Regardless of how well you care for your teeth, it is inevitable that, over time, some yellowing or discoloration will occur. This gradual change can be caused by aging, substances that stain your teeth (such as coffee, tea, red wine, or tobacco), excessive fluoride, or the deterioration of a tooth’s nerve. A tooth whitening treatment can be performed either as an at-home, dentist-supervised process, or in the dentist’s chair. While neither of these methods stops future discoloration, these treatments bring about whiter teeth and help create a more vibrant smile.
The most popular method of whitening teeth is the at-home, dentist supervised option. During your visit to the dentist, he or she takes a mold of your teeth and creates a comfortable, customized mouth tray. The mouth tray is filled with a solution whose main ingredient is generally carbamide peroxide, a substance that reacts with water to release a non-toxic bleaching element (hydrogen peroxide). The mouth tray ideally only covers the teeth avoiding contact with the gums. Patients either wear the mouth tray throughout the night or for stretches that last from two or four hours verging with the strength of the bleaching solution. When the mouth tray is worn throughout the night, results are seen sooner. Patients with more sensitive teeth may opt for the slower approach, and results show in 3 to 5 weeks.
The alternative method for whitening is a procedure performed at the dentist’s office. This treatment generally involves coating the teeth with a paste-like form of carbomide peroxide and activating it with light or heat. Recently some in-office techniques have been effective without light or heat. This technique generally takes one hour in the dental chair and often involves no further at-home treatment. While more convenient than take-home treatment, it is expensive and the results are immediate.
When using the at-home treatment, patient’s teeth may feel a heightened, but temporary, sensitivity. The gums may also feel more sensitive or burn slightly. Not all people experience the quality of whiteness they had hoped for on their first treatment and they may require a “touch-up” treatment. Whitening treatments begin to fade in one to four years. It should be noted that tooth whitening treatments have no effect on the artificial materials used for bonds, veneers, or capped teeth.