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Whiten your teeth

Updated on January 15, 2008

whitening your teeth


Should I whiten my teeth is a question I'm asked frequently as a dental hygienist. Yes, you will look better, younger, and sexier. There are several reasons to bleach or whiten. External stains caused from smoking, dark liquids, plaque buildup and even excessive swimming are on the outside of the tooth. Internal stains are caused by the same things, as well as aging, medications and other factors. These can only be whitened by bleaching agents. However, crowns and fillings cannot be whitened, so it's usually best to whiten teeth to the desired color then correct and match any dental work needed. Yellow teeth will brighten up best; while teeth with a grayish tinge take longer and may not correct to the desired whiteness. It's best to have your teeth cleaned by a hygienist before starting since adding acidic chemicals to decayed teeth is not a wise choice. Your dentist can help you with this decision.

Over the counter products range from gels and toothpastes to band-aid like strips applied to your teeth and one size fit all trays filled with gel. Toothpastes and gels work slower but can affect external and internal stains differently. Some slow stain from adhering to the teeth keeping the teeth whiter externally, or they bleach using a weaker strength of the professional kind. The strips cover the anterior teeth and need to be placed carefully on the crowns of the teeth. They tend to slide off on the gums causing pain and tenderness to exposed roots as well. Generic trays don't fit properly with gels leaking out.

Professional whitening of the teeth can be done by several methods. The tray method takes an impression of your teeth and makes an exact plaster replica. A vacuum-melt process over this replica makes a perfect fitting light weight plastic tray for your teeth. Whitening gel is added to the tray and worn for one to three hours. Talking, sipping water with a straw but no eating, can be done comfortably wearing the trays. Advantages are:

1. Whitening can be done in 2 weekends;

2. You do your own touch ups at home, controlling the length of time, and thus the sensitivity level of your teeth afterwards.

3. Replacement gel can be purchased from a dentist and touch ups done anytime; ie: before the hot date, the company party, the holiday pictures; but usually once a month.

Disadvantages are:

1. trays last several years, but have to be replaced if a crown or major filling work is done or the tray is damaged or lost.

The laser whitening method is done at the dental office. The patient is draped in a chair, and their mouth is rubber-damned with a plastic fitting covering the soft tissues leaving only the teeth exposed. A light activating gel is applied to the teeth and a petroleum type salve to the gums. Special glasses to protect the eyes from the light are worn. The patient remains in the chair during this process which can take an hour or longer.

Advantages are:

1. The whitening is done in one or two treatments,

2. All work and mess is handled by the dentist,

3. You leave the office with brighter teeth.

Disadvantages are:

1. A higher probability of sensitivity can occur due to the intensity of the laser and many people are unable to return for the second treatment.

2. Any touch ups must be done in a dental office each time you wish to brighten your teeth,

3. This process is usually more expensive.

Finally, whitening of the teeth is rarely covered by insurance and once Mom's are done, Dad and the kids follow. It can be an expensive indulgence. But the final result is teeth that are brighter, making you appear younger, especially in photos. Friends and co-workers notice and comment on your beautiful teeth, and well, who wouldn't want that?


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