Tooth whitening can improve your appearance. But not everyone is a candidate for bleaching.

What does dental bleaching offer?

Dental bleaching is a safe, effective and cost-efficient means to achieve a winning smile.

Countless people may now have white teeth and brilliant smiles, previously thought only available to celebrities. While unlikely to land you a lead role on television, whiter teeth may well improve your appearance and even brighten your outlook on life! Although generally successful in whitening teeth, dental bleaching is not for everyone.

Is dental bleaching for you?

Naturally, prior to any treatment, a thorough examination and diagnosis should be performed, evaluating the potential benefits the technique may offer you. Teeth that have become stained from age, coffee, tea or smoking are ideal candidates. Patients with healthy, natural, and unrestored teeth often achieve dazzling results. Teeth darkened with extrinsic, or surface stains, respond better to bleaching than deep, intrinsic discoloration caused by fluorosis or tetracycline. These types of stain are less likely to produce dramatic results. Bleaching is generally not indicated for sensitive or worn teeth; those with large fillings or crowns; and teeth affected by periodontal disease.

What’s involved?

If your dentist determines that you are a candidate for tooth bleaching, an impression of your teeth is made to prepare a custom-fitted tray. Within a day or two, you will receive the appliance, bleaching materials, and instructions on use for home bleaching. This approach requires wearing the tray about one hour a night, for 10 to 14 days.

If you simply can’t wait, or choose to have more effective results, you may decide to have your teeth lightened immediately. Your dentist may recommend an in-office bleaching system using a higher concentration of the bleaching agent while you sit in the dental chair. Due to possible damage to soft tissue, the gums need special protection under careful dental supervision. This approach is customarily used in conjunction with dentist-supervised at-home bleaching.

What are the long term results?

Depending on your personal habits — such as smoking and drinking coffee or tea — bleaching may produce many years without reversal. Of course, under the dentist’s supervision, you may choose to touch up the teeth with periodic (once a month, perhaps) use of the bleaching tray.

How does it work?

The active ingredient in most of the whitening agents is 10 percent carbamide peroxide (CH4N2O2), also known as urea peroxide; when water contacts this white crystal, the release of hydrogen peroxide lightens the teeth. There are many brands on the market, many of which are approved by the American Dental Association.

What are the side effects?

Some patients may experience slight gum irritation or tooth sensitivity, which will resolve when the treatment ends. Many years of study have confirmed that bleaching is safe, effective and long-lasting.

What are realistic expectations?

No one can really predict how much lighter your teeth will become, since every case is different. Typically, there is a noticeable improvement in whitening, sometimes quite dramatic. The success rate depends upon the type of stain involved and your compliance. Bleaching does not lighten artificial materials such as resins, silicants or porcelains.