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.
WHAT MAKES TEETH TURN YELLOW?
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.”
HOW DO WHITENERS WORK?
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.”
SEE A DENTIST FIRST
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”.
HOW TO GET YOUR OWN MEGAWATT SMILE
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.
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