Also known as tray whitening, this involves using a special kit at home. Before tooth whitening starts, your dentist will examine your teeth and mouth to make sure that everything is healthy. Provided there aren't any problems that need to be addressed first, your dentist will take impressions (ie a mould) of your teeth. The dentist sends these to a specialist dental laboratory, who make flexible dental trays with a tiny air gap to allow the whitening gel to spread evenly over your teeth. At the next appointment, your dentist will check that the trays are a good fit and will give you instruction in how to use them. The trays are usually worn at night while you are asleep. In the morning, you simply take them out and brush away the remaining gel.
You will first be booked for a consultation with the dentist who will need to assess your teeth to make sure that you are suitable for the treatment. The dentist may advise you to do an hygienist session before the procedure. Once it has been agreed, a whitening session usually takes about one hour. During this procedure a rubber dam is put over your teeth to protect the gums, and a bleaching product is painted onto your teeth. Then a light or laser is shone on the teeth to activate the chemical. The light speeds up the reaction of the whitening product and the colour change can be achieved more quickly. Laser whitening is said to make teeth up to five or six shades lighter. Several whitening sessions may be required, depending on your teeth.
Many people like to whiten their teeth because it gives them a more youthful appearance: dark, discoloured teeth can be very unappealing. It often makes a tremendous difference to how your mouth looks - many patients feel it makes them look five to ten years younger. It is also essential to consider tooth whitening whenever you are having a new crown, filling, veneer, denture or inlay. This is because teeth can be whitened but crowns, inlays, etc cannot. If you have new crowns and then later decide you' d like whiter teeth you may need to have the crowns remade (at considerable expense) just to match your new tooth shade.
This depends on the colour they were to begin with and why they have darkened: the degree of colour change varies from person to person. Teeth have natural colour variations - a bit like the natural variations in the shade of people's skin or hair. If your teeth are naturally darker in colour, they won't necessarily reach the brightest white shade. There is a limit to just how much you can whiten a tooth. Teeth that are naturally very white but have been stained by smoking, drinking red wine, tea, coffee, etc, are likely to whiten quite easily and to achieve a very bright white. Your dentist can give you a better idea of the likely shade change at your dental examination.
For take-home kits: usually between 7 and 20 days. In-surgery tooth whitening usually takes about an hour per session - but if your teeth are very dark and you want a lot of colour change, you may need to use a take-home kit after (in addition to) the in-surgery whitening.
This is determined by several factors - eg how often you visit the hygienist, how well you clean your teeth, smoking, drinking tea, coffee or red wine, etc. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn't need to have your teeth whitened again for a couple of years - and possibly a lot longer.
It is quite common for people to experience some sensitivity for a few days during or after tooth whitening. This can be reduced by applying toothpaste for sensitive teeth or special desensitising agents.
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Whitening toothpastes can remove some superficial staining from the surface of teeth, but they do not really alter the fundamental shade of the tooth beneath. If you want to really brighten your teeth, the only effective way to do it is by using a dentist-supervised (take-home kit) or dentist-applied (in-surgery) tooth whitening system. Crowns and veneers can also change the appearance of teeth, but they require a quantity of tooth to be removed in the preparation process. Modern preventive dentistry is all about preserving healthy tooth tissue, so crowns and veneers aren't the preferred treatment option if all that is required is a colour change.