How Does Teeth Whitening Work?

Many people, for several reasons, choose to have their teeth whitened. The natural colour of teeth is not brilliant white, and issues such as staining through eating, drinking and smoking can cause teeth to discolour.

The process of teeth whitening is not a complex one and it is widely available.  Most methods of teeth whitening involve bleaching the teeth to turn them a lighter shade, sometimes quite dramatically so. Mild bleaching processes can be used at home, but the most effective methods are performed by dental health professionals.

The process involves first taking action to prevent damage to the gums and this is done by fitting a shield, usually of rubber, over them. A protective gel is sometimes used instead. Some studies have suggested that teeth whitening processes can cause temporary sensitivity, but dentists will take precautions to limit this.

The bleaching agent, usually carbamide or hydrogen peroxide, is placed in a type of tray that then fits over the teeth. The bleaching agent dissolves and releases oxygen into the enamel of the teeth, causing a whitening effect. This is achieved as the bleaching agent attacks the organic molecules in the enamel of the teeth. It is those molecules that cause the teeth to become discoloured, and as their colour is lightened so too is that of the teeth.

The amount of time it takes to achieve teeth whitening through a bleaching process will vary depending upon the degree of whitening that is desired. For teeth that are discoloured at the surface level this can take as little as thirty minutes to sixty minutes. This process can make teeth up to as much as ten shades whiter, but some patients may need several treatments to achieve the effect they desire.

In some procedures, a dental health professional will apply the bleaching agent and use a concentrated light source, such as a laser, to promote and increase the whitening process. Another procedure involves the dentist providing a purpose-made tray that the patient takes home together with a prescribed whitening agent that is applied in the home environment.

Teeth whitening procedures are available over the counter for home use, but it should be remembered that these will involve less concentrated bleaching agents. The risks are lower, so the process does not require administration by a dental health professional.

As with any issue related to health, it is always advisable to seek the advice of a dental health professional when considering having teeth whitened.