Without a doubt, the most popular cosmetic dental procedure is that of in-office whitening. This whitening procedure is a quick way to add extra luster to your teeth and improve their appearance, and it is performed under the supervision of a qualified technician in your dentist’s office. While some procedures like veneers and cosmetic bonding are more substantial and can improve certain issues, we almost always recommend patients start with a whitening treatment, especially if they are concerned about the cosmetic appearance of their teeth. Let’s learn more about how in-office whitening treatments work and if they are right for you.
Often patients come into the office more concerned about cosmetic issues than anything else, but any consultation starts with dental health first and foremost. If your teeth need other attention, say to address a cavity, then that procedure takes priority. This is for a two good reasons. First, if there are any weak points in your enamel, like a cavity, a whitening procedure performed with a bleaching agent can further irritate those areas. Secondly, many in-office whitening treatments require specialized trays to be made from impressions of your teeth. You’ll want these to be as exact as possible, and the addition of a new filling could change the fit, which is why any primary procedures again take precedent over elective ones like whitening.
The next question to ask yourself is how often do you experience sensitivity? If it has become a chronic issue for you, then in-office whitening might not be your best option at this time. Instead you might try gentler over the counter whitening items and brush with a prescription strength fluoride toothpaste to strengthen your enamel and remineralize teeth. If you have success with these methods, you can then decide whether the OTC whitening is enough or the sensitivity has lessened to the point where you can proceed with the in-office treatment.
If your teeth are healthy, then the option of in-office whitening is a bit simplified. Are you happy with the current whiteness of your teeth? Are OTC whitening treatments not providing the results you desire? Is the cost of the procedure justifiable for you? Since whitening is an elective procedure, it will be up to you to decide if it is something you want to pursue.
As we mentioned above, the modern method of whitening teeth involves customized trays, a bleaching agent (also known as a whitening gel), and a LED light to accelerate the whitening process. You will need up to an hour and a half to complete this procedure, and you’ll want to keep this in mind when scheduling your appointment. The first part of the process involves taking impressions of your teeth to complete the customized trays. This is performed by filling trays with a molding gel and pressing them against the teeth until the molding gel sets, which takes about 3-4 minutes. Once the molds are properly completed, the technician will create customized trays for the whitening procedure.
Next the dental chair is lowered and a vitamin E gel is applied to your lips to protect them from drying out during the whitening process. A cheek expander is then applied so your teeth will be exposed for the procedure. Your hygienist or a dental technician will then place cotton squares in the corner of your mouth to protect those sensitive areas from the whitening gel. Next a protectant gel is painted on your gums to help them resist any irritation from the whitening gel. Finally the whitening gel itself is painted onto your teeth, and your teeth are exposed to a specialized LED light to aid in the whitening process.
The LED light needs to treat the whitening gel for at least 15 minutes, and then it is a wiped off and a fresh coating is placed on your teeth, followed by another session with the light. At least three sessions are needed to maximize the whitening process there in the office. Note it is natural for patients to experience some degree of irritation from the whitening gel, especially in later stages of the process. The technician will be present should you need to stop, but it is best to complete at least three treatments with the whitening gel and LED light. After the procedure is complete, the whitening gel is wiped off your teeth and you’ll notice a dramatic change right away.
The recovery period is different for every patient, but generally it is natural to experience some degree of sensitivity for two to three days after you’ve had in-office whitening. A mild pain killer can be used to offset any extreme sensitivity should it occur. It is very important that you limit your diet to colorless foods during a two to three day recovery period after the whitening treatment. This is because your teeth are very sensitive to dyes at this point, and eating or drinking something you shouldn’t could reverse the whitening process. Foods and drinks like coffee, tea, dark berries, fruits and anything else with a dark dye or appearance should be avoided during this period. The feeling of sensitivity after the procedure should lessen after the first day and fade one to two days after.
How long in office whitening lasts is somewhat up to the patient. For example, if the patient receives in-office whitening treatments and then continues to drink coffee on a regular basis, the results may not last as long. The same goes for other dietary choices. It is best to speak with your dentist or hygienist to discuss which foods to avoid and strategies that will help maintain your new whitened smile. Without a doubt, you’ll want to make the most of your brighter smile by avoiding food and drink that can stain your teeth.
In-office whitening treatments aren’t for everyone, but they are a great way to boost your smile in a day. Better yet, once custom trays are made, you can use them for at-home treatments to keep that smile white. If you’d like to learn more about in-office whitening treatments, contact us at Grace & Leedy Family Dentistry for more information or to schedule a consultation.