If you think about the job of our teeth, the first thought is usually that they’re responsible for helping us to chew our food. However, teeth are also important for our speech and articulation of words, and also for non-verbal communication. The most common time we show our teeth is when we’re happy and smiling. Rightly or wrongly, many people can be self-conscious about the appearance or colour of their teeth, which sometimes makes an impact on their self-confidence when smiling.

There is a huge natural variation in the colour of teeth and some teeth that are yellow or relatively dark in colour, are actually very healthy. We tell our patients, that it’s not for anyone else to tell you how you should look.

Some people have conditions that have caused an interference in how the tooth is formed or how it reflects light, leading to the appearance of distinct discolouration. Other people just notice a gradual darkening over time. Some people live with these issues without concern, but if you are worried about the appearance of your teeth, with the products and equipment now available, it’s usually something we can modify.

We should say from the outset that we’re not on board with the concerning trend for unattainably ‘fridge-white’ teeth. But bringing your teeth back to their natural best is something we can and do help with regularly.

We get asked on a daily basis about tooth whitening, so below are the top 5 questions and answers.

1. Does tooth whitening cause damage?

This is definitely the most common question, and the short answer is no. However, like any medical procedure, it has risks and sometimes unanticipated side effects. The main risks of whitening, especially if unsupervised or provided by people without training, is damage to the gums. They can easily be burned by whitening gels if not applied properly. The other common side effect we see is sensitivity. Whitening products work by breaking up the tiny stain molecules that are embedded in the surface of your tooth, and when these stain molecules are removed the tooth becomes a little more susceptible to temperature. It’s similar to using an exfoliating scrub on your face and removing oil and dirt from your pores. For this reason, we use different whitening systems based on individual history and current conditions, so it’s important if you’re going to whiten your teeth that you are doing it properly.

2. Do whitening toothpastes actually work?

Whitening toothpastes can definitely work to a degree, but long-term use is not recommended. Most whitening toothpastes work because they’re more abrasive. An analogy for this is that it’s like doing the dishes with a sponge versus a scourer. So for obvious surface stain from smoking, coffee, red wine, whitening tooth pastes will certainly help. However, with long-term use, these products can have an effect on wearing your natural tooth structure away. This can eventually lead to tooth sensitivity and can end up making teeth actually appear more yellow as the enamel layer thins out.

3. Will whitening work for me?

Whitening results depend on a number of things, but for most people it will provide a noticeable lightening of the teeth. One important detail about tooth whitening is that it’s really about stain removal. Which means that whatever colour your teeth naturally are determines how white they will go after bleaching. Some people naturally have thin and translucent enamel, whereas some people have thick, milky white enamel — so the actual results are always specific to the individual.

The other thing to consider is that in general, crowns and fillings won’t bleach, so this is a really important detail to work out prior to undertaking tooth whitening. Just because you have a crown or filling on a front tooth doesn’t mean you definitely can’t bleach, but it does mean that careful planning and discussion about the process and outcomes is essential.

4. Why are my teeth stained in the first place?

Unless you only eat mashed potato and drink only water or milk, chances are you’ve probably consumed something that can stain your teeth. Common tooth staining comes from tea, coffee, red wine and smoking — but anything that would leave a stain on a white t-shirt can leave a stain on your teeth, and over time it all adds up. If you consider an average consumption of two coffees a day, this adds up to 7,300 coffees in 10 years!

5. What are the types of professional tooth whitening?

When we’re helping patients to whiten their teeth, we’ll usually do it one of two ways. The first is in-chair whitening, which takes around 90-minutes. We use a higher concentration whitening agent under close supervision, and from this approach we can usually make the teeth as white as they’ll go in one or two visits.

The alternative to in-chair whitening is at home bleaching, where we make you a small, customised mini mouth guard device called a bleaching tray, and you apply a lower concentrating whitening agent at home either for a couple of hours at a time, or overnight. This will usually take a week or two of ‘bleaching sessions’ to reach a satisfactory result.

Take home whitening has a lower fee, however it requires more time and discipline to achieve the same results. We also take into consideration the health of the teeth and any past sensitivity to determine what might be the most appropriate approach.

So those are the top 5 questions we’re asked about tooth whitening and we should stress that because everyone’s mouth is different, it is essential to discuss your individual situation with your dentist prior to going ahead with a whitening treatment. Even if it’s just a new whitening toothpaste you’re considering, we always want to make sure it’s going to be a safe approach and minimise the risk of unintended consequences.

If you would like to discuss teeth whitening book a consultation with Dr Kate Amos or Dr Sam Rosehill at Ethical Dental on 6652 3185 or book online.

To learn more about tooth whitening check out our article ‘Did you know… Wearing a blue toned lipstick will make your teeth look whiter?

We hope this article helps you to keep smiling!