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4 Tips Before Getting Teeth Whitening

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a smiling woman points at her teeth that have been whitened

What You Should Know Before You Whiten

When your teeth look and feel their best, you feel more confident showing off your smile. So whether you’re considering booking a professional whitening with your dentist or purchasing an at-home kit, teeth whitening can brighten your smile.

While there are many ways to whiten your teeth, there are a few things you should know before you start.

What Causes Yellow Teeth?

There are many reasons why your teeth may appear yellow. Food and drink can significantly change the appearance of teeth over time, but so can aging, tobacco products, and certain medications. 

The natural colour of teeth varies, typically in shades of light greyish to yellowish. Therefore, a person may naturally have yellow-looking teeth. How you perceive the colour of your teeth is also severely impacted by skin tone and make-up.

The causes of yellow teeth are either extrinsic (external) or intrinsic (internal).

Extrinsic Discolouration

Extrinsic discolouration is when substances come into contact with your teeth and cause staining or yellowing. Food and beverages containing a high acidic content or strong pigmentation are the most likely to cause discolouration.

The condition of your teeth can also affect the colour. Enamel, the protective outer layer of a tooth, can wear or thin (enamel erosion), exposing the dentin layer. Dentin is the layer that gives teeth colour, whereas enamel is semi-translucent material. So when the enamel is thin, you can see the colour beneath more clearly.

Extrinsic discolouration causes surface stains and can be effectively treated with various methods, from whitening toothpaste to professional bleaching.

Intrinsic Discolouration

Intrinsic discolouring comes from within. It may be caused by tooth trauma, medications, illnesses, or aging. Patients may need bleaching to effectively whiten teeth because the discolouration is deeper than the surface level.

4 Tips Before You Start

Before you apply your at-home treatment or book an appointment, here are 4 teeth whitening tips you should know.

Clean Your Teeth First

Whitening works more effectively on clean teeth. Teeth with dental plaque or tartar may not whiten effectively. Dental plaque and tartar also cause tooth discolouration and damage, leading to future staining. Removing the buildup helps your teeth absorb the whitening treatment better and more evenly. 

Patients should schedule a dental cleaning before starting teeth whitening treatment. Daily brushing and floss can help you prevent plaque buildup so you can enjoy your whiter smile longer.

Tooth Sensitivity

Sensitivity is a common side effect of many teeth whitening procedures. Depending on the method, your gums or teeth may have heightened sensitivity for several days after your treatment. While hot and cold food sensitivity is common, patients may also experience sensitivity to sweet or acidic substances, brushing or flossing, and hot or cold air.

Patients who use at-home or professional bleaching methods may feel sensitivity because of the heat and chemicals used during the treatment. If you experience discomfort before or after your treatment, your dentist or doctor may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever.

Less abrasive methods, including whitening strips, chewing gum, or toothpaste, are less likely to increase sensitivity.

Patients prone to sensitivity might consider using desensitizing toothpaste for at least 2 weeks before whitening treatment.

Teeth & Restorations Resist Whitening

Many people have dental restorations, commonly because of cavities or tooth injuries. Unfortunately, whitening will not work on crowns, fillings, dentures, or veneers. An at-home bleaching kit may get your natural teeth to the shade you want, but there may be spots that don’t match.

When you achieve brighter natural teeth, you can choose to have your fillings or restorations replaced with a matching shade.

Some natural teeth may also resist whitening, such as teeth affected by medications or injury. As a result, patients may notice some teeth whiten more effectively than others. If there’s an exceptionally resistant tooth, your dentist may offer an alternative solution, such as veneers.

Whitening Timeframe

Regardless of the whitening method you choose, teeth whitening takes time. Some in-office procedures can help patients achieve same-day improvement. However, many still require multiple appointments to achieve the shade of white you want. Generally, at-home treatments take significantly longer than in-office methods.

The method also affects how long the look lasts. For example, at-home treatments may enhance brightness for 3–6 months. Professional whitening can last 2–3 years. In either case, whitening is not permanent.

Practicing dental hygiene and visiting your dentist for cleaning can extend the effect. Still, as you use your teeth every day, wear over time is natural. You may need a touch-up treatment every few months or every few years.

Professional vs. At-Home Whitening

Whitening processes and techniques are not equal. Unsurprisingly, whitening toothpaste doesn’t pack the same punch as professional whitening. Still, even less abrasive treatments can remove surface-level discolouration to brighten your smile. Of course, what works best for you depends on your comfort and smile goals.

Bleaching (peroxide) teeth whitening is available from your dentist or over-the-counter. At-home systems use less peroxide, typically between 3–20%. In-office or professional whitening methods contain 15–43% peroxide.

Bleaching the tooth can alter tooth colour so patients can achieve lighter, brighter shades. Lower concentrations are available over the counter as higher concentrations of peroxide can dehydrate the tooth and increase tooth sensitivity. Your dentist has more experience protecting your teeth and gums.

With in-office techniques, patients can achieve 3–4 shades lighter. Depending on the method and your shade goals, patients may need to come in for a single appointment or several.

The most common methods for at-home whitening include:

  • Home remedies
  • Tray-based bleaching systems
  • Whitening strips or gels
  • Whitening chewing gum
  • Whitening toothpaste

Over-the-counter, homemade, or natural teeth whitening methods take longer than professional methods. Toothpaste, strips, and natural remedies are surface whiteners—meaning they remove surface stains and are often less effective. 

a woman fills a tooth whitening tray with gel

Maintaining Your Results

Caring for your oral health is the best way to maintain your results. In addition to brushing and flossing daily to prevent staining, your dentist can remove the stubborn buildup your toothbrush can’t.

At Maplebrook Dental, we want you to enjoy your smile. We put your needs first and offer patients a comfortable experience with personalized solutions. Book an appointment to learn about our cosmetic options so your smile can look and feel its best.

Written by Fotini Molnar

Dr. Fotini Molnar started her dental experience working as a dental assistant in a co-op program during high school. She went on to complete her Bachelor of Science, majoring in biotechnology at York University and then obtained her Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree from the University of Toronto. Prior to her career in dentistry, Dr. Molnar researched neuroblastoma at Sick Kids Hospital.
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