By Dr Sarah Cranwell
Everyone wants to make the most of their Smile. These days a lot of people are enhancing their look by whitening their teeth, but with so many different whitening products and procedures available it can be hard to know which is best for your individual situation. Before you decide to whiten your teeth, you will need to make an appointment with your dentist. They will conduct a thorough examination to check the overall health of your teeth. To get the most of your whitening, your dentist will also determine what has caused your teeth to discolour. This will dictate which treatment will suit you best.
What causes teeth to discolour?
Natural ageing process: Teeth naturally yellow and darken with age. The whiter looking enamel on the outer surface of teeth tends to thin over time, and as a result the darker dentine layer underneath begins to show through. This results in an overall darker looking tooth.
Surface staining: Heavily pigmented foods and drinks can stain the surface of our teeth. Smoking, wine, tea and coffee are the usual culprits.
Trauma: If you have had trauma to one or more of your teeth, they may have taken on a greyish hue. This darkness comes from within the tooth, and isn’t limited to the surface.
What can I do to lighten my teeth?
Teeth that have discoloured due to a natural aging process tend to respond best to tooth whitening. Since the issue is not restricted to the surface of the tooth, regular whitening toothpastes are unlikely to work.
Often surface stains can be removed by a professional scale and clean with your dentist. Whitening toothpastes are not recommended for regular use because the abrasive nature of the paste may actually darken teeth prematurely, as it removes the lighter looking surface enamel. Not to mention the sensitivity that can come from prematurely stripping the precious enamel!
If you have had trauma to any of your teeth, these can usually be lightened with bleaching, or perhaps treated with a crown or veneer.
Sometimes tooth whitening isn’t enough to adequately lighten teeth. If this is the case, you and your dentist may consider placing Veneers.
Veneers are a thin facing made of porcelain or composite resin that is bonded to the front of your teeth. In addition to brightening your smile, veneers can also close small spaces, and correct some malalignment in your teeth. If you think you may be considering veneers, it would be best to make an appointment with your dentist. They can examine and assess your mouth, to tailor make a treatment plan that best suits your individual situation.
What does tooth whitening involve?
Your dentist will take moulds of your teeth to create a set of whitening trays. These are custom fitted to your mouth. Your dentist will teach you how to place the hydrogen peroxide inside these trays, so you can apply it yourself when you’re home. Most whitening regimes involve wearing the trays in your mouth for around 30mins a day, for 2-3 weeks, although some do involve overnight wear. Your teeth will gradually lighten over a few weeks. Over time, your teeth will begin to darken again, but don’t panic, usually a few days of touch up whitening every few years is sufficient to keep your smile looking bright!
If you have any fillings, veneers or crowns, tooth whitening wont lighten them. You may need to change any darker looking fillings over to a lighter colour once you have finished your tooth whitening.
Are there any side effects to tooth whitening?
Some patients notice an increase in cold sensitivity while they’re tooth whitening. Usually this resolves itself after completion of treatment. Your dentist may suggest that you swap to a sensitive toothpaste while you’re whitening your teeth.