There is more pressure today than ever before to have white teeth.
Everywhere you look on social media, television, in magazines … everyone seems to have incredibly white, gleaming teeth . . . Then we look in the mirror and our own natural teeth look a bit drab in comparison.
There are hundreds of products on the shelves at the chemist, in the supermarket and online promising to make your teeth several shades whiter. Every toothpaste manufacturer has a ‘whitening’ version in its range. In fact, the demand for tooth whitening has become so intense that entrepreneurial, but completely unqualified people have set up businesses offering ‘bargain’ tooth bleaching in the comfort of your own home.
Dentists also offer different forms of bleaching with very different opinions about which way works best.
No wonder people feel confused about what to do, and sometimes get lead into making risky choices.
Before you embark on any tooth whitening journey, it is worth stopping to ask the question, do I really need to get my teeth whitened?
The simple answer from the perspective of tooth and gum health is no.
Whiter teeth are not healthier teeth. They are just whiter.
In fact bleaching can be risky when done the wrong way. Overly aggressive bleaching with the wrong products, overly prolonged exposure to bleach or careless use of bleaching lights can make teeth incredibly sensitive and can severely burn the gums.
When it comes to the relationship between tooth whitening and the development of a greater sense of self-worth and appreciation of one’s own beauty, the answer is more complex.
Bleaching can make you feel better about yourself, but how long that feeling lasts depends on each person’s relationship with themselves. For some people, whiter teeth produce a lasting feeling of confidence and greater freedom to ‘show off’ their teeth with their smile. I have also witnessed people get caught in a spiral of seeking other faults and flaws in themselves, never reaching a point of contentment with their smile and themselves.
You have decided to whiten your teeth. The next questions are . . .
Do I use over the counter products?
These products are a mixed bag. Although I have very occasionally met a person who claimed good results, most people I have spoken to noticed very little difference after using them.
How about online products?
How much are you willing to risk your dental health? The online world is the ‘wild west’ when it comes to ethics and accountability in product manufacturing and promotion. Unknown companies with untested products abound. There is no consumer protection if you encounter a problem with your product. You will also have the cost of correction if something goes wrong.
Do I consider using one of the cheap, home visit whitening services?
Would you allow an unqualified person to service your car? Would you allow an unqualified person to colour and cut your hair? Work on your computer?
You have no consumer protection if you encounter pain or problems with these services. Think seriously about whether a few dollars saved will be worth it in the long run.
What about professional dental whitening?
You have the option of home use trays or ‘in chair’ whitening.
Which is best?
Tray whitening involves you using trays loaded with the whitening gel at home. It takes 5-10 days depending on the product and how rapidly your teeth respond.
‘In chair’ bleaching is carried out in the dental clinic. Strong whitening gel is applied to your teeth for 40 minutes to an hour. Sometimes a light is used to activate the bleach. Best results are obtained when you follow up with tray whitening for a few days afterwards.
Both techniques will get you to the same end point, in fact, they act on the tooth surface in exactly the same way. Note that 'faster' results always require more concentrated gels and have greater risk of sensitivity.
I prefer tray whitening for its simplicity, gentleness on tooth enamel and comfort.
Here are some tips to get the best out of whitening.
Get your teeth thoroughly examined and talk to your dentist about it. Tooth bleach is strong. If it goes into tooth cavities the result will be a lot of pain. If you have receding gums, you will also experience sensitivity. Your dentist can support you by treating cavities and guiding you on care for those delicate root surfaces. Do you have fillings or crowns in your front teeth? Bleaching might shift some surface stains off them, but the overall result will be patchy as the teeth lighten up and the fillings and crowns do not. You need to be aware of this before you start.
Follow the directions given by your dentist. Wear your bleaching trays for the correct amount of time, rinse your mouth and gently clean your teeth at the conclusion of every whitening treatment.
Avoid foods and drinks that stain your teeth during the whitening process. They include: spicy foods (especially those that contain turmeric), beetroot, tea (including green tea and rooibos), coffee, red wine and cranberry juice.
Avoid acidic drinks such as soft drinks (including sparkling mineral water), sports drinks, fruit juice and alcoholic drinks during tooth whitening. They increase your risk of tooth sensitivity.
Care for your teeth during the process. Brush and floss daily for the best results.Some tooth sensitivity in to be expected during tooth whitening. Your dentist will advise you on how to manage this. If sensitivity persists or increases, stop bleaching for a day or two and contact your dentist for support.
So back to that earlier question. Do I really need to whiten my teeth?
The decision to whiten your teeth can only be made by you. Take your time to consider your options. Never allow yourself to feel pressured, and never allow anyone to make you feel as though your teeth are less beautiful because they are not white enough.
If you do want to whiten your teeth, go for it wholeheartedly and with professional support.
It is worth considering that sustainable, long term improvements in our sense of self-worth and appreciation of our own beauty are developed by deepening the relationship we have with our whole body and being – never by improvements to our outer appearance alone.