Teeth Whitening, the Fastest and Healthiest Way to a Brighter Smile

A Conversation with Cosmetic Dentist Dr. Kelly Wang

Teeth whitening is the fastest and most economical way to enhance your smile.  Numerous studies have shown that smiling creates an immediate, subconscious, and visual impact on people you meet.  A brighter smile gives the impression of youth, vitality, health, happiness, and warmth.  According to AACD's survey over 1,000 adults, when asked what they would like to improve the most about their smile, >90% wished for a whiter and brighter teeth.  If you are not happy with your smile, teeth whitening may be a good first step.

Why isn't my Teeth White Enough?  Why is it Discolored?

Deciduous (baby/milk) teeth are typically whiter than adult teeth. This is partly why white teeth make people appear more youthful.  The causes of darkened teeth include genetics, antibiotics, and certain foods, and as we age, our adult teeth tend to become darker, yellower, or stained. But the most common factors of tooth discoloration (yellowing/browning) are external, mainly from smoking, foods with tannins, coffee, tea, dark vegetables and fruits, and alcohol.

Benefits of Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening is one of the most common cosmetic dental treatments requested by patients. People with whiter, brighter smiles tend to smile more and feel better about their overall appearance. Dentists can help patients achieve a whiter smile that looks natural, enhancing their overall facial aesthetics. A simple, minimally invasive cosmetic procedure, teeth whitening can help patients look and feel more youthful. Ask your cosmetic dentist about teeth whitening options for a more confident and beautiful smile.

Types of Teeth Whitening

The two most common whitening options are in-office treatment and DIY over-the-counter products. Professional teeth whitening administered by dentists offer effective and much safer results. Medically sourced teeth whitening gels are designed to minimize side effects like tooth sensitivity and unnecessary chemical exposure that are often associated with over-the-counter whitening products. Your dentist will work with you to build a treatment plan that will effectively address your dental concerns and meet your cosmetic goals.

Professional In-Office Teeth Whitening

Professional teeth whitening in a dental office is the preferred whitening method because even though stronger agents are applied, the rest of the mouth, including the gums, is protected from these materials.  In-Office whitening systems feature a buffer in the gel that protects the tooth enamel from damage, are extremely effective, and can transform teeth in a single office visit.  Your teeth can brighten up multiple shades in about an hour.

Over-The-Counter Teeth Whitening Products

Over-the-counter teeth whitening products have become popular, mainly because they are relatively cheap and easy to use.  There are a number of OTC teeth whitening methods that can be purchased without your dentist’s supervision.  These include whitening strips, paint-on tooth gel, mouth trays with gel, whitening toothpaste, and even whitening chewing gum.  These are generally safe products, but if you have any oral concerns, it is best to ask your dentist if these products are safe to use.  While OTC teeth whitening products are available, dentist-supervised In-Office teeth whitening remains the safest and most effective method.  This is because OTC teeth whitening trays often do not fit the patient’s mouth properly.  Ill-fitting trays may cause the teeth whitening gel to leak, which can result in gum irritation and a less effective treatment.  Additionally, OTC whitening gels and toothpastes only clean surface stains and don’t actually change the color of the teeth.  With OTC whitening products, there may be some visible results, but the teeth are not actually being whitened.

Is Teeth Whitening Safe?  Will it Cause Sensitivity?

Published studies over the last 20 years have suggested that dentist supervised In-Office whitening procedures are relatively safe.  There is no permanent damage caused to the enamel or any other tooth structures by tooth whitening.  Sensitivity arising from tooth whitening is always transient.  That means if there is any sensitivity caused by whitening, it goes away within one to two days after the treatment, and the patient returns to the state of sensitivity he or she had prior to starting the whitening process.  Your dentist is best qualified to handle any issues that may arise from whitening treatments, such as tooth sensitivity.  Today, most tooth sensitivity cases can be easily managed.

How Long do they Last?

Typically, teeth whitening can last for several months to a year, depending on how well you take care of your teeth, and if you’re following up regularly with a home whitening product for regular maintenance.  Lifestyle habits remain the dictating factor in the longevity of a patient's whitening effects.  Avoiding red wine, coffee, and smoking — all of which can cause staining — helps preserve the results.  

Non-Dental Whitening Providers

In Taiwan, teeth whitening is a regulated medical procedure under the Medical Care Act and whitening agents are controlled substances designated by law.  Dental clinics and dentists provide teeth whitening procedures under the supervision of Taiwan's Ministry of Health and Welfare for medical safety and infection prevention.  While patients may find teeth whitening services offered at non-dental venues in Taiwan, they are illegally performed by non-medical providers and are not supervised by any authority for medical safety and infection prevention and have sourced their whitening agents through unknown and unregulated sources.  Teeth whitening provided by non-medical providers may cause complications and irreparable harm to your teeth and gums including decay, gingivitis, periodontitis, and even tooth loss.  Taiwan's MOFW strongly advise any patients seeking teeth whitening to consult a dentist for proper treatments.

Choosing a Cosmetic Dentist

Not many dental schools provide general education in cosmetic dentistry.  Therefore, it is essential that a dentist pursue post-graduate training in cosmetic dentistry to master the required skills and knowledge.  There are well-respected advanced cosmetic dentistry education programs that help dentists perfect skills through hospital-based residency and real-life case presentations.  When choosing a cosmetic dentist, it is advisable to look for training experiences gained from a reputable academic institution.

Information Source:  American Dental Association, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, TWMOHW