Updated: November 13, 2017
Tooth whitening can be a very effective way of lightening the natural color of your teeth without removing any of the tooth surface. It cannot make a complete color change, but it may lighten the existing shade. It helps to remove stains and discoloration.
Whitening is not a one-time procedure. It will need to be repeated from time to time if you want to maintain the brighter color.
Usually there are two types of whitening procedures.
Vital whitening is performed on teeth that have live nerves where as non-vital whitening is done on a tooth that has had root-canal treatment and no longer has a live nerve.
In this procedure a gel containing a form of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide is applied directly to the tooth surface. Your dentist will apply a substance that covers and protects the gums around the teeth before the whitening agent is be placed on the teeth.
A specialized light or laser can be used in-office whitening which activates the whitening gel and allows bleaching to happen faster. As the active ingredient is broken down, oxygen gets into the enamel on the teeth and the tooth color is made lighter. The procedure takes 30 to 90 minutes of 1 to 3 appointments. The number of sessions will depend upon the method used, how severe your stains are and how white you want your teeth to be as different types of stains respond differently to the treatment. If the teeth are badly discolored, the bleaching process should be continued at home for a few days or weeks.
For in-home whitening, your dentist will make custom mouthpieces to fit you by taking impressions of your upper and lower teeth. A close fit helps the whitening agent remain in contact with your teeth. At home, you will have to fill each mouthpiece with a whitening gel provided by you dentist and wear the mouthpiece for several hours every day.It may take a week or more to achieve the amount of whitening you want.
Over the counter whitening products are also available which contain a weaker whitening agent than the products you can get from your dentist. Therefore, whitening may take longer. The whitening agent can be applied as a gel placed in a mouthpiece or as a strip that sticks to your teeth. Over-the-counter mouthpieces fit less securely than the kind you get from your dentist.
Whitening toothpastes are also available which contain abrasives that remove stains on the enamel. Whitening toothpastes may also help the effect to last, once your teeth have been professionally whitened.
For a tooth that has had root-canal treatment as the stain is coming from the inside of the tooth, vital whitening may not improve the appearance of it. In this case non vital whitening can be used that whitens the tooth from the inside. Here, a whitening agent will be placed inside the tooth and a temporary filling will be put over it. The tooth will be like this for some days. This procedure can be repeated until the tooth reaches the desired shade.
Whitening is not a permanent solution and the stains can come back with in a month if you smoke or consume a lot of staining foods or drinks. If you avoid these sources of staining, it can last for 6 to 12 months.
Your teeth may become more sensitive for a short while after whitening or you may get mild gum irritation as well. In pregnancy women are not suggested to have their teeth whitened.
If you find that your gums are white or sore, follow up with your dentist.
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