Quadrant Dental: Pearly Whites
Tooth whitening treatments have been increasing in popularity for some years. Judith Kinnear of Quadrant Dental Practice discusses various aspects of diagnostics and treatments
Research shows we make up our minds about someone in a matter of seconds. Our appearance is a huge factor in how we come across to people and a beautiful, natural white smile can only improve that initial impression!
Why do teeth darken?
With age, the enamel (the outer hard covering of the tooth) becomes thinner and more translucent, revealing the dentine beneath. And dentine (the main ‘body’ of the tooth) becomes darker and more opaque. These two factors will give the tooth a darker appearance.
But there are many other reasons why teeth darken. Staining can affect both the outside and the inside of the tooth. A dental hygienist may be able to help with stains on the outside. However, smoking and some food and drink – things like curry, red berries, tea, coffee, and red wine – can cause pigments to become trapped in the tooth structure itself; that needs a different approach. Also, if the nerve inside the tooth has become damaged through trauma, decay or infection, the pigments from the blood supply will darken the tooth.
Developmental abnormalities of the enamel and dentine can affect the appearance. These may be genetic or caused by disturbance of the tooth tissue during its development. For example, a condition called hypoplasia can cause white and brown patches on the front teeth, and we often discover this as children start to get their adult teeth. We also know that some antibiotics can change the appearance of teeth. This kind of discolouration can be more challenging for a dentist to improve.
How does whitening work?
The active ingredient in tooth whitening gels is hydrogen peroxide. When the gel comes into contact with the tooth it breaks down into oxygen and water and it is the oxygen that whitens the tooth. Some teeth will absorb the oxygen more quickly than others, so it is difﬁ cult to determine how quickly a particular tooth will lighten. A straightforward dental case may only take a fortnight, but more difﬁ cult cases can take months, with regular dental checks.
What is involved in treatment?
It is essential that tooth whitening is undertaken by a dental professional; indeed, it is the law. Many off-the-shelf kits, sold for use at home or by beauticians, are unlicensed, and they can contain harmful ingredients that can cause permanent damage to teeth.
We at Quadrant Dental Practice always take time to explain the factors that may determine the long-term outcome of whitening treatment. Your dentist will carry out a full assessment of your mouth before starting your journey to a brighter smile, looking at every tooth in turn. They will take photographs of the teeth and may need to take x-rays too.
We take dental impressions, so we can make thin, clear trays that ﬁ t closely over the teeth. These are ﬁ tted on the second visit, and we show you how to place whitening gel in the tray. They are best worn for at least two to three hours a day: many patients wear them overnight. If possible, you should avoid things that cause teeth to darken (smoking, and foods and drinks like curry and red wine) during the treatment. Gradually and gently, the teeth will lighten. Some patients will experience some transient sensitivity, but this resolves after whitening.
Finally, we can use additional treatments to perfect the ﬁ nal look, such as microabrasion – this helps to reduce the appearance of white spots on the teeth – and composite bonding – to change the shape and unify the colour of teeth.
Maybe you have wedding or a graduation coming up, going for a new job or simply want to improve your conﬁ dence in your smile? Tooth whitening is a very easy and effective way to improve your appearance without the need for lots of time in the dentist’s chair, and it can transform the way you feel about your smile.
Judith is a member of the British Dental Bleaching Society and has trained with the UK’s leading specialist, Linda Greenwall. All the dentists at Quadrant Dental Practice routinely carry out tooth whitening for their patients.
The Quadrant Dental Practice
9 Upper High St, Epsom KT17 4QY