Everyone wants whiter teeth these days. A confident, dazzling smile makes you feel better about yourself while discoloured, unsightly teeth make you want to keep your lips tightly shut to hide the teeth behind them.
And it’s so easy to have your teeth whitened these days. It’s also quite safe, so long as important factors are assessed first. For some people, porcelain veneers are the best way to correct irregular or discoloured teeth (see below). But simple whitening, where possible, is a much less invasive (and inexpensive) procedure.
Healthy, white teeth for life
Dentists in Jersey now understand that the health of your gums is one of the most important factors for long term dental health. Many people have mild gum disease (gingivitis) without realising it. This can lead to gum recession and even loss of teeth in later life if not treated. This is usually as simple as a regular visit to the dental hygienist who removes the harmful deposits around the teeth and gums and advises on home maintenance to help reduce the need for treatment.
Early signs of gum disease include any bleeding from the gums when brushing, visible gum recession, swollen or “puffy” gums. This aspect of dental healthcare seems to be missing from some of the quick-fix smile makeover programmes seen on TV. Our message is: make sure your dentist checks your gum and mouth health and advises you about this before agreeing to any cosmetic dental treatment or procedure.
Have your teeth and gums checked before starting any tooth whitening
It is also important to check for any loss of tooth enamel through tooth wear or other damage before whitening to avoid tooth sensitivity. Existing dental work that will probably not respond to whitening should also be assessed.
In the past people have tried many different chemicals to whiten teeth with varying results. Most tooth whitening today is done with some form of hydrogen peroxide. Although this will not damage your teeth if used correctly, it is a potentially caustic chemical that needs careful handling.
Whitening gels with hydrogen peroxide are available in different strengths but remember, if it’s strong enough to whiten your teeth, it can cause damage if not properly supervised by a dentist.
And if it’s available outside of a dental surgery, it probably isn’t strong enough to whiten your teeth. Although there are products available over the counter such as “whitening toothpastes”, most people find the results disappointing.
Home Teeth Whitening – the simplest way to get a good result
To ensure the whitening gel stays in contact with the teeth long enough to take effect, the dentist makes customised, perfectly fitting “trays” to fit closely over your teeth. These trays are then used at home for one or two hours a day for about two weeks or until your teeth reach the required degree of whiteness. The trays will often last a few years so can be used repeatedly to “top up” the whitening if needed.
The whitening trays are made on plaster models of your teeth, which in turn are cast from impressions of the teeth and gums. It only takes a few minutes to take the impressions so the treatment involves minimal time with the dentist and this keeps costs to a minimum.
Tooth whitening gel is relatively inexpensive so you can always get a fresh supply to re-whiten teeth that have lost their sparkle.
Because porcelain is so hard and durable, it has proved an excellent material for repairing damaged teeth. By bonding a thin veneer of highly polished porcelain to the front teeth, badly discoloured or worn teeth can be restored and whitened at the same time. Care must be taken to match to teeth that will not be veneered and any existing crowns or bridges that cannot be whitened.
It can be tempting to opt for veneers as a “quick fix”. But remember this is an irreversible procedure that needs to be carefully planned alongside other possible options. Veneers usually involve preparing the teeth by filing the enamel. However, it is now possible to make veneers so thin that in some cases very little tooth preparation is needed.
With Cerec CAD-CAM technology, veneers can even be made in a single visit to the dentist without having to wait for a dental laboratory to return the finished work.
For more on veneers, crowns, bridges and implants go to our New Teeth page.