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Teeth Whitening (Bleaching)

Technically, 'tooth whitening', restores natural tooth colour and 'bleaching', whitens beyond the natural colour. However these terms are used interchangeably and require the same procedure to be performed.

You've got two options for bleaching your teeth:

  • in-office bleaching (which is done by a professional dentist)
  • at-home bleaching.
Both tooth-whitening options use peroxide-based bleaching agents. At-home systems contain 3-15% peroxide, whereas in-office systems contain up to 30-45% peroxide.

Though bleaching is meant for whitening your teeth, the paradox here is that overuse or over bleaching can cause more stains and can also dull the surface of teeth/crowns /veneers, thus giving you a lacklustre smile.

Generally, the longer you keep a stronger solution on your teeth, the whiter your teeth become. However, the higher the percentage of peroxide in the whitening solution, the shorter the time for which it should be applied to the teeth, else it will dehydrate the teeth , increase sensitivity and cause dullness.

Whether or not you decide to whiten your teeth, keep in mind that good daily oral health habits like brushing, flossing and cleanings go far in keeping your smile bright and healthy.

The In-Office Teeth Whitening Procedure

While details may vary, a fairly standard routine is followed. Typically, the steps involved are not painful or uncomfortable; in fact, many patients doze off during the procedure.

  • A cheek retractor is inserted into the mouth, exposing all the "aesthetic zone" .
  • A rubber dam is placed or hardening resin is painted onto the gum tissue to protect against any irritation caused by the bleaching gel.
  • A bleaching gel containing hydrogen peroxide is applied to the teeth (aesthetic zone) and kept on for approximately 15 to 30 minutes.
  • The bleaching gel is suctioned or washed off, and fresh gel is applied for one or more additional periods of 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Some whitening treatments incorporate an intense light that is focused on the teeth and is said to activate or enhance the bleaching process. Opinions vary as to whether this light improves the bleaching outcome.
  • Between gel applications, the teeth are checked to see how well they have whitened, and whether more bleach needs to be applied.
  • After the final gel application, the cheek retractors are removed, the patient rinses and the immediate post-treatment shade change is measured. The teeth may whiten by as few as two to three shades or as many as eight (out of a total of 16).

Part of the whitening effect is due to dehydration during the bleaching process, which makes the teeth look whiter than their true new color. The new ‘true’ color will emerge after a couple of days.

If a satisfactory level of whitening hasn't been achieved, follow-up in-office bleaching at a future date, and/or a regimen of take-home bleaching trays are advised.