Dr. Jeffrey Yost is the owner and clinical director of Yost Dental Group located in Franklin, TN. Dr. Yost has over 20 years of private practice experience and nearly 1000 hours of post-graduate continuing education focusing on preventative, family, cosmetic, and implant dentistry. Dr. Yost specializes in preventing,... more
Spring is the most exciting time of the year. After three months of cold, dark, and dreary days, the trees and flowers start to bloom and everyone wants to get outside for some Vitamin D. Not only is spring a beautiful time of year, but it is also a very busy time of year with proms, graduations, Mother’s Day, weddings, and so much more. All these social events mean lots of photographs and selfies, and everyone wants to have a beautiful smile in all those photos!
So what is the first thing that other people notice when you smile? It is not if your teeth are perfectly straight. It is not if your teeth are crooked or crowded. It is actually the color of your teeth! Our eyes first notice if someone has white teeth or yellow teeth. And did you know that people inadvertently stereotype people with a bright, white smile as being more beautiful, more educated, more successful, and more social?
Teeth whitening is the fastest, least expensive, and least invasive way to improve the overall appearance of your teeth! There are basically three options for teeth whitening and your dentist can help you choose which option will work best for you. All these options basically work the same and that is by placing a whitening agent (usually hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) on your teeth and keeping the gel on the teeth for the manufacturer’s instructed time. The options area described below:
- Pre-filled whitening trays or strips – You can purchase these from most retail stores or from some dental offices. The best known option in this category are the Crest White Strips. These are relatively inexpensive and are easy to use. The tray or strip is one-size-fits-all, so it is placed in the mouth and pressed against your teeth. This can be somewhat difficult to do if teeth are not perfectly straight. These strips tend to be smaller, so they may not cover all of your teeth. Also, since these trays or strips are over-the-counter, they usually use a weaker whitening solution. This means that the whitening process will tend to work a little slower than the other options which use stronger whitening materials. Pre-filled whitening strips may take two weeks or longer to whiten your teeth. These are a great option to try if you are just wanting to give whitening a try or for teenagers whose mouth and teeth are continuing to change. Overall these are inexpensive and easy to get, but they whiten teeth slower and may not whiten all your teeth.
- Custom whitening trays – These trays are custom made for you by your dentist and will only work on your teeth. Impressions are taken of your teeth and then custom plastic trays are made to fit your teeth exactly. The whitening agent (usually a gel) is placed into each tooth in the tray, and then the trays are placed in your mouth over your teeth. Since these trays fit your teeth exactly, they hold the whitening gel exactly on the tooth where it needs to be. This usually results in more effective whitening than the pre-filled trays in about seven to ten days. The trays are also made so that they cover all your teeth, so they all can be whitened. The custom trays also allow a more individualized whitening in that you can insert the whitening gel only in teeth that are darker than others, so that they can “catch up” to the other teeth. Finally these trays can literally be used for years and years if your teeth don’t change significantly (such as moving your teeth by orthodontic braces or changing the shape of your teeth with dental crowns), and you can just get more whitening gel. In review, these trays are very effective at whitening, can be used over and over again, and can whiten your teeth in about a week.
- In-office professional whitening – This can only be done in a dental office and uses very strong and potent whitening agents. The whitening procedure takes between 60 and 90 minutes. A protective barrier is placed over the gums and then the whitening gel is applied to the teeth. A laser-type light may or may not be used during the procedure. The whitening gel is left on the teeth for 15-20 minutes, after which it is removed, and a new layer of whitening gel is applied to the teeth. Usually three or four cycles of gel are placed on the teeth. This option gives immediate results and is best when your social event is only a few days away and you don’t have sufficient time to wear the trays. It is also a great option for patients with a severe gag reflex or for those patients who can’t tolerate wearing the trays in their mouth.
Patients are often concerned about any side effects from teeth whitening. Teeth whitening is generally safe and does not damage the enamel of your teeth when using products prescribed to you by your dentist. Some random, over-the-counter products may have acids in them which can damage the enamel, so it is always best to ask your dentist. Sometimes your teeth can be sensitive to cold while during the whitening process, but any sensitivity is only temporary and will stop once the whitening process is completed.
Newer whitening gels have added anti-sensitivity ingredients to the whitening gel. These ingredients have significantly reduced the amount of sensitivity during whitening compared to whitening using older whitening gels. Finally, teeth whitening can even change your personality. A yellow smile can be embarrassing, so you often try to hide your teeth and don’t smile. After whitening, you want to smile all the time, and other people will wonder what has changed in your life.
There are few final considerations when whitening. Some colors of teeth whiten better than other colors of teeth. Yellow teeth tend to whiten better than gray teeth. Porcelain crowns and veneers do not whiten. Fillings in the front teeth may look dark after whitening and may need to be replaced with new, whiter fillings so they match your whiter teeth. Finally, teeth with root canals tend to be darker and take longer to whiten.
Teeth whitening is safe, predictable, and effective when completed under a dentist’s supervision. The bottom line is that teeth whitening can change your smile so much that you won’t be able to hide it, and you will want to show it to the world!