So you’re interested in teeth whitening – but do you know which questions you should be asking? Plenty of people have success with whitening treatments in the dentist's chair or at home using a whitening kit, but it's still important that you understand what these treatments involve before making your decision.

You should always speak to your dentist before using any teeth whitening product (even over-the-counter ones). If you're thinking about teeth whitening in any form, here are some of the questions you should ask your dentist to help decide whether it's the right choice for you.

What's causing my tooth discolouration?

Your dentist will be able to help you understand the cause of your discolouration and whether a whitening treatment is the best way to address it.

For example, teeth whitening doesn't work the same for all types of stains and discolouration. Typically, whitening treatments are better at brightening teeth that are yellow than teeth that are grey, brown or black.

If your teeth have been discoloured by staining food and drinks, tobacco or medication, your dentist might recommend avoiding these in order to maintain the results of your whitening treatment.

And, of course, if the discolouration is caused by an underlying dental issue, this will need to be addressed first.

Is this whitening treatment safe?

Teeth whitening is a non-invasive treatment that doesn't involve surgery, but there can still be risks if instructions and regulations aren't followed.

Teeth whitening products sold over the counter in Australia may not contain more than 6% hydrogen peroxide or 18% carbamide peroxide, as higher concentrations can carry a risk of chemical burns. Higher strength products may only be used by a registered dental professional.1

What are the risks or side effects?

If a whitening treatment isn't performed correctly, you could risk injury or uneven results. If the bleaching agent comes into contact with your gums or other soft tissues in your mouth, there may be a risk of chemical burns. That’s why it’s important to at least consult a dental professional about any whitening product before using it.

Some people find that their teeth and gums feel more sensitive for a few days after teeth whitening, especially during in-chair treatments. Your dentist can advise you on possible side effects and what to expect.

Generally, it’s best for pregnant women and new mothers to avoid teeth whitening - chemicals from the treatment can enter the placenta and breast milk.

How white will my teeth get?

It’s best to have realistic expectations before undergoing any whitening treatment. Your dentist should be able to explain what you can probably expect.

Not all whitening treatments are equally effective on all people, and not all teeth will whiten to the same degree. Teeth whitening can change a tooth's colour by several shades, meaning teeth that are more stained or discoloured won't whiten to the same degree as teeth that were whiter originally.

I have a big event – how far in advance should I get whitening?

Teeth whitening has become a popular way to prepare for weddings and other social events where people want to look their best. But because some treatments can take time to be effective, you should make sure you leave enough time before the big day.

Home whitening kits using gels can take up to two weeks to achieve results, while whitening toothpastes can take up to four weeks and generally have less dramatic results. If you have your teeth whitened professionally by your dentist (sometimes called an “in-chair” treatment), the treatment may be completed in a single appointment.

How long will the treatment last?

Teeth whitening isn't permanent, but how long the effects last will depend on the type of treatment you have and how well you look after your teeth afterwards.

In most cases, teeth whitening can last from six months up to two years. There's more chance of your teeth staying whiter for longer if you avoid smoking and staining food and drinks such as tea, coffee and beetroot.

Will this procedure work if I have a crown or veneers?

Teeth whitening specifically works on tooth enamel. It doesn't change the colour of dental work such as crowns and bridges, veneers or fillings, although it may lift stains from their surfaces.

If you have dental restorations like crowns or veneers, they’ll probably have been matched to the natural colour of your teeth. That means they may stand out in your mouth after teeth whitening. Your dentist can tell you if this is an issue or if you’ll need to replace any existing restorations.

Can I use this treatment with braces?

Your dentist will normally recommend waiting until you complete your orthodontic treatment to have a tooth whitening procedure. But if you don't want to wait, it's still possible to whiten your teeth when braces are in place – it can just be more difficult and produce less even results.

If you're using a take-home kit, the whitening tray will have to be custom-made to leave space for the brackets so they won't become dislodged. If you're having your teeth whitened at a dental clinic, your dentist will work around the brackets.

When your braces are removed, the areas beneath might look darker or more yellow than the rest of your teeth, so you may want to arrange a touch-up treatment to help even things out.

Is teeth whitening right for me?

When you've found out what the treatment involves and what the possible side-effects are, you'll be in a position to judge whether teeth whitening is the right option for you. But not everyone is suitable for whitening treatments, and your dentist will let you know whether you're a candidate during your consultation.

If you have an oral health condition such as tooth decay or gum disease, this should be treated as a priority before arranging a cosmetic treatment. You may also not be eligible if you have sensitive teeth or gums, a medical condition, you're pregnant or you're under 18 years of age.

To find out more about teeth whitening and whether it's right for you, get in touch with your local Bupa dentist.

Sources

1 Australian Dental Industry Association (ADIA). For Professionals — Teeth whitening product regulation [Online] 2013 [Accessed Sep 2017] Available from: www.adia.org.au