Okay, this is probably at the bottom of the list of all of the fears associated with dentistry.
Hopefully, this will reduce your confusion on the whole topic by the end of this piece.
Whitening products work by cleaning out debris embedded in the enamel rods of the teeth. The best active ingredients are peroxides, which are biocompatible and the same in proper concentrations in various environments.
We’ll start with the easiest.
Whitening toothpaste, rinses, gums, and Eastern chants don’t do anything. They don’t have active ingredients that can maintain effective concentrations long enough to give any benefit. If they started with a high enough active ingredient, they would be dangerous since they can’t be contained and kept off the soft tissues.
Charcoal kinds of toothpaste come under the same category. The American Dental Association has not found evidence that charcoal toothpaste is safe or effective. It may harm the teeth and gums. Charcoal toothpaste is advertised as a whitening agent that can remove particles from the teeth, but this is a misleading claim.
White stripes and paint-on gels are the easiest products to use that can have a whitening effect on teeth. It’s hit or miss. Individual results may vary. They are inexpensive and an OK place to start. But, we’ve found they’ve routinely left people wanting better results.
The traditional way of professionally whitening teeth is custom-made trays and a bleaching gel. The trays must be custom made for two reasons.
Stuff in and stuff out!
If the trays don’t fit well, saliva can seep into the gel and disarm it. It’s what saliva does. It has buffers that very quickly neutralize substances so they can’t harm the body and can be ingested. As I said above, a system must deliver an active ingredient for an adequate period at an effective concentration. This is a roadblock for products you buy and try to fit the trays yourself.
Stuff out? Well, if the product leaks out, it can’t work. It would leak out and burn the gums if they make it strong, so no manufacturer does this.
Custom-made trays have been the backbone of whitening for 40 years, but it is still hit-or-miss. It’s more predictable than the previous products. However, it is still the most frustrating procedure to predict. As a result, it is still limited in the level of results it can offer.
Typically, one would wear the trays for 45 minutes during the day or overnight for a couple of weeks. However, I’ve read studies where they had a person wear the trays and whiten their teeth every day for a YEAR! There was no deleterious effect found on the teeth or soft tissues. Still, they were left with diminishing returns in the process.
So, yes, it’s safe but limited in the degree to which it can whiten the teeth.
Right around the new millennium, Bright Smile and Zoom came out with their In-Office systems.
The early iterations of these systems had very strong gels that would go directly on the teeth we isolated to protect the soft tissues. Then came the incantations and chants in the form of a very bright light that would shine on the teeth.
The light was soon to be found to be in the voodoo-dentistry bin. The lights did help get the teeth lighter but only based on the merits of dehydrating the teeth. After a day or two, scientific studies found the results were identical whether or not a light was used. Still, the teeth that were subjected to light were crazy sensitive—couple this with the minor burns that come from the strong light. We were more than happy to kick our two lights to the curb and use the gel.
The In-Office whitening systems are fantastic!
We can finally whiten teeth with some level of predictability of a jump of 8 or 9 shades on a standard shade guide.
The process is we isolated the teeth and put protective lotions and barriers on the soft tissues. Then we can apply a powerful peroxide on the teeth for several minutes, rinse and repeat three times. The whole shebang takes about an hour.
We decided long ago that we were not happy just being one of the private dental offices that brought this first to the Main Line and Bryn Mawr, but that we want to make sure that we do it the most effectively.
Our protocol starts with an In-Office ZOOM! Treatment. We will give the patients some take-home gel and custom-made trays for them to use for two weeks. We cap it off with another ZOOM! Treatment in the office.
We find that the results are gained in equal thirds during each process.
This has been really satisfying for our patients and us.
A consensus of studies has concluded that the smile is the top feature we all use to determine attractiveness. Furthermore, this is one of the fastest, easiest and least expensive things one can do to make a profound effect on their appearance.
My plastic surgeon friends used to get steamed looking at Extreme Makeover because we could do our work quickly, inexpensively without pain or healing periods.
There are still a couple of things left note.
Drawbacks to Teeth whitening
Some people have had sensitivity when whitening their teeth. We can’t always predict who or how intense the sensitivity will be, but it has always been for just a short period.
It’s certainly a minority, but it may be a consideration.
We’ve learned to be very cautious about starting treatment with people with sensitive teeth. There are special products we can use, and they are limited in their total effect. Still, they can be a reasonable solution for many people that have sensitive teeth but want to have a little more POP!
One last product I would be remiss in mentioning is Opalescence GO!
It is a kit with 10 preloaded pairs of disposable trays that one would wear over ten days for about 30 minutes each.
It can offer results comparable to or better than the custom tray techniques. I have mixed results with this product and feel the need to mention it, but I am reluctant to endorse it.
I hope this answers any questions you might have had.
Please visit our Rosemont dental office, Dillon Family Dentistry, if you still have any questions about whitening or any other aspect of dentistry. We are here for you.610-525-5497
Dr. David M Dillon, DMD
Dr. Dillon is a 3rd generation dentist, his family has been serving the Bryn Mawr area in dentistry for over 50 years.