“Whitening is probably the most common cosmetic dental procedure done in the United States,” says Thomas Teel, DDS, who has been whitening teeth for 25 years. Nationally known for his expertise in cosmetic dentistry, Teel says that in addition to being an effective procedure that doesn’t harm teeth, whitening has no long-lasting side effects.
“It can improve the appearance of someone’s smile, and lift a person’s self-esteem,” he says. “Compared to other cosmetic dental procedures, it is very affordable.”
While consumers can choose between various whitening products and procedures, such as using whitening strips or applying whitening solutions to their teeth, over-the-counter products are not as concentrated as those used in a dental office and therefore take longer to work.
“It takes longer to see results using these products and people often stop using them before getting the full benefits,” Teel points out. “People who get decent results with a white strip bleaching product are really diligent about using the strips.”
Toothpastes that claim to whiten teeth don’t work, says Teel. “Toothpastes can remove stains, but they are not in contact with your teeth long enough to create a whitening effect. There really isn’t a whitening toothpaste that works better than another. In any whitening product, the active ingredient is some form of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). Trays and strips hold the chemical in place so that the oxidizing can work.”
Whitening procedures done in the dental office provide more predictable results as well as a team of knowledgeable dental professionals to answer questions.
“Initially, dentists used H2O2 with heat to whiten teeth in the office, but other more effective procedures have evolved,” he says. “Custom trays are fabricated to perfectly fit a person’s teeth; and can therefore hold the whitening product in place long enough for its oxidizing properties to work.”
This procedure, he explains, has been used for at least 20 years. The professional-strength gel is distributed at the dental office and people use the customized trays at home.
Several factors contribute to the overall effectiveness of any whitening procedure, such as the color of the teeth at the start of the process and how well an individual’s enamel absorbs the gel. In as little as two weeks, people may see a whitening effect.
In-office whitening involves using a different formulation of the gel and a special light to whiten teeth in one visit.
“We do that for people who seek convenience; ones who don’t want to mess around with trays or people who know they won’t follow through on using the trays at home,” he says. “But the in-office procedure is more costly because you’re sitting in the dentist’s chair for a couple of hours.”
Teel is excited about Kör, a breakthrough whitening product that is especially effective on very dark teeth.
“In the past, applying a costly porcelain veneer was the only solution for people who had stains from using tetracycline or who had intensely yellow or brown teeth. Now we have another option.”
The Kör technique includes using a customized whitening tray at home followed by a special gel that is applied in-office. The dentist can’t predict how long an individual’s teeth will take to absorb the whitening product. Teel says that patients have to be dedicated to following through on the process, but once they see how quickly the whitening takes place, they have no trouble sticking with the treatment.
“These are people who previously had no solution other than spending thousands of dollars on a cosmetic procedure,” Teel says.
No matter what procedure a person chooses, maintaining the effect of the whitening will require periodic touch-ups using the trays and gel, Teel says. Frequency will also depend on a person’s habits. Those who use tobacco or consume products such as dark coffee, red wine and colas may want to use the whitening trays more often than others.
“You need to have an examination before you do any whitening,” advises Dr. Teel. “If you have a cavity, for instance, you’ll have heightened sensitivity to the gel. Ask your dentist if you are a suitable candidate.”
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