What is Dental Bleaching (Teeth Whitening)?
Everyone dreams of having a healthy, shining white smile, as they tend to reflect a healthy condition.
Sadly, despite being completely healthy, teeth do not always remain a bright white colour, and the reasons for this are many.
Childhood fevers, the medication used during growth and development, excessive fluoride intake, old root canal fillings, inadequate restorations, excessive consumption of coffee, tea or maybe even red wine are all possible causes of discoloration.
Who can benefit from dental bleaching (teeth whitening)?
Dental bleaching can be applied to all patients given the go-ahead following a dental examination, although it is generally avoided in children under 18 and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
How is dental bleaching (teeth whitening) performed?
Firstly a comprehensive dental examination is carried out;
Patient expectations: It is the expression of the patients expectations as pertains to the dental bleaching treatment, such as; what their main complaint is, how much whitening they desire, whether their problems are dental or gum-related, or even smile related.
What the dentist can reasonably provide: It is important that the dentist fully inform the patient regarding the treatment and process.
Evaluation of the patients daily habits: The patients routine daily oral care habits, such as their consumption of undesirable foods and beverages (alcohol, cigarettes, cofffee) and their dental hygiene habits. Undesirable habits and inadequate care may decrease the treatments effective period following treatment.
Dental health and hygiene: Dental care and health are expected to be impeccable before dental bleaching is considered. If not so, the dental condition must be restored to a state of health beforehand.
Dealing with decayed, fractured, or damaged teeth: These conditions generate the most part of the sensitivity or pain complaints during and after dental bleaching treatments. The severity of the sensitivity greatly depends on the severity of the present abovementioned conditions. If present they must be treated before the bleaching procedure.
Evaluation of old restorations: Dental bleaching only reconditions natural dental discolorations and not existing dental restorations. This means only the natural tooth structure will whiten, not the restoration. Old unsatisfactory restorations will not whiten following bleaching and will need to be replaced at least 2 weeks after the dental bleaching appointment. This 2 week waiting period is necessary to allow for the establishment of a stable colour following treatment.
What are the stages of dental bleaching?
The stages of dental bleaching are as follows:
Polishing and shining: Dental surfaces are cleaned of small food remnants and surface stains. A polishing paste is applied and the surfaces are polished using brushes or polishing cups.
Determination of the initial colour: The starting colour of the teeth are determined and recorded before starting treatment. This helps determine and visualize changes in colour after treatment.
Retraction of teeth and lips: The teeth and lips are retracted away from the working field using oral retractors as the chemical agents used in dental bleaching can cause soft tissue burns.
Application of a dental barrier: It is important that the agents used during whitening only contacts hard dental tissues and not the gums. For this, a light-cured dental barrier is used to protect the gums during treatment.
Application of the dental bleaching agents: Once all previous steps are completed and the teeth are dried, the dental bleaching agents can be applied. These materials are spread over the teeth and left to wait for 20 minutes at a time. The dentist remains at the side of the patient the entire time. It is at the discretion of the dentist to end the treatment if excessive sensitivity occurs. Some bleaching agents require light or heat activation for increased effect.
Cleaning and final checks: The teeth are cleaned of all agents after the treatment is completed. At this stage the dentist may opt to apply a fluoride gel against possible sensitivity issues. Sometimes, for gum-related sensitivity vitamin E supplements may be prescribed alongside pain-relief medications.
What to watch for following dental bleaching?
As is the case for all other dental operations, certain things should be kept in check following dental bleaching treatments;
- Avoid hot and cold foods and beverages for at least 24 hours following treatment.
- For the first two weeks following treatment, definitely avoid acidic, coloured foods and beverages (tea, coffee, red wine). After two weeks it is best consume them moderately.
- Brush using a new soft-tufted brush and beware of sensitive spots. Early after treatment avoid toothpicks and dental flosses as they may trigger sensitivity. However make sure to incorporate them in routine dental care practices once the sensitivity has subsided.
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