Teeth Whitening

What Is It?

Tooth whitening lightens teeth and helps to remove stains and discoloration. Whitening is among the most popular cosmetic dental procedures because it can greatly improve how your teeth look. Most dentists perform tooth whitening.

Whitening is not a one-time procedure. It will need to be repeated from time to time if you want to maintain the brighter color.

The most common reasons for teeth to get yellow or stained are:

  • Using tobacco
  • Drinking dark-colored liquids such as coffee, cola, tea and red wine
  • Not taking good care of your teeth

Aging also makes teeth less bright as the enamel gets thinner and the dentin becomes darker.

It is also possible to have stains inside the tooth. These are called intrinsic stains. For example,tetracycline antibiotics. They can stain a child's teeth if taken by a mother during the second half of pregnancy or by a child who is 8 years old or younger. Teeth are still developing during these years. Trauma may also darken a tooth.

How It's Done

There are two main types of whitening procedures. Non-vital whitening is done on a tooth that has had root-canal treatment and no longer has a live nerve. Vital whitening is performed on teeth that have live nerves.

Non-Vital Whitening

Vital whitening may not improve the appearance of a tooth that has had root-canal treatment because the stain is coming from the inside of the tooth. If this is the case, your dentist will use a different procedure that whitens the tooth from the inside. He or she will place a whitening agent inside the tooth and put a temporary filling over it. The tooth will be left this way for several days. You may need this done only once, or it can be repeated until the tooth reaches the desired shade.

Vital Whitening

The most common type of vital tooth whitening uses a gel-like whitening solution that is applied directly to the tooth surface. This product contains some form of hydrogen peroxide.

Tooth whitening can be done in the dentist's office or at home. In-office (chairside) whitening allows your dentist to use a more powerful whitening gel. A specialized light or laser activates the gel and allows bleaching to happen faster.

Some whitening agents are activated by a laser light, special lights or by the heat from these lights. After the whitening agent is applied, the dentist will shine the light on your teeth. If your teeth are badly discolored, your dentist may suggest that you continue the bleaching process at home for a few days or weeks.

For in-home whitening, your dentist will take impressions of your upper and lower teeth and will make custom mouthpieces to fit you. The mouthpiece needs to fit well. A close fit helps the whitening agent remain in contact with your teeth.

At home, you will fill each mouthpiece with a whitening gel your dentist provides. You will wear the mouthpiece for several hours every day. Many people achieve the amount of whitening they want within a week or two. However, you may need to wear the mouthpiece for four weeks or longer.