Teeth whitening can give you a brighter smile in just minutes. You can receive teeth whitening treatments at the dentist, or use do-it-yourself systems to brighten your teeth at home, overnight, or even on the go.
Over time, tooth enamel tends to lose its natural gleam and grow darker and more yellow. This discoloration can be caused by frequent consumption of dark food and drinks (such as coffee, red wine, or dark chocolate), lifestyle (such as smoking or taking certain medications), or age.
Teeth whitening can be accomplished through many different methods:
– In-office dental teeth whitening takes just an hour or less, and can brighten teeth by several shades in one visit. The dentist applies a bleaching agent to the teeth, then activates it with light, heat, or a laser. This method produces quick, dramatic results, but it can be costly at $500 – $700 per visit.
– Zoom! is a patented in-office tooth whitening system that combines hydrogen peroxide gel with UV lamp light to achieve deeper whitening. Patients undergo 3 – 4 15-minute UV sessions during a single treatment, lightening the teeth by 8 shades or more.
– Professional take-home whitening kits are also sold at dentists’ offices. These typically consist of a whitening gel and a custom-fitted tray that resembles a mouth guard. The patient fills the tray with the gel as instructed, and wears the tray over their teeth for several hours or overnight. At $100 – $400 per tray, this method is more affordable than in-office whitening for patients who need several treatments.
– Over-the-counter teeth whitening treatments, including whitening strips, gels, toothpastes, and rinses typically cost between $20 and $100. They do not produce dramatic results like in-office whitening or take-home trays, but they can brighten teeth over time. They can also be used as maintenance treatments to prolong the effects of professional whitening.
As a side note, the terms “teeth whitening” and “teeth bleaching” used to be interchangeable. Then the American Dental Association ruled that “bleaching” can only be used to describe products which contain bleach and have the potential to make teeth whiter than their natural shade. “Whitening” can be used to describe products which remove stains and restore the color of the teeth, with or without bleach.
There are some notable side effects associated with all teeth whitening treatments. Patients commonly complain of increased sensitivity to heat, cold, and acidic foods. This sensitivity usually lasts for 1 – 2 days, but overuse of at-home products can result in more pain for a longer period of time. In-office tooth whitening frequently causes throbbing or shooting pain for several hours following treatment, though this can be controlled with pain medication.
Teeth with cavities or missing tooth enamel should not be whitened. The best candidates for tooth whitening have strong, healthy teeth that just need some brightening. People with very thin tooth enamel (translucent teeth) will not benefit much from tooth whitening treatments, and should investigate other options like veneers.
Finally, those with existing dental crowns or bonding should note that these structures won’t whiten along with natural tooth enamel. This can leave the patient with teeth of different colors. If you choose to whiten your teeth, you should consider having your previous dental work replaced to match your new smile.
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