Everything You Need to Know About Tooth Whitening and Bleaching

Tooth whitening continues to be the most popular cosmetic procedure seen in most dental offices and this is especially true during the holiday season. Whiter teeth have become so popular, in fact, that a few years ago dental material manufacturers came up with a whole new range of “bleached” colors for their tooth-colored fillings, porcelains, and even denture teeth so that dentists could better match patients’ enhanced tooth colors. Compared to dental work which we placed some twenty-plus years ago, newer cases are definitely WHITE! Current patients initially requesting that their new dental work look “natural” overwhelmingly choose colors which would have seemed over-the-top only ten years ago.

Patients have two basic options when it comes to tooth whitening. First, there is “home” bleaching. This method involves wearing trays or strips for an hour or longer each day until the desired color is obtained. Some over-the-counter kits can be purchased at the grocery store or pharmacy. Other kits may be purchased from your dentist — we currently recommend TresWhite in our office. The over-the-counter kits can be very effective, but can take longer to provide an acceptable color change due to their lower concentration of the active ingredient as compared to those dispensed by a dental office. Also, the strips may not reach the back teeth as well as do the tray-type kits. When people smile the first molar can usually be seen, so coverage can be an issue.

These kits can range from about $25 for the strip-type kits up to about $100 for the dental office brands. Some offices offer a custom tray type kit into which a bleaching gel is placed. Such kits are more expensive, and our experience has been that the preformed tray kits like TresWhite are less expensive, just as effective, and more convenient.

Second, there is in-office whitening. We have been using the BriteSmile
System for many years with great success. The main difference between this technique and home bleaching is that the entire in-office process is completed in about and hour and a half. With this system, a protective barrier is first placed on the tissues surrounding the teeth. Then a whitening gel is placed on the teeth which is activated by a special light source for twenty minutes. The whitening gel is then removed, a fluoride desensitizing gel is placed, and the whitening gel and light procedure is performed for two or three additional twenty-minute sessions. Patients will see quite a marked improvement of color in one visit. The cost of this procedure is generally established by BriteSmile which frequently has “specials” in the range of $300 to $350.

Some patients have special tooth color issues. Tetracycline stains appear as bands of gray or brown along all the teeth as a result of injesting the medicine as a young child or by the mother carrying a fetus. Such stains improve with bleaching, but are not eliminated. To completely remove such stains, the teeth must be covered with porcelain or a tooth-colored filling material. Other patients display a single dark tooth as a result of root canal therapy. Such stained teeth generally respond very well to a conservative single-tooth bleaching procedure.

Finally, not all patients will benefit equally from any tooth whitening procedure. Yellowish teeth respond better than gray ones. And, excessively bleaching any teeth, especially grayish ones, will be counter- productive. Too much bleaching can actually remove too much color from the teeth causing them to look translucent. Such teeth display a dark appearance, as they no longer reflect light like normal teeth. Other patients wishing to improve their appearance would do better addressing issues other than color. Talking to a dental professional first can be enlightening regarding alternative treatments which may be more appropriate in some cases. The dentist will also determine if there are any reasons why bleaching may not be a good idea because of decay, tooth wear, tartar build-up, etc.

If you have other questions about tooth whitening or bleaching, you are welcome to call our office @ 908.359.6655 or email us at info@DesignsForDentalHealth.com.

NOTE: Originally posted on December 5th, 2008