Teeth whitening, simply put, is the process of lightening the colour of teeth. While its primary goal is aesthetic enhancement, the benefits also impact various aspects of oral health and quality of life.

More than confidence, pearly whites often prompt individuals to be more conscientious about their dental care routine and serve as a catalyst for diet changes. 

But how long until teeth whitening takes effect and how long does it last? What must be done to maintain it? 

Let us first understand how teeth whitening works.


How Teeth Whitening Works

When we talk about teeth whitening, we’re essentially addressing the discolouration on the enamel, the outer layer of our teeth. This discolouration can stem from various sources, including pigmented foods and beverages, tobacco use, and natural aging processes.

The magic of teeth whitening lies in applying bleaching agents, typically hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. These agents work as oxidative agents, meaning they initiate a chemical reaction that breaks down the molecules responsible for staining.

Upon application, the bleaching agent penetrates the porous enamel and reaches the discoloured molecules. Here, it oxidises these molecules, effectively breaking them down into smaller, less pigmented fragments.

As these fragments dissipate, the overall appearance of the teeth becomes brighter and more luminous. 

The duration of teeth whitening treatments can vary depending on the whitening method chosen and the desired level of whitening. In-office professional treatments typically involve shorter treatment durations, often lasting around an hour or less, due to the use of higher concentrations of bleaching agents and specialized equipment that accelerates the whitening process. In contrast, at-home whitening kits may require longer treatment durations, ranging from several days to several weeks, as they typically contain less intense bleaching agents for gradual whitening results.


Is it possible to have teeth whitening without bleach (hydrogen peroxide) or fluoride and prevent enamel damage?

Yes. Several alternative methods and ingredients can help whiten teeth naturally or without causing damage to the enamel.

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate): Mix baking soda with water to form a paste and use as a gentle toothpaste or combine with hydrogen peroxide for a more potent whitening effect.

Activated charcoal: Activated charcoal is a porous substance that can absorb toxins and stains from the surface of teeth. It can be applied to the teeth in the form of a powder or paste and used to gently polish away stains. 

Whitening toothpaste: Here are fluoride-free whitening toothpaste options and a bleach-free option available that gently polish and whiten teeth.

What are certain cases where it may not be advisable or suitable to have one’s teeth whitened?

Here are some situations in which teeth whitening may not be recommended:

Children under the age of 16 typically have more porous enamel and may be more susceptible to tooth sensitivity and irritation from whitening agents.

Teeth whitening may not be suitable for individuals with certain dental health issues, such as gum disease, cavities, or exposed tooth roots.

Individuals with thin or translucent enamel may be at greater risk of experiencing tooth sensitivity or enamel damage from teeth whitening treatments.

Some may experience allergic reactions or sensitivities to the ingredients found in teeth-whitening products.

Such individuals may prefer alternative cosmetic treatments such as crowns, veneers, or fillings may be recommended. Consult with a dentist to determine the most suitable option based on your needs and dental condition. 


Factors Affecting Whitening Effectiveness

The effectiveness of whitening treatments can vary depending on the severity of discolouration and the types of stains present on the teeth.

Stains can be classified into two main categories: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic stains occur on the surface of the enamel and are typically caused by external factors like food, beverages, and tobacco use. These stains often respond well to traditional whitening methods and can be effectively removed with bleaching agents. 

Individuals with underlying dental issues such as tooth decay, gum disease, or enamel erosion may not be suitable candidates for whitening procedures until these issues are addressed. Additionally, maintaining good oral hygiene practices, including regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups, can help optimize the results of whitening treatments and promote long-term dental health.

Intrinsic stains, on the other hand, originate from within the tooth structure and may be caused by factors such as genetics, aging, or certain medications. While intrinsic stains can be more challenging to treat, professional whitening procedures or other cosmetic interventions may help improve the appearance of discoloured teeth.

As we age, the enamel on our teeth naturally wears down, becoming more porous and prone to staining. Additionally, over time, teeth may accumulate surface stains from dietary habits and lifestyle factors. While teeth whitening can still be effective for older individuals, the degree of whitening may be more limited compared to younger individuals with less accumulated staining and healthier enamel.

Genetics can also impact the natural colour and susceptibility of teeth to staining. Some individuals may inherit genetic traits that make their teeth naturally whiter or more resistant to discolouration. Others may have genetic predispositions to certain types of stains or enamel defects that affect the appearance of their teeth.


Potential Side Effects and Precautions

Tooth sensitivity may occur during or after whitening treatments, particularly with higher concentrations of bleaching agents. This sensitivity can manifest as temporary discomfort or pain in the teeth, often triggered by hot or cold foods and beverages.

Gum irritation is another potential side effect of teeth whitening, which may result from the bleaching agents coming into contact with the gums. This can cause redness, swelling, or even mild chemical burns in severe cases. Gum recession is a different thing, but it shouldn’t be a subject of worry as long as teeth whitening is performed correctly. 

Tips for minimizing side effects and ensuring a safe whitening experience

Before starting any teeth whitening treatment, it’s advisable to consult with a dentist. They can assess your oral health, identify any potential risk factors, and recommend the most suitable whitening approach for your individual needs.

Whether using professional treatments or at-home whitening kits, it’s crucial to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer or dentist meticulously.

Select whitening products that are reputable and approved by dental associations or regulatory bodies. Avoid using products with excessively high concentrations of bleaching agents.

If using whitening trays or strips at home, consider using protective barriers such as dental dams or petroleum jelly to shield the gums from direct contact with the bleaching agents.

While it may be tempting to accelerate the whitening process by increasing treatment frequency, it’s essential to exercise caution and avoid overusing whitening products. Overuse can lead to increased sensitivity and irritation, potentially compromising oral health.

Prioritize regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups to maintain oral health, especially during and after teeth whitening treatments.

If you experience significant discomfort or persistent side effects, discontinue treatment and consult with a dentist promptly.


Maintenance and Longevity of Results

After teeth whitening, maintaining a vibrant, white smile requires ongoing care and attention to prevent staining and preserve the brightness of your teeth. 

Opt for white, crunchy fruits and vegetables. Apples, cauliflower, celery and such can help keep your teeth clean and white. These foods have a natural abrasiveness that can scrub away surface stains and promote saliva production, which helps rinse away food particles and bacteria.

Choose dairy products. They are rich in calcium and phosphorus which strengthen tooth enamel and promote remineralization. Their high calcium content helps neutralize acids in the mouth, reducing the risk of enamel erosion and staining.

Limit staining beverages. You don’t have to stop drinking wine or coffee. Reducing your intake or using a straw to minimize contact with your teeth can help prevent staining.

Practice good oral hygiene and schedule regular dental cleanings.

The Hows of Teeth Whitening: And Then What?

Understanding the hows of teeth whitening is essential for anyone considering this popular cosmetic procedure. We’ve explored the mechanism behind teeth whitening, factors affecting effectiveness, potential side effects, and maintenance strategies to prolong results.

While at-home whitening kits offer convenience, opting for professionally done teeth whitening at the dentist remains the gold standard for several reasons. They can provide tailored treatment plans based on individual needs and oral health conditions. The results will also appear quicker, thanks to the bleaching solution with higher concentrations they use with expertise.

Therefore, when it comes to achieving a brighter, whiter smile, choosing professional teeth whitening at the dentist is the best option. Make sure to schedule a consultation with Inner West Dental to discuss your whitening goals and determine the most suitable treatment plan for you. You and your smile deserve nothing but the best.