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The Truth About Teeth Whitening

Whitening (or bleaching) teeth has become very popular over the last few years. Many New Year's resolutions involve things that make you look and feel better. One of the ways you can accomplish looking better is by whitening your teeth.

teeth whitening

There are numerous products on the market and a multitude of products that claim to be the best. In this article, I'll review the products and procedures available, and my next article will answer some of the most commonly asked questions regarding teeth whitening.

Home Teeth Whitening

The most popular technique allows you to make your smile whiter through dentist-supervised home whitening. The dental office will custom make a tray for you to fit precisely over your teeth. You place the gel in this tray and wear it for prescribed periods during the day or overnight. Doing this for two weeks or more will brighten your smile.

A dentist specially trained in this procedure will monitor your progress with short follow-up appointments.

Perhaps you have used over-the-counter bleaching products and have been disappointed with the results. There is a great difference in the potency of over-the-counter versus professional bleaching products. I am not aware of any over-the-counter product that produces the dramatic shade change that is possible with professionally administered bleaching.

Some of the over-the-counter products can be harmful to the teeth if used improperly. The bleaching techniques that are used in offices of trained dentists have been accepted by the American Dental Association as safe and effective.

A recent over-the-counter product from oral care companies is Whitestrips. While it appears that Whitestrips are the best of the over-the-counter products, many patients have difficulty keeping them in place, which then lessens the amount of whitening that is accomplished. For those who can't afford professional bleaching, Whitestrips may be an attractive alternative. They do actually whiten the teeth, and, unlike other over-the-counter whiteners, they do not harm the teeth. Any whitening procedure, Whitestrips or otherwise, should be accomplished under the supervision of your dentist.

Whitening toothpaste is generally completely ineffective at permanently whitening the teeth. They are simply not on the teeth long enough for any whitening agents to penetrate into the teeth.

Laser bleaching (Zoom, Brite Smile, and other treatments):

Laser bleaching or power bleaching is a hot topic. In my opinion, it's a little over-rated. You can get just as effective whitening with the bleaching trays at home as you can with laser bleaching, but maybe not as quickly. The advantage with laser bleaching or power bleaching is that the dental office does the bleaching for you—you don't have to deal with the trays at home. It's also faster. Most people will go home from that visit with a smile at least one shade lighter. There may be a little more sensitivity afterward with laser bleaching than with regular at-home tooth whitening, but that sensitivity typically lasts only a couple of hours.

The famed blue light (also called plasma light or zoom light) is just for show. The claim is that it "activates" the whitening gel. Many studies have shown that there is no evidence of increased effectiveness by utilizing the light. The only way to increase the effectiveness of the whitening gel is to heat it to 150 degrees, which is impractical because it would burn the teeth and gums.

Next, let's take a look at the most commonly asked questions in regard to teeth whitening.

What causes tooth discoloration?

Causes include smoking, coffee, tea, soda, trauma, old fillings, medications, and staining. Aging may even contribute to the darkening of your teeth.

Is tooth whitening harmful to my teeth?

If supervised by a dentist and not abused during home use, none of the ADA-certified products are harmful to your teeth, nor does it change your teeth's basic structure. Your tooth enamel is not altered.

How long does whitening last?

If staining substances, such as caffeine or tobacco products, caused your discoloration, then periodic re-whitening may be necessary. However, teeth will always be lighter than they were, and if good oral hygiene and regular visits to your dentist are present, whitening results can last a long time.

How much does whitening cost?

The cost varies from dentist to dentist. Eagle Valley Family Dentistry's fee is $342 for home bleaching ($191 if you want to do the upper teeth only).

The in-office bleaching is $862 and takes about 1-½ hours.

Does insurance cover whitening?

Usually not.

Are there any side effects?

The main side effect of bleaching is possible tooth sensitivity while using the product, especially to very cold food or drink. This sensitivity should disappear a few days after treatment; concurrent use of Sensodyne toothpaste is recommended.

Is whitening a substitute for regular dental treatment?

NO! Whitening products are not intended to be a substitute for the prevention of dental problems and dental disease. You should always schedule regular visits with your dentist, and you should consult with your dentist and physician before using any whitening product.

Does bleaching work on tartar build-up?

No. Patients need to realize this procedure only whitens stained teeth due to coffee, tea, smoke, or aging. The tartar must be removed from the teeth prior to starting the whitening process; to leave the tartar on diminishes the results.

I have tetracycline-stained teeth. Do I need laser bleaching or chemical bleaching, or both?

Depending on your goals, bleaching may work. Tetracycline stains can be very tenacious, so a bleaching process may lighten the colors but may not totally eliminate the stains. You may need to seriously consider porcelain veneers. By veneering your teeth, where the dentist places a layer of porcelain on the front of the teeth, the stains can be masked and give you a smile that you want in a very predictable manner.

Eagle Valley Family Dentistry is a family dental practice in Bellefonte and is accepting new patients. You may contact our office at (814) 473-5554 or stop by our office at 745 South Eagle Valley Road, Bellefonte PA 16823.


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