What is tooth whitening? Everything you need to know

Dental aesthetics plays a very important role in today's society, so dental treatments whose main purpose is to improve aesthetics have become a trend nowadays.

In the field of aesthetic dentistry, tooth whitening is one of the most popular aesthetic procedures today, as it is one of the dental treatments with the greatest visual effect.

In this article we will answer some of the most common questions related to tooth whitening.

What is tooth whitening?

We can define the dental whitening as the process that aims to eliminate dental stains that are lodged in the enamel as well as to achieve a whiter and brighter smile.

Today we have at our disposal a wide variety of techniques dedicated to dental whitening, so each patient can choose the technique that best suits their needs, being of vital importance that any process is carried out by a specialist.

The most common and safest tooth whitening is carried out in a dental office.

It consists of applying a whitening gel to the surface of the tooth (usually hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide). An LED or laser light is then used to activate the gel and allows the whitening agent to act more quickly.

But before discussing the types of procedures, it is important to know what factors determine the natural colour of teeth.

What determines the natural colour of our teeth?

If we look at it from the inside out, the teeth themselves are made of "dentine", a substance that is the second hardest in the body and constitutes the major part of the tooth tissue, at the root level it is covered by cementum and at the crown of the tooth it is covered by enamel. Its natural colour is yellowish.

The tooth enamel is the most resistant tissue of the body and covers the dentine in its visible part in the crown, it is mainly composed of minerals, it is of a pale yellow or greyish white colour, depending on its thickness and quality it will let the dentine show more or less, therefore the colour of the teeth depends on the quality of these 2 elements, we should also take into account the genetic factor that would determine the shade variations between different individuals.

Types of tooth whitening

There is a diversity of teeth whitening methods, but what they all share in common, as well as their objective, is the action they exert on the teeth, which in most cases consists of wearing away part of the tooth enamel in order to reduce the natural shade and provide a whiter and brighter colour.

This means that, tooth whitening is a purely aesthetic procedure.If there are no real health reasons for whitening, there are contraindications for it.

However, if applied correctly by a professional, the risk is minimised and complications are avoided.

What are the most common techniques?

Whitening at home

Its name only refers to the place where it is applied, but this does not imply that it can be done without the prescription and follow-up of a dentist.

For this type of tooth whitening there are usually two options, the first is for the dentist to provide the patient with the necessary product to carry out the treatment at home.

The first thing that is done is to produce splints according to the patient's teeth, for which impressions are taken. A whitening gel is applied inside the splints, which must also be provided by the dentist. These are placed for a period of time of approximately 6 or 8 hours a day, for at least one month.

The advantage of this method is that the patient can choose the time of their convenience to use the splints, thus avoiding discomfort with their daily routine. It is also more economical because it does not require constant medical assistance, thus reducing the cost of fees.

The second option is to purchase a tooth whitening kit online.

Although some of the kits on the market today are internationally certified, we do not recommend this option, as without the supervision of a dentist there is a risk of side effects such as tooth sensitivity or damage to the natural enamel of your teeth.

Whitening with a dentist (Safer method)

This is carried out in the dentist's office by qualified personnel. Here, a special highly concentrated gel is applied to the teeth, much more than those used at home, and the effect is enhanced by the controlled application of a LED light.

This method is usually quite quick, about an hour, and results are visible from the first session.

How long does tooth whitening treatment last?

The duration of the treatment will depend on the needs of each patient, who will require between 1 and 3 sessions (lasting between 30 and 90 minutes each) to achieve the expected results.

It is important to note that the results vary for each patient, due to different factors such as oral hygiene, type of teeth, and of course the level of colouring they have when they come to the consultation, in some cases it is necessary to carry out more than one session.

If you have doubts about whether to have your dental treatment at home or with a dentist, we recommend you to go to a professional who will evaluate the best treatments according to your dental needs.

We recommend you to read:

Do I have my teeth whitened at home or at the dentist?

While the above two are the most common, there are other types of teeth whitening:

  • Mixed whitening: is a combination of the 2 previous ones, the procedure is performed at home and then the effects are enhanced in the consultation room by treatment with LED lights, the result is as expected, doubly effective in whitening teeth.
  • Internal whitening: this is used in the case of teeth that have turned a dark colour after having undergone endodontic treatment. The aim here is to restore the natural colour of the tooth, either one or several teeth, so that it is in accordance with the rest of the dentition, several sessions are required. A gel is placed on the inside of the tooth and is left to act until the discolouration problem is reversed.
  • Outpatient whitening: Another of the alternatives that are currently in greatest demand and, in this case, the treatment is carried out at home and is supervised by a specialist. To carry out this process it is necessary to take the measurements of the patient's arch and a custom-made splint is designed, where the whitening gel will be inserted. The patient must wear the splint for several hours a day in order to whiten the teeth.
  • Whitening of non-vital teeth: When we talk about whitening we tend to think that it only serves to remove stains that are lodged in the enamel, however there is the possibility of a tooth having stains inside the tooth, this being a situation that mainly affects those teeth that no longer have a nerve after an orthodontic process. Through the whitening of non-vital teeth we can enjoy a significant improvement in dental aesthetics, which is why it is a highly demanded option by patients. In this case, the whitening agent is inserted inside the tooth (which must remain for a few days) and a temporary filling is placed. One of the particularities of whitening non-vital teeth is that the whitening agent must be changed until the patient's desired shade is achieved.

Side effects of tooth whitening

As with the vast majority of dental treatments, there are a number of side effects that can occur after a whitening process.

It is important to clarify that the effects are mild and temporary, except in cases where the patient uses all kinds of methods of dubious origin and quality, where the effects could be much more serious.

Dental sensitivity:

  • Tooth sensitivity is the most common side effect of tooth whitening and is caused by the penetration of the whitening agent into the dentine. This is a very common situation and will subside spontaneously in a few days.
  • Gum irritation: Gum irritation is another of the adverse effects of a whitening process, a situation that is caused by the action of the whitening agent on the soft tissue. As with tooth sensitivity, gum irritation will disappear naturally as the days go by.

In conclusion, tooth whitening is a simple and painless process that has become one of the most demanded treatments nowadays, offering a significant improvement in the patient's dental aesthetics.