Teeth Whitening

Question: How can I make my teeth whiter?

For many years, white teeth have been a sign of youth and style. There are many ways the dentist can make your teeth whiter. The more traditional ways involve removing tooth structure and then replacing it with a more pleasing color of artificial material like porcelain or composite resin (plastic). There are still some situations where this approach is required, but for most patients, the teeth can be whitened significantly without removal of tooth structure.

About 30 years ago, there was a fairly extensive study underway to find a material to desensitize sensitive teeth. Many materials were used and at that time really none of the materials were found to be very useful for desensitization. However, one of the materials, carbamide peroxide, was found to significantly whiten teeth. The effect was tracked in the patients involved in the study for about 10 years before being revealed to the dental community. The experts were looking for long term negative effects or lack of permanence. At length, they found that the whitening effect of carbamide peroxide on adult teeth was permanent, and that negative side effects were uncommon and transient (went away when the person stopped using carbamide peroxide) .

The most common method of application of carbamide peroxide involves having an impression (mold) made of the teeth to be whitened, and having the dentist make a custom tray. The device is similar to a hockey mouth guard but it has a space made next to the area to be whitened where the whitening gel is held against the teeth. Most patients choose to wear the whitening mouthguards every night for an hour or so. The material (carbamide peroxide) slowly leaks out of the area around the teeth so after 1-2 hours most of the whitening agent is too dilute to be effective. If the person wants to whiten more at that time, the mouthguard can be rinsed and refilled. Most people can whiten as much as they want in 20-30 hours of wear. The whitening effect is permanent and cumulative. This means that if a person wants to whiten the teeth by next week's wedding, if adequate diligence is maintained, it can be done. Conversely, if a person uses the gel for an hour or so every day for a week, and doesn't get back to using the product for a month or so, the first week's whitening effect is not lost. It is possible to obtain whitening gels that are effective without going to the dentist, however, the whitening effect is blotchy and unpredictable. A custom tray that holds the material against the teeth without excessive leakage is required for predictable and even whitening. An impression (mold) is required to make an adequate tray. Additionally, the TV whitening promotional deals will not reveal what material is being used to cause their alleged whitening to occur.

Of course, all of this assumes the teeth to be whitened are clean. Some people's teeth can look white indeed if simply professionally cleaned to remove any hard deposits (tartar, or calculus). If you would like your teeth to be whiter, contact your dentist to see what options are available. For most of us, the simple procedure described above can make your pearly whites look as pearly white as they were many years ago.


This article was written by Dr. Mike Christensen and published in the Daily Miner and News, and Enterprise. Local Kenora News Publicatons (1998-2006)