Tooth whitening is a cosmetic dental procedure in which the teeth are treated, to remove stains and make the surface appear whiter. This can be done at home or at a cosmetic dentist, though at-home options are often less expensive and give results that are just as good as professional treatments.
Often, teeth whitening cannot lead to a complete colour change but can lighten the existing shade to make teeth a few shades whiter than they were originally. When you want to lighten the colour of your teeth without damaging or removing any of the tooth’s natural enamel, tooth whitening could be a good option for you.
Tooth whitening has become of of the most popular cosmetic dentistry procedures, because it can dramatically improve the aesthetics of your smile, without prolonged or expensive treatments. For best, long-term results, a one-off treatment may not be enough. The best outcome will be achieved with regular whitening treatments on an ongoing basis, to maintain the desired brighter shade.
The two different types of tooth whitening, i.e. at-home kits vs whitening administered by a dentist, can differ in certain ways. A dentist may provide a dental check-up before treating the teeth, to ensure they are in a safe condition and advise on the best whitening treatment for you. A dentist may use a hydrogen peroxide solution prior to whitening the teeth, followed by an LED (Light Emitting Diode) light to activate the whitening gel. Alternatively, laser whitening utilises a laser that activates the oxygen in the compound and causes the formulation to work.
What does tooth whitening involve?
Tooth whitening is usually done by “professional bleaching” to achieve a brighter and whiter tooth shade. Often, tooth whitening gels contain 6% hydrogen peroxide (regarded as dentist strength), to safely and effectively whiten the teeth. This is the active ingredient and when it is broken down by an LED light, it allows oxygen to get to work on the tooth enamel to alter the shade of the teeth.
In order for the tooth whitening process to be comfortable for the user, your at-home kit or your dentist’s procedure will involve a rubber mouth guard or shield. This will fit comfortably to the front of the teeth so that each tooth surface comes into contact with the whitening gel. Often, an LED light can be involved to speed up the process.
The process involves filling the mouth shield with just enough whitening gel to cover the teeth while avoiding the lips and gums. You can comfortably leave the whitening formulation to work on your teeth while you do other activities at home, as both the mouth guard and LED light are portable.
When repeated on an ongoing basis, the process will work on the tooth enamel (outer layer) to lighten the natural colour of the teeth. The enamel contains pores that easily hold stains, and the colour of your teeth is determined by how the enamel reflects light, as well as what the colour of the dentin below it is.
Why would I need my teeth whitened?
A common side-effect of aging is teeth discolouration; this happens as the enamel gets thinner and the dentin below grows darker. Discolouration can also be caused by staining, from foods like coffee, tobacco and dark coloured foods, or by not taking sufficient care of your teeth. Staining occurs when a thin coating, known as the pellicle, forms on your tooth enamel and dark colours stick to it, making teeth look dull or dirty.
For some people, tooth colour is hereditary and no matter how well you take care of your mouth, teeth can naturally be more yellow than you’d like.
The colour of your teeth is a huge part of what people notice when they first look at you and for this reason, can cause a major dent in one’s confidence if their teeth aren’t white and bright. People associate tooth discolouration with bad health or hygiene, and yellow teeth can cause people to be very self-conscious, especially when meeting new people.
Staining can also occur under the teeth, known as “intrinsic stains”, often caused by antibiotics, small cracks in the tooth surface or trauma. A build-up of tartar or “calculus” can also lead to discolouration of the teeth.
If you’re not lucky enough to have naturally brilliant-white teeth, you might consider having your teeth whitened. This can lead to improvements in your confidence, which then translates to life situations like job interviews, where you’ll be able to project a more positive image.
How long does this take?
The time you spend whitening your teeth at-home is up to you - and some people see visible results after just one use. It’s important to remember that the time it will take to whiten teeth depends on their original condition before treatment. The more stained your teeth are, the longer it will take to get them to a white state.
For ongoing maintenance of a whiter smile, it is recommended that you apply the at-home teeth whitening gel and leave it to work for 15-30 minutes. This gives the hydrogen peroxide enough time to activate and lighten the enamel for long-lasting results.
For intense whitening, repeat this daily for up to 1 week and you’ll see amazing results. Once the desired shade has been achieved, repeat the process as necessary to maintain results.
How much does tooth whitening cost?
Professional tooth whitening at the dentist or a cosmetic clinic can often be expensive, and you can expect to pay up to $400 per session. Of course, this estimate varies between clinics and depends on the whitening method your dentist uses. You may have to pay for the visit and procedure, as well as whitening trays that you take home to maintain the shade.
Because no whitening treatment can achieve permanent results, you’ll have to return to your dentist for multiple follow-up procedures, which will incur an additional cost. Most dentists recommend around 3-6 treatments for best results.
For low-cost tooth whitening that is safe and effective, try at-home whitening kits. They’re a great deal cheaper than professional whitening and the results can be just as good. You can purchase a starter kit for $89 and this provides 20 applications. Afterwards, you just need to top up your kit with whitening gels and pens.
Additional costs of at-home teeth whitening kits include the ongoing maintenance of your results and shipping/delivery expenses. You can find out more about GOGO SMILE’s shipping costs on our general FAQs page.
How long will my teeth stay whiter?
People that commit to teeth whitening treatments regularly report that, in the long-term, their teeth stay whiter than they were before. Of course, as time passes and people go about their daily routines, teeth can become stained again. Substances like coffee, tea and cigarettes will speed up the process of teeth discolouration.
To avoid losing the whiteness of your teeth, it is recommended that you repeat the treatment every 3-6 months and maintain the preferred shade with the regular use of a whitening pen or whitening toothpaste.
Teeth whitening doesn’t provide permanent results, but the time they stay white for depends on each individual and on how well you take care of your dental hygiene following treatment. As an estimation, the results of teeth whitening last from 6 months to 2 years without upkeep. In this period, teeth will gradually return to their natural shade.
What are the side effects?
Teeth whitening products undergo extensive research and testing to ensure side effects are kept to a minimum and serious side effects are extremely uncommon.
Some people report sensitivity following treatments, especially when exposed to very cold or hot food or drink. This is due to the dehydration that teeth will experience after treatments and any pain will usually subside within a few hours. Use of a rehydration gel will usually reduce the levels of sensitivity so you can continue to eat or drink what you like without discomfort. You are more likely to experience sensitivity if you have cracked teeth or other dental conditions and, if you are feeling pain, switch to a toothpaste specially designed for sensitive teeth.
Another side effect that has been reported is discomfort in the gums or white patches within the gum line. This is known as “blanching” and gums should return to their normal colour within a few days, so it isn’t a cause for concern. To avoid blanching, don’t overfill your gum shield to keep the whitening gel away from the gums and lips. If your gums are irritated after treatment, rinse them with water or using vitamin E oil on the affected area.
Allow sensitivity to subside before re-using whitening gel again. If the side effects last longer than a few days or are severe, it is recommended that you discontinue use and visit a dentist.
What about whitening toothpastes?
There are a number of effective “whitening toothpastes” on the market, though they usually are not developed to dentist-strength, like other tooth whitening gels and products. For this reason, you won’t see drastic improvements by solely using a whitening toothpaste as they don’t affect the natural colour of your teeth, though they may be able to slightly reduce the appearance of stains.
However, we recommend using a whitening toothpaste following your professional dentist or at-home whitening treatment as a way of upkeeping your desired shade.
As a standalone treatment, whitening toothpaste is unable to lighten stains that go deeper than the tooth’s outer surface. So, it is ineffective at eliminating stains that have developed over a long period of time. They don’t contain peroxides, but can work on some stains by using special abrasives to gently polish teeth, and chemicals that can dissolve most stains.
To notice visible results from most whitening toothpastes, you would need to continue use twice daily for approximately 2-6 weeks. Some products contain a chemical called blue covarine. These products can have immediate results, as the chemical adheres to the tooth’s surface, making it look brighter than before.
Look for whitening toothpastes that are recommended by dental professionals and use in conjunction with professional whitening treatments for optimal, long-term results.
Can a single tooth which has been root filled be whitened?
Often, a tooth can go dead and discoloured following a root filling, causing a person to feel self-conscious about the colouring of a single tooth against the rest of the teeth. Following a root filling, the canal can be reopened (this is the part that contains the nerve). The affected tooth can be safely whitened by a professional, applying product from the inside to improve the appearance of the tooth shade.
The process is known as “internal bleaching” or “non-vital bleaching”, and your dentist may perform the operation at the same time as the root filling or at a later date. The treatment can only be carried out following a thorough assessment from a professional, which includes an X-ray. The area should be numbed before whitening, following which a tiny hole is made to provide access to the pulp chamber.
Here, the chamber is cleaned to remove debris and unwanted, discoloured material. It is then re-sealed to keep the bleach inside.
Because of the sophisticated nature of this whitening process, it can only be carried out by a professional. At-home whitening kits are not suitable for internal bleaching.
When might tooth whitening not work?
It’s important to remember that tooth whitening isn’t designed to change the colour of your teeth; it just lightens your existing shade.
Whitening gels only work on natural teeth, so tooth whitening won’t work for you if you have veneers, dentures or crowns. For all types of false teeth, visit your dentist who might be able to offer alternative whitening options.
If you wear a brace, you might see inconsistent results from your teeth whitening gel. That’s because it’s difficult for the gel to evenly cover every tooth. In this case, it is recommended that you wait until your brace is removed to start any whitening treatment.
Generally, we notice better results on yellow teeth compared to grey teeth, though you should still notice a good improvement if your teeth are grey. Whitening gel works by brightening the natural shade of the teeth, so the more discoloured your teeth are to begin with, the less of a brilliant white they will become.
How can I look after my teeth once they have been whitened?
Once you’ve undergone a teeth whitening treatment, it makes sense that you would want to maintain the results for as long as possible, to avoid spending more money on further treatments. You can slow down the discolouration process by looking after your teeth properly for the months or years after your whitening treatment.
Every day, practise proper dental care and hygiene. This would include daily brushing, flossing and the use of mouthwash to keep the mouth clean and prevent stains that naturally cling to the tooth enamel. Try using a toothpaste that’s specially formulated for whitening, containing special abrasives to gently polish the teeth and maintain radiance. After drinking coffee, red wine, tea etc. rinse your mouth with water or use a tooth wipe or mouthwash.
Visit your dentist for regular checkups and cleans, as they can provide professional cleaning to polish away surface stains, as well as provide advice on the best way to look after your mouth. The abrasive tool used by dentists are effective enough so that you may not require additional bleaching.
Use a tooth whitening pen when you’re on the go; they’re compact enough to fit into your purse or pocket. Whitening pens use a dentist-grade formulation with 6% hydrogen peroxide to actively whiten teeth easily. Use as required or as a daily application.