As an orthodontist, my patients often ask me about whitening their teeth, and when it should be done in relation to their orthodontic treatment. For patients who have braces, I almost always recommend having whitening done after braces are removed as opposed to before braces are put on. This is because the braces will partially cover the newly whitened teeth if done before treatment. Also, having teeth whitened after orthodontic treatment is complete is a nice gift to oneself now that the teeth are aligned beautifully, and can really put the final aesthetic touch on your teeth. Here is some advice and information to consider if you are thinking of whitening your teeth.
Whitening systems are considerably different in their effectiveness, method of application and cost. I almost always refer my patients to their general dentist for whitening, as the methods that they use are the most effective, and make my patients the happiest. Most importantly, the process is supervised by a professional who can address issues such as sensitivity, tooth and gum health issues, and different areas of teeth that may whiten incredibly well, to no change at all (more on that below).
- In office whitening is a procedure that usually takes 30-90 minutes, and a UV light or laser is used on the teeth to accelerate the whitening process by a form of hydrogen peroxide. Depending on the severity of your teeth’s discoloration, several visits may be required. Be careful- Blue LED lights sold on TV or the mall, etc., do not make whitening any faster that just the gel itself.
- At home tray whitening with custom trays is where your dentists makes custom fit trays just for your teeth, and peroxide gel of different strengths are used for 1-2 weeks while you sleep at night. Again, this is supervised by your dentist, and they can make adjustments if there is tooth sensitivity, or more whitening is desired. The advantage of this system compared to over the counter products is the strength of the gel, and the custom trays ensure even, complete whitening to the tooth surfaces.
- Whitening strips are purchased over the counter. The plastic flexible strips are stuck to your teeth, and the thin film of hydrogen peroxide will start to whiten the teeth. These products are generally weaker than the dentist supervised products, and whiten only the areas the tape-like film makes contact with.
- Whitening toothpaste is the least expensive option, but these products do not actually change the color or shade of your teeth. Instead, they use abrasives to help remove surface stains. If it appears that your teeth are yellower or discolored, but do not have surface residue or staining, this will be of little help.
Your teeth have pores on the surface of the enamel that covers them. These pores trap the products that you place in your mouth, and products such as coffee, wine, tea, berries and smoking are especially notorious for changing the color of teeth over time. Hydrogen peroxide acts to remove the stains out of the pores in your enamel. The newly “cleaned” pores can cause a temporary increase in tooth sensitivity, especially to temperature. This is normal, and after several days the minerals in saliva or fluoride rinses will help bring things back to normal. The results of tooth whitening will last quite a while, depending on the individuals diet. Touch ups will be needed from time to time to re-whiten the teeth as they slowly discolor again over time.
It is especially important to consult your dentist about whitening if you have porcelain or ceramic crowns, veneers, or composite (tooth colored) fillings. These materials will not whiten as your natural teeth will! Your dentist can help you plan the color of future crowns or veneers based on how white you want your teeth to be in the long term. It is unfortunate to have a nice veneer or crown placed, and then decide you want to whiten your teeth, and now the crown does not match the rest of your teeth! If you have any questions at all, I will be glad to give you guidance and advice regarding these issues.
Dr.Dan Rejman is a board certified orthodontic specialist for children, teens and adults in Castle Rock, Colorado.