So you want to know about teeth whitening? What option will be best for your teeth? Does teeth whitening actually work? Is teeth whitening painful?
Oh man… There’s so many questions. Luckily, if you continue reading, you’ll find the answers to these questions and more!
Why do my teeth become yellow?
For all us mortals, teeth yellowing unfortunately is a normal part of aging. Our hair turns grey, our skin gets wrinkles and our teeth turn yellow.
To be more specific, it’s the inner part of the tooth called dentine—not the outer enamel—that yellows. As the dentin darkens over time and the enamel gets thinner because it wears down e.g. from grinding your teeth or dental erosion, your teeth become more yellow.
And of course, staining from the foods and drinks we eat/drink everyday also doesn’t help.
How does teeth whitening work?
To find out what whitening option will work most effectively for you, we need to understand how teeth whitening actually works. So, there are 2 ways in which teeth whiten.
This process removes external staining on your enamel from things like coffee, tea, wine or tobacco and is done by, well, using any products that cause abrasion to the teeth e.g. whitening toothpaste, sodium bicarbonate paste (NOT recommended – Read on to find out why)
This process whitens the inner part of the tooth (dentine). Whitening gel (that contains either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) lightens the dentine of the tooth, NOT the hard, outer enamel. When the dentine is whitened, the colour that’s shown through the outer enamel of your teeth is lighter, making them look whiter.
Know that no amount of whitening or charcoal toothpaste, scrubbing or cool looking light devices can lighten the colour of your dentine (looking at you HiSmile. Watch Dr Grant’s review on whether or not HiSmile actually works here)
This means that even after polishing all of the external stains away, IF your dentine has yellowed, you’ll need to whiten your teeth using a whitening gel in order for your teeth to appear white. There’s no other way around it.
So what are my options?
Whitening toothpastes contain mild concentration of peroxide as well as extra polishing or chemical agents e.g. sodium bicarbonate that can help remove surface stains.
Pros: Cheap, easy to use, works to a certain degree (depending on your expectations), best for surface stains
Cons: Only removes surface stains, abrasive ingredients can cause tooth sensitivity, wears down enamel and lead to gum recession
Because of the potential for harm, we advise you use whitening toothpastes sparingly and under the supervision of your dentist. Most whitening toothpastes can only get your teeth about one shade lighter.
Whitening strips are small pieces of a flexible plastic coated with a whitening gel that contains hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide (bleaching agents).
Pros: Readily available, easy to use, cheap, somewhat effective at whitening teeth
Cons: They can give uneven results, since strips are two dimensional, they don’t get into the curves in between teeth, and if you have crooked teeth, even results will be even harder to achieve, and because these strips aren’t custom-fit, the bleach can come into contact with your gums and cause irritation.
Also, if you have undiagnosed tooth decay/cavities, the bleach can cause excruciating pain which is why it’s so important to always seek professional opinion from the dentist before whitening your teeth.
For the system Dr. Grant uses, you’ll come into the dental surgery for about an hour and a half. Dr. Grant will protect your lips and gums with cotton and resin before applying a highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide gel (37.5%) on to your teeth for 4 x 8 minutes. We also make custom-trays for you to “top-up” the results at home as an added bonus!
One thing to note, you may have seen posts on Instagram or Facebook about in chair whitening with a cool looking blue light which supposedly “accelerates” the whitening process. Don’t fall for it! Studies have shown that the use of the light doesn’t enhance the whitening effect or even accelerate it.
Pros: It’s fast and very effective, in-chair whitening can lighten your teeth up to 8 shades whiter, depending on how yellow your teeth are to begin with, and results can last up to 2 years!
Cons: It can be a little bit uncomfortable and you might experience ‘zingy’ sensations during the procedure and afterwards for up to 48 hours, and it’s the most expensive option.
The combination of in-chair whitening with take home custom-trays gives you the best results, in the shortest time.
Take home custom-made whitening trays:
Take home whitening involves flexible plastic trays custom-made by Dr. Grant after taking impressions of your teeth. The fitted trays keep the whitening gel (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) in place, surrounds all of the three-dimensional surfaces of the teeth, and gives excellent results.
Pros: If used correctly as directed, it’s almost always pain-free and you’ll get the best results in the most cost-effective way (same results as in-chair whitening), with results lasting up to 2 years!
Cons: It usually takes 2 weeks of daily use for one hour each day to achieve maximum results, but you can easily do this while watching your favourite show on Netflix of browsing insta…
One of the best features of this option is that you can “top-up” the results. All you have to do is buy more of the gel from your dentist and you can do it every 6 months if you’d like.
Or, if you purchase Lifetime Whitening at Method Dental, you’ll get a FREE tube of 3ml gel (5 days worth of treatment) every time you come back for your scheduled check-up and clean appointment! This means white and healthy teeth FOREVER!
With so many choices, which whitening system should I use?
To get the most out of teeth whitening, ask yourself these questions first:
How white do I want my teeth to be?
Professional grade whitening gel used with custom-made trays available only at the dentist or in-chair teeth whitening give the best results, while whitening toothpaste and other over-the-counter products may only lighten teeth by 1 shade. Some people want “Hollywood” white teeth – but these “extremely white” teeth that celebrities have, are usually veneers.
What’s my budget?
A take home whitening kit (whitening gel + custom-made trays) from Method Dental costs $299 but will give the best results often with no pain or sensitivity if used correctly. Meanwhile, over-the-counter products will offer a slight improvement but costs $10 to $100, depending on what you buy.
How much time am I willing to commit to the process?
An in-office whitening treatment takes about an hour and a half but can be slightly uncomfortable, not only during the procedure but afterwards. The take home whitening kit provided by the dentist takes up to 2 weeks to complete the treatment, with application every day for around an hour.
Should I speak to a dentist before committing to teeth whitening?
What most people don’t realise before jumping in is this: because you’re dealing with live tissue (unlike hair or nails), regardless of whether the product is over-the-counter or professional grade, teeth whitening can cause damage, pain, and sensitivity if not done correctly and safely under the supervision of a dentist.
Not only that, there are certain dental or medical conditions that can worsen with whitening. Whitening your teeth when you have gum disease, exposed roots, decay, gum recession, or other untreated issues can cause further pain and problems. And if there’s old fillings or decayed teeth that won’t whiten, you’ll have wasted your money too. An ethical dentist will tell you this and not prescribe whitening without fixing those problems first. This is why before you get any form of whitening done by the dentist, an examination is always performed to make sure you have no nasties hiding.
So, really, which one should I choose?
That’s up to you! Hopefully, answering the questions above will help you to arrive at the decision that’s right for you, but always check with your dentist first.
Finally, will whitening treatments damage my teeth?
The short answer is NO. If used correctly and as directed by the dentist, there’s no reason why the whitening gel will damage or weaken your teeth in any way. Long-term, extensive use without supervision can have damaging effects, so always talk to your dentist about your plans for whitening your teeth, even if you are buying over-the-counter products.
Dr. Grant can help assess your teeth, diagnose the reason for discolouration and recommend the best treatment for you.
And remember, no matter where or how you whiten your teeth, it won’t last forever. Most results last from 6 months up to 2 years, but it all depends on your diet and how well you care for your teeth. This is exactly why LIFETIME WHITENING at Method Dental exists!
Dr. Grant McGrath BDSc
Jasmine Ooi BPharm