Tooth whitening has become one of the most popular dental procedures around, largely thanks to endorsements by Instagram influencers and other celebrity social media posts. But dentists are warning that if the procedures are undertaken without the supervision of a dental professional then they can be ineffective or damaging to the teeth.
Dr Tim Burton, a Health Partners dentist says there are different ways to whiten teeth, but that the different treatment options all come with some associated risks.
“The most important first step when looking to whiten your teeth is to see your dentist,” Dr Burton says. “Before undergoing any tooth whitening procedure you must have a healthy mouth, as the risks of tooth whitening can be exacerbated by existing problems such as tooth decay or gum disease. Different types of staining and discolouration require different solutions so once you have been properly diagnosed, then we can talk through the treatment options.”
Dr Burton advises as we age our teeth will naturally yellow, but that there are also things that we consume that can stain our teeth.
“There are two different categories of tooth staining,” Dr Burton says. “One is staining on the outside of the tooth (the enamel) that can be caused by smoking or drinking tea, coffee and red wine. The other is intrinsic staining, which is discolouration within the tooth itself that can be caused by aging, medications or previous damage to the tooth.”
Having your teeth professionally cleaned and polished at the dentist can remove surface staining and leave your teeth looking whiter. Some whitening toothpastes that remove these stains are actually abrasive and can wear away the tooth enamel to cause sensitivity. Worn enamel can also make your teeth look more yellow as it exposes the yellowish dentine underneath.
Products such as those containing hydrogen peroxide act to lighten the actual tooth structure. If you have this procedure done at the dentist, they will begin by making an impression of your teeth and manufacturing custom trays to hold the whitening agent onto the tooth’s surface.
“At home whitening trays are ‘one-size-fits-all’ and a poor fit may mean there are areas of your teeth that don’t connect with the whitening agent properly, or that the gel spills over burning your gums,” Dr Burton warns. “Some whitening kits contain a much higher level of peroxide than is recommended and that can cause damage to your teeth. If you use a whitening kit which is too strong, or if you use them too frequently, then you can actually stain your teeth to a grey colour, and that can be irreversible.”
Conversely, Dr Burton points out that some teeth whitening products and peroxide toothpastes that you can purchase outside of the dentist are not strong enough to actually do anything.
“By accessing these types of products online or from beauty retailers, there are increased risks of the products being used incorrectly or causing other problems,” Dr Burton says, “and that can lead to more trouble than they are worth.”
Regular visits to your dentist are important for oral health, so next time you are there, talk to your dentist about your desire for whiter teeth. They can then assess the situation and offer you the best type of treatment for your needs.
To find your nearest Health Partners Dental provider click here.
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