Teeth Whitening is a really interesting subject because there is a lot of misinformation out there. Whitening is safe! It does not damage the enamel or cause erosion of the teeth. It does not weaken the teeth and make them vulnerable to tooth decay. Its actually the opposite. The whitening solution will actually reduce the number of oral bacteria, so people who regularly whiten their teeth will get fewer cavities. It is possible to damage the gums with a whitening solution so it is important to whiten in accordance with the directions of your chosen solution.
We are a full service dental office doing a wide range of procedures but our focus in on cosmetic dentistry. So I do a lot of whitening! I want to go over the different types of whitening and how they effect the teeth and sensitivity. There are 3 types of whitening that you can do.
- In-Office Whitening
- At home bleaching trays
- Over the counter products
This is the best way to whiten your teeth. It takes about an hour for an in-office whitening session. I’ve used many different whitening products over my career. They most marketed is Zoom. I like it a lot. It whitens very well but in my experience it causes too much sensitivity and in some cases pain. So recently I started using Boost. It whitens teeth really well and with minimal sensitivity. So that is what I am currently using. It takes about an hour. I cover the gums and retract the lips from the teeth to protect the skin. I put on a very powerful hydrogen peroxide solution and it sits on the teeth for 20 minutes. I then remove the solution and apply a freshly mixed solution for 20 more minutes. I find that we can usually achieve the whiteness a patients desires with one session, but we occasionally will return for another hour of whitening. The photos that I’ve attached show teeth whitened over 2 appointments.
Bleaching Trays are really great for people who whiten their teeth frequently. It always works best to do an in-office whitening followed by at-home whitening with trays. The custom trays are supremely important because the solution can cause damage to the gums and the lips. So a well fitting properly trimmed tray is vital to safe whitening. There is a upfront cost to making the custom trays but you can use them for years assuming you don’t have changes to your teeth. My favorite type of solution for bleaching trays is Opalescence. They make a variety of flavors and concentrations so you can choose the one that works best for you.
Too often over-the-counter products exist because there is a demand for them and not because they are good products. So you will see whitening toothpastes, mouth washes, etc. The reality of tooth whitening is simple. Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide will whiten teeth. The degree of whitening depends on the concentration and amount of time the solution is in contact with the teeth. Mouth washes and toothpastes are only in contact with the teeth for about 2 minutes so it just isn’t long enough to make a measurable effect on tooth color. So I don’t recommend those products for whitening.
There is one type of over-the-counter product that I do recommend and that is Whitestrips. I gave a link to Crest Whitestrips but there are a variety of manufacturers and even storebrand whitestrips which should work fairly nicely as well. I hesitated to link to the Crest Whitestrips because it says that it will whiten as well as a professional whitening and in my experience it generally will not. But if you consistently use whitestrips you will see a visual improvement over time.
All whitening products will cause sensitivity. There is a wide variation in sensitivity among different patients and products. But there are a few ways to minimize discomfort following a whitening.
Use a sensitive toothpaste for a few days before, during, and after the whitening treatment
I always give my patients a few sample size tubes of Sensodyne toothpaste. It has potassium nitrate which is minimizes the sensitivity. So brush your teeth with it and if the sensitivity is particularly bad you can actually smear the toothpaste over the sensitive teeth and leave it there. It will surprisingly help a lot.
Take a pill
If you have no health issues that would preclude taking a pain reliever you can take your preferred pain killer. Motrin, Tylenol, or Aleve would all be good choices. Again make sure that you have no health issues that would be negatively effected by taking a pain killer. But if you can, it can really take the edge off.
Avoid cold food and drinks
Don’t even try to eat ice cream for a few days and be careful with cold drinks. It will be annoying for a few days but it will get better. Sensitivity is always temporary.