1st January 2021
Have you always wanted to try teeth whitening but not sure what to expect? Well, you’re not alone. Here are the top 5 things to know before jumping into the beauty wagon.

How does teeth whitening work? Will it harm your teeth?

Unlike common beliefs, teeth whitening does not make the enamel thinner and is not harmful to your teeth! The main active ingredient in tooth whitening material is a chemical called hydrogen peroxide/urea peroxide. During oxidation, hydrogen peroxide breaks up and releases free radicals to break down stains on your teeth into smaller molecules. These molecules have higher surface area to reflect more light, making your teeth brighter.

Why are my teeth stained? Is whitening effective?

Depends on the underlying cause, tooth discolorations can be improved by teeth whitening or other alternatives.
Intrinsic staining is incorporated in the tooth while it’s still developing or has already erupted into mouth. This kind of staining is more difficult to be treated via whitening alone.

If your teeth appear white and chalky, you might have a condition called fluorosis due to excessive fluoride ingestion. This condition can be treated by whitening, ICON resin infiltration, micro/macro abrasion, or veneers according to severity.

Multi-coloured/two-toned teeth, for example tetracycline staining (or similar) due to medications, are unfortunately very hard to be whitened.
Extrinsic staining is relatively easier to be removed. It involves food particles which bind to the layer of plaque on your teeth surface and through microscopic cracks and fissures.

You’ve probably known that certain food and beverages such as coffee, tea, and artificial colour -containing food can stain your teeth. If you’re a smoker, it’s not surprising that tobacco stains can jeopardise your bright smile.

Teeth whitening, especially chairside teeth whitening is usually more effective against mild-moderate extrinsic staining than products available over-the-counter. Consult a dentist to find out if you’re a suitable candidate!

Can I Do Whitening At Home?

You can, but chairside/in-office whitening will definitely be more effective than home whitening kit. This is due to the much higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide (20 to 35%) that is only allowed to be applied by dental professionals. The whitening effect can last up to 3 years if you take the necessary precautions such as avoiding exposure to tobacco, coffee or tea.
If you prefer to do it at home in your own comfort, you should consult a dentist prior to starting the procedures. Then, you can get the pre-fabricated/ custom-made tray and apply the whitening gel according to instructions. The process usually takes 1 to 2 hours (some products can be left overnight) and can be repeated until the desired shade is achieved. The downside of this method is that it is time-consuming and may take up to a week to notice the results.

In comparison to at-home whitening, teeth whitening done by the dental professionals is more efficient. This is because it takes only about 15 minutes of application and the process can be repeated until you’re satisfied. The results will be obvious within 1 hour.

ANY type of teeth whitening products are best advised to be used ONLY after consulting a dentist. This is to ensure that the product is safe-to-use and the procedure is well-monitored by professionals.

How long does it last?

It is normal that the whitening results would regress somewhat in their shading after treatment. This is natural and should be very gradual but it can be accelerated by exposing the teeth to various staining agents.

If you want your teeth to stay bright longer, you should avoid these: coffee, teas, and colas, ALL tobacco products, mustard or ketchup, red wine, and any food/beverages with colourings. Wearing a take-home tray as maintenance or using whitening toothpaste is recommended too.

What are the side effects of teeth whitening?

One of the most common complaints after whitening is teeth sensitivity. In fact, 75% of the patients have encountered sensitivity to varying degrees, especially when the teeth are in contact with cold beverages.

However, the sensitivity is transient and may only last up to 3 days. It will not cause any serious harm to the pulp (which contains nerve endings). You can avoid this through anti-sensitivity toothpaste which contains potassium nitrate and sodium fluoride.

Gum irritations may happen if the whitening gel seeps through it. But the effect will resolve itself within 3 hours. In general, chairside teeth whitening products are approved by the Ministry of Health and safe to be applied every 6 to 12 months.
Flaunt your perfect smile after getting your teeth whitened! :)
The Author
Dr. Heng Zi Qian, BDS (UKM) is a board certified general dentist with special interest in Orthodontics and Children Dentistry. She graduated as Top Overall Academic Achiever with Distinction Awards at the National University of Malaysia. She served the government sector in Seberang Perai Selatan and completed her general practice training in the Penang General Hospital. Being experienced in both public and private dental clinics, she is known to be a dentist who emphasizes on details and patient care. She is currently practicing at Q & M Dental (Sri Petaling).
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