Tooth whitening can be a very effective way of lightening the natural colour of your teeth without removing any of the tooth surface. It cannot make a complete colour change, but it may lighten the existing shade.
There are a number of reasons why you might get your teeth whitened. Everyone is different; and just as our hair and skin colour vary, so do our teeth. Very few people have brilliant-white teeth, and our teeth can also become more discoloured as we get older.
Your teeth can also be stained on the surface by food and drinks such as tea, coffee, red wine and blackcurrant. Smoking can also stain teeth.
'Calculus' or tartar can also affect the colour of your teeth. Some people may have staining under the surface, which can be caused by certain antibiotics or tiny cracks in the teeth which take up stains.
Professional bleaching is the most usual method of tooth whitening. Your dentist will be able to tell you if you are suitable for the treatment, and will supervise it if you are. First the dentist will put a rubber shield or a gel on your gums to protect them. They will then apply the whitening product to your teeth, using a specially made tray which fits into your mouth like a gum-shield.
The 'active ingredient' in the product is usually hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. As the active ingredient is broken down, oxygen gets into the enamel on the teeth and the tooth colour is made lighter.
The total treatment can usually be done within three to four weeks. First, you will need two or three visits to the dentist. Your dentist will need to make a mouthguard and will take impressions for this at the first appointment. Once your dentist has started the treatment, you will need to continue the treatment at home. This means regularly applying the whitening product over two to four weeks, for 30 minutes to one hour at a time.
However, there are now some new products which can be applied for up to eight hours at a time. This means you can get a satisfactory result in as little as one week.
There is now laser whitening or ‘power whitening'. 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.
You cannot get whitening treatments on the NHS. Private charges will vary from practice to practice and region to region. Laser or power whitening will be more expensive than professional bleaching. We recommend you get a written estimate of the cost before you start any treatment.