Changing our smile to feel good about ourselves, or to be perceived differently by others, is socially accepted today. The current trend is to choose the least invasive dental treatment, minimise risks and if possible, keep our natural smile. This can explain why teeth-whitening has become so popular; the treatment offers a more attractive smile with minimal risks and contributes to higher self-esteem.

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Teeth-whitening - also known as teeth-bleaching - is a common dental treatment. Despite that it is called bleaching, bleach is not used during the procedure. Recommended whitening agents usually contain hydrogen peroxide and are safe to use if current guidelines are followed. Learn more about why teeth change colour, the most common whitening methods and the side-effects of teeth-whitening.

Teeth discolouration 

Teeth discolouration is a natural process that gradually occurs over time. External discolouration affects the outside of the tooth, and internal discolouration comes from the inside. Smoking, coffee and tea can cause external discolouration. It can be managed with good oral hygiene routines but are best removed by a dental professional, using special instruments and polish paste. Internal discolouration is usually a combination of the natural thickening of the dentin (the internal tooth structure), which is yellow in colour, and thinning of the enamel through normal wear.

Whitening methods

Many over-the-counter products advertise whiter teeth. Whitening toothpaste, mouthwashes, generic tray systems and whitening strips are some of them. Many of these contain a low concentration of hydrogen peroxide, and studies show that although these products have a limited whitening result, they can sometimes be effective on external discolouration. Be careful with whitening toothpaste that contains abrasive ingredients, since it can permanently damage the enamel.

In the dental practice, the most common treatment is home-whitening. Impressions of your teeth are taken, and customised trays are made. After that, whitening gel is applied in the trays. You wear them either during the day or the night for 2-6 weeks. There is also chairside whitening, where the whitening is carried out in the dental practice over one or several sessions. The third technique, non-vital whitening, is used on teeth with root canals . These three treatments use hydrogen peroxide gel as a base. The dental professional decides which treatment is suitable depending on individual preferences and why the teeth are discoloured.

Common side-effects of whitening

A high concentration of hydrogen peroxide does not give a better result; it can reduce the treatment time but also has a higher risk of side-effects. Common side-effects are teeth sensitivity or sore gums, during and after the whitening treatment. Sore gums are usually caused by an ill-fitting tray or leakage of whitening gel. These side-effects tend to subside after treatment, but a toothpaste for sensitive teeth can be used during and after the treatment to minimise tooth sensitivity.

 Treatment result

Be aware that whitening treatment does not change the colour of fillings, crowns and veneers. These needs to be identified before the treatment, in order to avoid differently coloured teeth and unnecessary replacement. The whitening result is individual and depends on the origin and severity of the discolouration. Whitening is not a permanent treatment and how long it lasts is also individual, but two years is a fair expectation from a completed home whitening treatment.

Always consult a dental professional before starting a teeth-whitening, regardless of the method. You must be healthy and free from caries (cavities) and periodontal disease (gum disease). Whitening treatment is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

A whiter smile can have a positive effect on a social level and from an oral health perspective. You may experience a boosted confidence and a tendency of keeping up your oral hygiene routines after a whitening treatment. However, all dental treatments have risks, and whitening is not for everyone. Remember that the foundation of oral health is a good oral hygiene routine and that a healthy smile is not measured by the colour of your teeth.