Teeth Whitening

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Facial expressions are a large part of body language, and, like it or not, people judge you by your smile. An attractive smile can take you a long way. So what happens when your pearly whites aren't so pearly and white anymore? After years of eating, smoking, drinking coffee, wine or teas, teeth can lose their brilliance.

Your dentist has a variety of methods for restoring a bright white smile, including porcelain veneers, composite bonding, implants, and whitening, also known as bleaching. However, of all the advances made in dentistry to enhance the appearance of the teeth, whitening is the easiest and least invasive, and effective for three out of four cases. The procedure is safe, easy to use, and more affordable than ever before. Because of these reasons and more, whitening has become very popular.


*The 2011 average cost of Teeth Whitening treatment is $400 .

*There are three major teeth whitening options available today: In-Office Whitening, Take-Home Whitening Kits, and Over-the-Counter Teeth Whitening.

Teeth Whitening, also known as tooth bleaching, is a type of treatment with short-term results.









  1. How does teeth whitening work?
  2. How are the treatments performed?
  3. In-office whitening procedures:
  4. Take-home whitening:
  5. How much pain is there?
  6. What can I expect after teeth whitening?
  7. Ideal candidate:
  8. Alternatives:
  9. Risks and Limiations:


How does teeth whitening work?

Based on your desired outcome and the dentist's recommendation, the most appropriate method of teeth whitening will be chosen. In-office treatments include bleaching with the use of an ultra-voilet light. The bleaching gel is usually hydrogen or carbamide peroxide that breaks down into oxygen molecules. These molecules go into the tiny pores of the enamel and dentin, and break up the stains that block out the light. As the stains are broken into smaller and smaller pieces, more light passes through the teeth and makes them look lighter. Stains that are accumulated over time that are yellow to slightly brown produce the best results. Teeth that are dark brown to blue-gray are the most difficult to bleach because the stain is deeply embedded into the tooth's structure. These types of stains are usually caused by medications taken during the development of the teeth such as tetracycline, and can take a minimum of three weeks to see results, and as much as six months for complete results.

Depending on the bleaching gel used and the length of time it is worn, results can be seen within an hour, overnight, or within three to four days. Complete results can be achieved in as little as a week or as much as several months depending on the source of the stain and the ability of the teeth or tooth to be bleached. The whitening procedure results may last for up to three years -- even longer in some cases, depending on personal habits. To brighten the color back up, a simple process of bleaching for one or two nights with a single syringe is usually sufficient.

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How are the treatments performed?

There are three types of bleaching procedures to choose from. Two of them are performed in the dentist's office, and the third is a take-home, self-administered treatment.

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In-office whitening procedures:

Laser and Power Bleaching: a dentist begins by applying a protective material to your gums and lips in order to isolate the teeth. A special bleaching solution – usually containing hydrogen peroxide - is applied to the teeth. A high intensity light or laser is directed at the teeth and activates the bleaching agent, causing the gel to release the oxygen molecules. Treatments for both power and laser bleaching can take as little as 45 minutes, but usually last somewhere between one and two hours.

These techniques work great for a single discolored tooth as well. If the tooth has become dark due to trauma but has not had a root canal, the bleaching solution is placed on the outside of the tooth. If the tooth has had a root canal, the solution can be placed on the outside as well as the inside of the tooth. Leaving a bleaching solution inside the tooth and sealing the opening is referred to as "walking bleach." The solution inside the tooth for a walking bleach is changed about once a week. Results can take several weeks but nothing has to be worn in the mouth.

Cosmetic Dentistry Treatments: Some patients may also wish to ask their dental provider if they are better suited for porcelain veneers or dental bondin in order to achieve a whiter smile. However, it is important to note that these procedures may require  multiple visits to achieve optimal results.

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Take-home whitening:

Customized Trays: Home bleaching is performed at home, under the indirect supervision of a dentist. At the first appointment, the dentist takes impressions of the patient's teeth and then creates a perfectly fitted mouthpiece. This mouthpiece will allow the patient to apply a bleaching solution to the teeth while protecting the rest of the mouth from contact with the bleaching chemicals.

The concentration of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide in the gel is not as strong as that used in power or laser bleaching procedures. No strong light source or laser is needed to activate the bleaching agent. Instead, it is contact with something organic, in this case the teeth, that causes the gel to release oxygen. In most cases, home bleaching can take from one to three weeks to achieve maximum results. During this time, the dentist may want to check the progress of the treatment.

Over-the-Counter: In addition, patients have found over-the-counter blreaching products to be of help when cost may be an issue. However, it is advised that you check with your dental professional before beginning to use any of these treatments in order to ensure that your are in top oral health.

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How much pain is there?

The amount of discomfort experienced varies from person to person, and depends on the method used. Most adults usually experience little if any discomfort; however, the discomfort should subside within 24 hours. If needed, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory may help. If the discomfort lasts for more than two to three days, consult your dentist for more options.

Decreasing the sensitivity may be as easy as placing a gel fluoride, under your dentist's instruction, in your bleaching tray for an hour or so. Other materials may be used to address the sensitivity you may experience. Check with your dentist for the best options for your paticular needs.

You should discuss your goals, budget, and pain tolerance with your dentist in order to help him/her determine the procedure, or combination of procedures, that will produce the best results for you.

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What can I expect after teeth whitening?

The results of teeth whitening are somewhat variable, but most people are happy with the results. After any bleaching treatment, patients should avoid foods that stain the teeth, such as tobacco and red wine, for about a week. Keeping teeth clean with flossing and brushing can maintain whiteness. Tooth bleaching lasts, on average, about one to three years. If you are not a regular tobacco user, and do not eat many foods that are known to stain teeth, bleaching may last even longer.

Decalcified spots are white spots, bacteria not removed from the teeth frequently by brushing affects the calcium in the enamel. These spots appear chalky white and are difficult to treat with just bleaching. Your dentist may recommend a procedure called microabrasion. This procedure can be done by itself or in conjunction with bleaching. The microabrasion material is much like the paste used to clean and polish teeth. The paste consists of an abrasive combined with a hydrochloric acid used to "polish" out the white or brown spots. The procedure can be performed usually in one office visit and can be done without anesthesia.

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Ideal candidate:

In general, the best candidates for tooth bleaching are:

  • Mature enough to fully understand the procedure
  • Experiencing stained and marked teeth
  • Knowledgeable about the procedure
  • Wanting to improve their appearance and/or comfort
  • Realistic in their expectations

The above is only a partial list of the criteria that your dentist will consider in determining whether or not this procedure is appropriate for you. Be sure to ask your dentist if he / she considers you an ideal candidate for this procedure.

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In addition to laser, power, and home bleaching, there are over-the-counter home bleaching kits available in pharmacies and supermarkets. While these products are growing in popularity, some dentists do not recommend using them because of the increased risks. They are not as effective, and can be damaging to the gum tissue and enamel. A dentist-supervised system is backed by many safety tests and provides the patient with assurance if questions or problems arise.

Patients interested in whitening their teeth should consult a dentist before taking on any form of treatment whatsoever. A consultation with an experienced dentist will help you understand the benefits and risks associated with each of the options.

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Risks and Limiations:

Bleaching can produce side effects ranging from increased tooth sensitivity to pain and tenderness in the gums, tongue, and other soft tissues. There is also a possibility of over-bleaching. The result will be a translucency that may appear gray from the shadows of the mouth. There is a very low percentage of this occuring, and only if the bleaching process is over-extended. Having a dentist suppervise the process can eliminate this risk.

With home bleaching, there is a small risk of ingesting the gel administered by the dentist. The chances of this occurring are relatively small since your bleaching tray should fit almost perfectly around your teeth. However, if the gel is ingested, it may result in nausea, vomiting, or burning. Under these circumstances, you should contact a doctor immediately.

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The information on this web site is only intended as an introduction to this procedure and should not be used to determine whether you will have the procedure performed nor as a guarantee of the result. The best method of determining your options is to consult qualified surgeons who are able to answer specific questions related to your situation.

*Disclaimer: Source:, Most surgeons offer convenient payments plans for this procedure. Cost does not include anesthesia, operating room facility, hospital stay, and other related expenses. Costs may vary depending the extensiveness of the procedure, location, and other factors. Costs are provided solely for research purposes. For specific estimates, please contact a qualified plastic surgeon.

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