Teeth whitening: the facts

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A recent study conducted by TLE on behalf on Colgate found that 50 per cent of the 350 Australian women aged 25-45 polled were more concerned about teeth whitening than preventing cavities, plaque and gum disease.

It’s not a new trend but it seems it’s here to stay, and we’re placing more and more importance on it so before you pledge to make that smile whiter than white, let beautyheaven arm you with the information you need…

Why has it become so popular in recent years?

Rebecca Beazley, founder of B’Dazzled thinks it’s down to TV shows like Extreme Makeover and 10 Years Younger in 10 Days and “the enormous difference having a nice white smile makes. It really does take years off and it’s a very simple and inexpensive procedure. Smiling confidently with a white smile is a very attractive feature and now that it’s accessible to anyone and affordable, everybody wants one.”

When Beazley first launched B’Dazzled eight years ago “the market was brand new and it was difficult getting the message to people that you could get professional whitening without having to go to the dentist.” Now though, with over 600 salons in Australia and New Zealand offering professional whitening, the industry is “booming”.

Is teeth whitening suitable for everyone?

Almost everyone. Beazley warns that “if you have really bad periodontal disease (where your teeth are wobbly) or a lot of deep holes in your teeth, it’s not recommended due to sensitivity.” In this instance, veneers may be the way to go as Dr Michael Finkelstein, owner of Finkelstein Dental Clinic and creator of the Clean Smile Tooth Spa, points out. “Not everyone is an ideal candidate for in-chair or take-home teeth whitening. This is where veneers can really help. Veneers can be successfully used to correct spaces between the teeth; broken or chipped teeth; unsightly, stained or washed out fillings, misshapen or crooked teeth and; whiten dark yellow or stained teeth.”

What types of teeth whitening are offered in Australia?

Dr Finkelstein talks us through the three options in teeth whitening:

Take-home kits: the dentist makes custom-made trays designed specifically for your own mouth and supplies you with a professional quality tooth whitening gel. This is a great option for those who would like to whiten their teeth in the comfort of their own home and in their own time.

In-chair whitening: the dentist applies a gel and uses a special light to activate the gel to whiten the teeth. This procedure takes about one hour and is more expensive than the take home kits but does give an immediate result. It still requires a take-home kit to maintain whiteness over time.

Dental veneers: dental veneers can be used to whiten teeth or give a total makeover. As aforementioned, some teeth are not candidates for teeth whitening and this is where dental veneers are extremely effective at correcting or cosmetically enhancing your smile.  A veneer is a very slim covering that is bonded to the front of the teeth to correct permanently stained or discoloured teeth and whiten dark yellow or stained teeth.

Is it dangerous to go anywhere other than a dentist to have teeth whitening done?

Beazley advises that at-home whitening is “completely safe – and won’t do any damage to your enamel – as long as the products are hydrogen peroxide based, acid free and contain a neutral pH.” However, if you’re considering having a whitening procedure at your salon or a shopping centre cubicle, Beazley warns to be careful. “You need to ensure that your teeth are re-mineralised after the treatment otherwise they could end up more stained than when you started. Dentists will re-mineralise your teeth after a treatment like Zoom (in-chair whitening with lights), however the new shopping centre cubicle whiteners are not doing this, nor are they giving you after care whiteners to help you go as white as possible.”

What’s the difference between teeth whitening procedures that use peroxide dyes and ones that use chlorine dioxide?

Hydrogen or carbamide peroxides break down into oxygen, water and urea, all of which we already have in the body and all of which are completely harmless on their own according to Beazley. “Chlorine is a harsher chemical that I’ve never seen used in the dental industry – reports in UK magazine Company say that it has been used in certain salons, claiming to be “safer and more effective than hydrogen peroxide” – and I’m skeptical of how gentle it would be on the teeth and its long-term side effects.” Dr Christopher Orr, president of the British Association of Cosmetic Dentistry, was reported as saying that “chlorine dioxide is an oxidising and bleaching agent mostly used as a pesticide, an additive in processed food and to purify water supplies.” Finkelstein agrees that carbamide peroxide is a “more stable” option as it’s “pre-packaged and doesn’t require mixing.”

What are the short-term and long-term side effects of having teeth whitening done?

For at-home treatments: you may experience slight sensitivity during the whitening treatment, however, this usually stops as soon as the treatment is completed. Over the past 40 years, since teeth whitening has been around, Beazley points out that there have been no long-term side effects reported within the dental industry.

For in-the-chair / light whitening treatments: according to Beazley, there’s an industry term for the sharp shooting pain you’ll experience whilst having in-the-chair whitening: ‘zing’. She also points out that you’ll need to be “on the ‘white diet’ for at least three days after the procedure, which means no coloured foods or drinks.

Dos and don’ts of teeth whitening

Do shop around for the best price. Beazley says she’s “always been amazed at the massive variances in price from dentist to dentist for the same product.”

Don’t have unrealistic expectations. Finkelstein says the public are “bombarded by images of celebrities with perfect white, straight, healthy teeth, however, they don’t realise that this is usually achieved by veneers, crowns and implants, not just teeth whitening.”

Don’t put up with sensitivity. Ask for tooth mousse from your dentist if you’re having UV / light treatment a week beforehand to prepare teeth for the procedure and reduce chances of sensitivity.

Do follow-up. Make sure you’re sent home with a follow-up at-home whitening treatment (at least three – five days worth, preferably with mouth guards) to ensure long-lasting results.

Don’t lie about your size. Make sure that the mouth guard trays fit tightly against your teeth if whitening at home. If saliva gets in and dilutes the solution, you could end up with uneven results.

Do check the ingredients. Make sure the whitening gel contains at least 7 – 9.5 per cent hydrogen peroxide or its equivalent, 20 – 28.5 per cent carbamide peroxide, to get optimal results quickly.

Don’t put up with nasties. Beazley recommends avoiding products that contains citric acid or phosphoric acid.

Do check to see where the product is made and the expiry date. Products shipped from overseas can get heat effected or be sitting in warehouses for long periods of time so the gel isn’t fresh.

Don’t use teeth whitening as a substitute for maintaining good dental hygiene. A regular six-monthly professional clean and check-up is still advised.

Image credit: Company

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