Teeth are often stained from smoking, food, drink (coffee, tea, red wine), or poor oral hygiene. This is the most common cause of an unattractive smile. Tooth whitening aims to restore the whiteness to natural tooth enamel to give you a more youthful smile.
Whitening the teeth is a very successful and easy way of eliminating most external and some internal stains from your teeth without causing any damage. This can be achieved with either an in-office procedure done by your dentist, or by using a custom-made home system. While in-office whitening is considered to be much quicker and more effective, many appreciate at-home whitening for its ease of use and lower cost.
What is tooth whitening?
Tooth whitening is the cornerstone of modern cosmetic dentistry. It allows everyone the opportunity to simply and cost effectively attain a brighter, younger looking smile. The long and the short of it is that teeth whitening works. Most of us start out with sparkling white teeth, thanks to the tooth’s porcelain-like enamel surface. Over the years enamel is worn down, becoming more transparent and permitting the yellow colour of dentin — the tooth’s core material - to show through, giving the teeth a darker appearance. It has also been shown that during routine chewing, millions of micro-cracks occur in the enamel. It is these cracks, as well as the spaces between the enamel’s crystalline structures, that gradually fill up with stains and debris. As a result, the teeth eventually develop a darker, lacklustre appearance.
Teeth whitening removes the stains and debris, leaving the enamel cracks open and exposed. Some of the cracks are quickly re-mineralized by saliva, while others are filled up again with organic debris.
There are currently two professionally controlled procedures available to suit both your lifestyle and your pocket:
- In-Office Whitening
With in-office whitening you can achieve significant colour change in a matter of hours. This procedure involves the carefully controlled use of a relatively high-concentration peroxide gel, applied to the teeth by the dentist or trained professional after the gums have been protected with a paint-on barrier. Generally, the peroxide remains on the teeth for several 15 to 20 minute intervals that add up to an hour (at the most). Those with particularly stubborn staining may be advised to return for one or more additional bleaching sessions, or may be asked to continue with a take-home whitening system. You can expect to pay R4000 – R6000 for the procedure.
- Take-home whitening kits
Many dentists are of the opinion that professionally dispensed take-home whitening kits can produce the best results over the long haul. Take-home kits incorporate an easy-to-use lower concentration peroxide gel that remains on the teeth for an hour or longer (sometimes overnight). The lower the peroxide percentage, the longer it may safely remain on the teeth. The gel is applied to the teeth using custom-made bleaching trays that look like mouth guards. This is repeated daily for a period of two or more weeks, or until you have achieved the whiteness you desire. You can expect to pay R2000 – R3000 for the kit and follow-up visits.
Following the completion of your whitening procedure, it is normal to experience a slight degree of relapse within the first 24-48 hours. Also, through the normal staining of daily eating and drinking, you may experience a gradual shade relapse. This will depend on how often you have coffee, red wine, tobacco, or other staining foods and drinks. This can generally be managed by using a maintenance program at home. This may include repeating the use of your special trays along with whitening gels or whitening toothpaste.
There are some risks and limitations associated with bleaching procedures. Fortunately the problems experienced are very uncommon and usually minor in nature. Some things to be aware of:
- Tooth sensitivity – During the whitening procedure some people might experience tooth sensitivity. This sensitivity is usually mild and typically does not last. If the discomfort persists, a mild pain killer like Myprodol is usually effective.
- Gum Irritation - Temporary inflammation of the gums and other soft tissue can occur during your whitening. This is generally the result of the whitening gel coming in to contact with the gums. The irritation it is generally short-lived and disappears as soon as the gel is removed. A mouth rinse can be useful.
- Existing fillings and other restorations – Tooth coloured fillings, crowns or veneers, will not whiten during this procedure. Please be aware that dental restorations such as these might need to be replaced if you feel they do not match your new, whiter smile.