (I used the PolaNight system is anyone is interested). 

This compound can only be prescribed by a dentist or dental professional e.g. therapist according to the law GDC vs. Jamous, therefore it is illegal for anyone else to provide tooth whitening which uses more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide (by the way, for those of you who aren't dentists, carbamide peroxide breaks down into hydrogen peroxide).

But don't beauticians and hairdressers do whitening?

I'm sure many of you have walked past salons advertising tooth whitening and some of you may have even had the treatment... if it's illegal for people other than dental professionals to provide whitening how can these places offer it?

Well there are a small number who may be practising it illegally, but more commonly these salons are using non-peroxide whitening gels (ingredients vary). These products are not clinically effective. So why do people report some great results with this sort of whitening...?

That is because most of these systems are 'light activated'. This involves having the gel on your teeth being exposed to a blue light for 15-30 mins or so. In this time your teeth dry out...and dehydrated teeth look LIGHTER! After a day or two of rehydration, your teeth will look exactly the same as before! And of course there is always the placebo effect. 

Any other 'whitening' product such as toothpastes or gels are not bleaching agents, they have abrasive particles to scrub away stains. They do not whiten the underlying teeth but aim to remove any external staining on your teeth commonly from coffee or tobacco for example. 

So how does tooth whitening work? Does it harm my teeth?

The bleach contains active oxygen that penetrates your enamel and binds with the the internal stains that build up in your teeth over time. 

This sounds scary right? It sounds like the bleach eats away at your teeth? But there is no evidence that bleaching is harmful for you teeth - especially since whitening is something that is designed to be done over short periods of time! 

You can get some side-effects from tooth whitening, most commonly sensitivity to hot and cold food/drinks. This however is temporary and will cessate once you finish bleaching. A lot of bleaching gels have ingredients in them to help counteract this sensitivity, or your dentist may recommend a specific toothpaste for you to use during treatment. Other side-effects are usually the results of the strong whitening gel accidentally spreading onto your gums which can cause irritation and burns. 

There are 2 ways that dentists provide whitening:

1. In-surgery whitening

  • You get a faster result
  • The dentist controls exactly where the bleach goes
  • This is the more expensive option
  • You can't control the final colour of the teeth 
  • You often need a top up at home

2. At home whitening

  • This is the slower option taking on average 2-4 weeks depending on the situation
  • You can control the final result of the teeth more and sensitivity side-effects
  • You place the bleach in custom made trays to wear at night time
  • This is generally the cheaper option

Please bare in mind, whitening is not permanent....whichever option you go for, you will need it topped up after 18-24 months depending on your diet/whether you smoke and the gel will not whiten any fillings, crowns, veneers, bridges or dentures you may have. 

I hope this has answered some of your questions! I don't mean this as an attack on other professionals trying to earn a living, but to make everyone aware of the legislation surrounding tooth whitening. The General Dental Council have prosecuted several beauticians/hairdressers for providing whitening illegally! If you're worried about any of this, please see the GDC's website.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments below!

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