All about tooth whiten­ing

Self-con­scious about yel­low­ing teeth? With a bit of ef­fort you can have a whiter smile and re­gain your con­fi­dence. Here are your op­tions


TAY­LOR Swift, Matthew McConaughey, Bey­oncé, Ge­orge Clooney – what do they have in com­mon, other than be­ing A-list celebs? Daz­zling smiles, that’s what. In fact, pick any other celebrity who’s made it big (and most of those who want to) and you can be sure of one thing: their pearly whites are shin­ing bright. And you can bet it’s taken a bit of ef­fort – and money – to get them that way.

There’s no doubt about it: the whiter and brighter your teeth, the health­ier and younger you look. And while we can’t all af­ford the cos­metic den­tistry that pro­duces per­fectly aligned, sparkling teeth, there are now treat­ments you can do at home to whiten your gnash­ers.

Tooth whiten­ing has be­come big busi­ness, with plenty of celebrity-en­dorsed DIY whiten­ing treat­ments pop­ping up on In­sta­gram. But do they work?

There are three ways to get your teeth whiter, says Cen­tu­rion-based den­tist Dr Karizaan de Vos: have a den­tal tech­ni­cian, den­tal hy­gien­ist or den­tist bleach your teeth; use a home bleach­ing kit pro­vided by a den­tist or den­tal tech­ni­cian; or opt for an over-the-counter prod­uct bought from a phar­macy.

Some of course give bet­ter re­sults than oth­ers.


Many peo­ple are self-con­scious about the yel­low­ish brown hue their teeth take on when they grow older. This usu­ally hap­pens be­cause your tooth enamel be­comes thin­ner as you age. Enamel is semi­translu­cent and as it be­comes thin­ner the yel­low colour of the dentin un­der­neath shows through.

While yel­low­ing is most com­monly caused by age­ing, it can also be due to genes or diet, or a com­bi­na­tion of these fac­tors, De Vos says.

Any food or sub­stance that can stain white cloth­ing can also stain your teeth, she adds. The prime sus­pects are cof­fee, tea, red wine, curry and of course smok­ing.

White teeth can make a huge dif­fer­ence to self-es­teem, says Ina Al­berts, a den­tal hy­gien­ist at I Love My Smile in Pre­to­ria. “A bright smile stands out and white teeth can give you self-con­fi­dence – which is even more rea­son to smile.”


All tooth whiteners work on the enamel – the tooth’s white, hard ex­te­rior layer. They con­tain bleach, which re­moves both deep and sur­face stains. The ac­tive in­gre­di­ent – ei­ther car­bamide per­ox­ide or hy­dro­gen per­ox­ide – pen­e­trates the enamel and breaks up the dis­coloured mol­e­cules of the stain.

De Vos says the bleach used by den­tal tech­ni­cians con­tains a much higher con­cen­tra­tion of per­ox­ide than DIY

bleaches, which is why the re­sults of pro­fes­sional whiten­ing are im­me­di­ate.

“How­ever it’s im­por­tant to note your teeth can only ever be as white as they were to be­gin with,” she says. “Many celebri­ties have their teeth capped or crowned for that bril­liantly white ap­pear­ance.”

Ex­perts agree that keep­ing your teeth whiter for longer de­pends on your den­tal care, diet and whether you smoke.

“It dif­fers from per­son to per­son. If you’ve had your teeth bleached pro­fes­sion­ally and take care to pre­serve the white­ness with main­te­nance pack­ages, you’ll never have to do it again,” De Vos says. “But if you don’t do any main­te­nance, your teeth might start dis­colour­ing within six months to a year. If you’re us­ing a DIY prod­uct pro­vided by a den­tist, your teeth should stay white for about three months.”


It’s im­por­tant to have reg­u­lar den­tal check­ups be­fore hav­ing your teeth whitened, says Dr Nir­vada Ni­ran­jan of The South African Den­tal As­so­ci­a­tion (Sada).

“There can be a va­ri­ety of rea­sons your teeth are turn­ing yel­low or brown,” she says. “Of­ten it’s caused by plaque and min­eral build-up and if that’s the case you shouldn’t bleach your teeth – you should just have them cleaned and pol­ished.”

Ni­ran­jan doesn’t ap­prove of peo­ple whiten­ing their teeth with over-the­counter prod­ucts in case the rea­son for the dis­coloura­tion is tooth de­cay. “The bleach then en­ters the cav­i­ties in your teeth, which could lead to sen­si­tiv­ity.”

Also, self-help prod­ucts aren’t ef­fec­tively reg­u­lated – some­thing she de­scribes as “prob­lem­atic”.


Pro­fes­sion­ally A den­tal tech­ni­cian, den­tist or den­tal hy­gien­ist per­forms the whiten­ing in a den­tist’s chair. Be­fore they start, they’ll check to see if your teeth and gums are healthy and do a proper clean, Ni­ran­jan says. One method uses a gel con­tain­ing hy­dro­gen per­ox­ide and sodium ni­trate. This is ap­plied to the teeth, then a laser or ul­tra­vi­o­let light is used to speed up the bleach­ing process. Hy­dro­gen per­ox­ide is made up of hy­dro­gen and oxy­gen mol­e­cules and the deep-cleaning ac­tion hap­pens when these break apart and in­ter­act with the teeth. The treat­ment usu­ally takes an hour or two and re­quires spe­cial care af­ter­wards with a tooth-nour­ish­ing prod­uct. “When the light is used the teeth be­come de­hy­drated. They look whiter but might be more sen­si­tive,” De Vos ex­plains. “So im­me­di­ately af­ter the bleach­ing, flu­o­ride is ap­plied to the teeth to nour­ish them and de­crease sen­si­tiv­ity.” An­other method uses a gel con­tain­ing hy­dro­gen per­ox­ide, sodium ni­trate and flu­o­ride with­out the ap­pli­ca­tion of light. The flu­o­ride and sodium ni­trate strengthen and nour­ish the teeth while they’re be­ing whitened. The pro­ce­dure with­out the light costs be­tween R2 200 and just over R4 000, and the method with the light treat­ment will set you back be­tween R4 000 and R6 000. The price usu­ally in­cludes a main­te­nance pack­age to take home. If you don’t use the main­te­nance pack­age, your teeth will dis­colour again more quickly. DIY prod­uct from a den­tist A mould is taken of your teeth, af­ter which a mouth guard is made. You ap­ply a bleach­ing agent to your teeth us­ing the mouth guard and wear it for a few min­utes ev­ery day. With reg­u­lar ap­pli­ca­tion, it takes about two weeks to whiten your teeth. The bleach­ing agent also con­tains hy­dro­gen per­ox­ide, sodium ni­trate and flu­o­ride, but in a smaller quan­tity than in the prod­ucts used by pro­fes­sion­als. Pack­ages cost be­tween R1 000 and R2 000.

Over-the-counter prod­ucts: Phar­ma­cies stock a va­ri­ety of den­tal bleaches, from tooth­pastes to sub­stances you ap­ply ei­ther di­rectly to your teeth or via a mouth guard that comes with the pack­age. Prices range from R125 to R1 000 and ef­fec­tive­ness varies.

Ni­ran­jan cau­tions against these if you haven’t been for reg­u­lar den­tal check­ups, as men­tioned un­der “See a den­tist first”. The prod­ucts are also not reg­u­lated and she sug­gests you avoid any that don’t have the in­gre­di­ents listed on the pack­ag­ing.

De­si­gar Mood­ley of the Univer­sity of the Western Cape’s den­tistry de­part­ment says DIY op­tions are less ef­fec­tive than go­ing to a pro­fes­sional be­cause the mouth guard in­cluded hasn’t been specif­i­cally moulded to the in­di­vid­ual’s teeth. This means the bleach might not prop­erly coat the tooth. He adds the bleach­ing might also cause sen­si­tiv­ity.

the im­por­tance Singer Tay­lor Swift un­der­stands super-white smile. of flash­ing a

All right, all right, all right! Whiter teeth could only have ben­e­fited Matthew McConaughy’s act­ing ca­reer.

whites to be Bey­oncé needs her pearly out her hits. just that when she belts

Ac­tor-di­rec­tor Ge­orge Clooney of­ten flashes his gnash­ers­for the cam­eras.

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