Professional teeth whitening vs. home treatments
Teeth whitening is one of the most common cosmetic dentistry procedures performed in the UK today, and involves using bleach, lasers or abrasive powders to clean and lighten teeth. No teeth whitening treatment, whether over-the-counter or performed by a dentist, can turn teeth bright white, but a professional treatment can remove stains and considerably lighten teeth, by up to several shades. Beware of misleading ‘before and after’ pictures which have been digitally altered, as they promote an unrealistic idea of the colour change and brightness that can be achieved.
Buy or DIY?
You can whiten your teeth at home using chemicals bought at a high-street pharmacy, visit a beauty salon, or make an appointment with your dentist. However, as teeth whitening is a form of dentistry, it is always best to go to a dentist, hygienist or other dental professional: you don’t know what qualifications someone at a beauty salon has, and illegal cosmetic teeth whitening might have unwanted side effects, such as damaging your tooth enamel and endangering your oral health.
Some DIY tooth whitening kits can also be risky: make sure you know exactly what chemicals you’re using, do a spot test for allergies and follow the instructions. Ill-fitting mouthguards might lead to chemical burns on your gums, although it is more common when using home kits to simply find that the compounds are much too weak to make any difference to the shade of your teeth. If you’re not sure, consult your dentist or consider a more mild version, such as a mildly abrasive whitening toothpaste. Bear in mind that home whitening may take weeks or months of repeat treatment, while your cosmetic dentist will be able to achieve results straight away, using either a bleaching treatment or a laser.
When you ask your dentist about tooth whitening, he or she will be able to tell you what results to expect, and how long the treatment will take. If you’re having your teeth bleached, you’ll have to go back several times: once to get a custom mouthguard made, and again to follow up and be taught how to apply the bleaching gel. You’ll take your mouthguard away and treat your teeth yourself at home for several weeks, usually in periods of two-to-four hours at a time. Laser treatment is quicker, which might be why it is sometimes called ‘power-whitening’, and should take no more than an hour. When you have laser treatment, your dentist will paint your teeth with a special compound which will only bleach your teeth when ‘activated’ by a very focused laser shone directly on your teeth.
Call in the professionals
For the best results, make sure you have your teeth whitened by a dental professional registered with the General Dental Council or GDC: their list is available online, so remember to check before you make an appointment. Remember that not everyone is a good candidate for teeth whitening: if you have crowns, veneers, or suffer from gum disease your dentist will probably advise against it. Whitening can also increase tooth sensitivity, so if your teeth are already sensitive it may not be appropriate.
The author is a health and wellness blogger who writes about spirituality and beauty on a budget. She visits the City Centre Dental Practice website for facts, figures and photos of the perfect smile.