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Teeth Whitening 101 – Here’s what you need to know and what to definitely avoid

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In today’s society, you don’t need to look far to find teeth whitening products or services that promise to deliver brighter and whiter smiles. But how do you know if these products are safe for your teeth and is the person administering these services a qualified and registered dental professional?
Do-it-yourself whitening or whitening services provided by an unregistered dental professional can in some cases, lead to irreversible damage to not just your teeth but also your gums. Not every individual is suitable for teeth whitening and so that is why it is important to depend on a registered dental professional for this type of treatment.

How does whitening work?

Imagine your enamel prisms have a mesh-like framework. Overtime this mesh can get discoloured and stained from the foods and beverages we consume. Most whitening agents contain an active ingredient of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. When the hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide comes into contact with the molecules which causes the stains, it breaks them up. This oxygenated response results in the tooth surface appearing lighter.

Over time, our daily habits or diet can result in the tooth surface becoming discoloured or stained again. Therefore – it is important to note that teeth whitening is not a permanent treatment and may need to be topped-up again in the future.

What types of teeth whitening are there?

Over the counter products

Now we’ve all seen the many whitening products that can be purchased over the counter at the supermarket, pharmacy or even online. They usually contain a weaker whitening agent (lower level of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) than products obtainable from the dentist. This can result in a longer treatment process and sometimes undesirable results.

The whitening product can either be applied as a gel using a universal tray or as a strip that sticks to your teeth. Unfortunately, these types of products have a higher risk of chemical burns to your gums as they are usually ‘one size fits all’.

Whitening toothpastes are also readily available on the market. But the biggest question is Do they work? Not so much. Whitening toothpaste often contain a very low percentage of whitening agent and abrasives which can help with extrinsic stain removal. However, because we all aim to brush our teeth at least twice a day and given that a tube of toothpaste can last an adult individual up to 3 months – using a whitening toothpaste long term can result in an increased risk of teeth sensitivity and unfortunately be abrasive to the enamel.

Take home whitening trays

At True Smiles Dental, we offer two different forms of whitening treatments. The first is ‘take-home’ whitening where we construct custom fitted trays specifically to your teeth and your teeth only. The reason we make custom fitted trays are because we want the whitening gel to be contained to the teeth only and not spread to other unwanted areas like the gums. Dental grade strength whitening gels are prescribed depending on your needs and instructions are provided on how to use the trays and for how long. Your dental professional will often monitor your progress and can give you advice on how long the whitening treatment should be completed. One of the best advantages of choosing take home custom whitening trays is that the trays can be kept away in storage for use at a later date. Therefore, touch-ups are super easy! All you need is some gels and you’re good to go.

In-office whitening

Our other alternative is in-office whitening treatment. Here, your dental professional will isolate your gums, cheeks and lips away from the teeth using retractors, gauze and cotton rolls. This minimises the risk of the gels leaking onto the soft tissues which can cause those nasty burns! A gel is applied directly onto the tooth surface which is then activated by an LED light for a period of time (our Phillips zoom machine works in 15 minute intervals). After a few sessions, we hope your teeth have responded accordingly and you’re as happy with the result as we are!

How long do the results last?

Now, as we’ve previously mentioned – the results from any teeth whitening procedures are never permanent so it is important to have the right after care regime to maintain your new pearly whites! Results from over-the-counter or online products will often relapse much faster than professional whitening. So whilst there are cheaper alternatives outside the dental office, you may be spending more in the long term to achieve the same result as dental grade professional whitening.

What should I do if I want to have my teeth whitened?

The first and most important thing to remember is that if you’re looking at getting your teeth whitened, is to always consult a registered dental professional for advice and treatment.

A registered dental professional is someone who has been deemed qualified and properly trained according to the Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Agency and The Australian Dental Council.

Individuals who are looking to whiten their teeth, should apply caution to any business that offers teeth whitening services without having the professional training or accreditation required to do so. Many businesses claim that their staff have been ‘certified’ or ‘trained’ to conduct teeth whitening – but did you know, according to the Australian Dental Council this is not enough.

The Dental board of Australia restricts any individual that is not a registered dental or medical practitioner from performing a restricted dental act and the provision of teeth whitening substances is classed as one of those acts.

Just as you wouldn’t go to your dentist for a manicure or cut and blow-dry, the same concept should be said about going to your hairdresser, beautician or local nail salon for your teeth whitening.

Find yourself a trusted, qualified and most importantly registered dental practitioner to complete a check of your teeth and gums to see if you’re a suitable candidate for teeth whitening.

What are the risks of teeth whitening?

Now we’ve all seen the numerous pictures and videos on social media about all the great results that can come from teeth whitening but I bet, nobody likes to post pictures of when things go south.

Teeth whitening can have many benefits when done correctly but also comes with some risks – and when administered incorrectly or by someone who has been improperly trained, the following issues can include:

– Chemical burns to the surrounding soft tissues (gums, lips, cheeks)
– Facial or intra-oral swelling from leaking whitening agent (bleach)
– Irreversible damage to the enamel

Last year the Australian dental council issued a warning to the public about the use of DIY teeth whitening as there was a surge in consumer gingival burns and mouth ulcerations from inadequately applied teeth whitening gel. This followed an increase in the number of celebrities and influencers sponsoring whitening products online and on their social media.

Charcoal tooth products/pastes have become increasingly popular over the last few years and often have claims to promote teeth whitening. Unfortunately, Charcoal toothpastes are very abrasive and can result in your enamel eroding away – revealing the inner layer of your teeth called the dentine, which is yellow in colour (the opposite effect of what we want!).

Enamel is one of the hardest substances in our body and once that has been damaged, it cannot be reversed.

Unfortunately, not everything we see online is a true representation of how reality is, so it is important to not follow the hype! If it’s too good to be true – it probably is!

Are you a suitable candidate for teeth whitening?

Teeth whitening, as good as the procedure sounds, teeth whitening is not suitable for everyone. That is why it’s important for your dental professional to check your teeth prior to starting. What often doesn’t get discussed is that not everyone’s teeth will respond well to whitening and there are certain cases where whitening may not be suitable at all. For example – if you have had fillings placed on your front teeth, the whitening agent will not work on these areas and you may need to have these fillings replaced once your whitening treatment is completed to match the new shade. Similarly, if you have had crowns, bridges or implants – whitening treatment will not work on these teeth.

Furthermore, patients who have mottled enamel or enamel defects may find that their teeth become very sensitive during any whitening procedure or that it may not work at all – in which case alternative cosmetic solutions may be a better option.

At True Smiles Dental, our clinicians are all Australian University qualified, fully trained and registered dental practitioners. So, rest assured you’ll be in the safest hands.

If you’ve ever wondered about whether your teeth are suitable for teeth whitening or want to know more about our whitening packages, give our friendly team a call on (02) 7228 7272 or visit us at 235 Marrickville Road, Marrickville NSW 2204.