August 18, 2021 by Dr. Abhi Singh

What Is Teeth Whitening: Everything You Need To Know

The practice of teeth whitening has been around for centuries. It is a cosmetic dental treatment used to lighten discoloured teeth. Teeth whitening is a common and popular cosmetic dental procedure because it is inexpensive, painless, effective and provides immediate results.

Whitening your teeth is the perfect way to improve your appearance and boost your confidence. The process also takes minimal time, costs less than other cosmetic procedures like veneers, and can be done at home or in a professional dentist’s office on an as-needed basis for quick touch-ups between professional treatments.

Different patients can have different treatment success rates, as teeth vary in opacity, translucency, gloss, and fluorescence. Some patients only need a few treatments before their teeth look great again, while others require more.

The History of Teeth Whitening

Ancient Egyptians believed whiter teeth were an indication of wealth. They cleaned and whitened their teeth with a paste made from ground pumice stone, and wine vinegar was applied using a frayed stick. On the other hand, the Romans used urine since it contains ammonia.

There was no dentist back in the 17th century, so the barbers took care of people’s dental health. They would perform tooth removal and teeth whitening by filing down discoloured tooth enamel and applying nitric acid.

Dentists accidentally discovered the whitening properties of peroxide in the 1960s. They were initially used as an antiseptic treatment for gums. However, they noticed that teeth became whiter exposed to hydrogen peroxide over time.

The commercial tooth whitening industry has evolved over the past two decades. Dentists fill the dental trays with a thick tooth whitening gel containing carbamide peroxide. This method is still widely used in today’s procedures.

What Causes Teeth Discolouration

The shade of your teeth is influenced by your lifestyle, what you eat, and how often you brush. However, for most people, the yellowing process of the teeth is accelerated by the consumption of certain foods and beverages. 

Let’s look into the factors that affect tooth discolouration.

A person’s day-to-day lifestyle choices cause extrinsic tooth stains. These surface stains naturally accumulate over time from consuming dark-coloured beverages or foods such as coffee, tea, red wine, and curry. Tobacco products can also cause extrinsic discolouration because they leave a brown stain on your teeth after smoking them for years.

Intrinsic tooth stains are deeper and more difficult to remove. These types of stains develop on the inner layer of the teeth (dentin). They are typically caused by excessive fluoride use and certain medications.

Learn More: What Causes Teeth Discolouration

Common Causes of Tooth Stains

  • Genetics: When it comes to tooth colour, chances are you have a unique shade just because of genetics. It is due to the structure of the tooth’s outer layer, since some may have thicker teeth or darker enamel.
  • Fluoride: Drinking too much tap water, which naturally has fluoride, can cause your teeth to become discoloured or have white streaks.
  • Medications: Some drugs tend to stain teeth over time due to the accumulation of chemical substances on your teeth that are difficult for you to remove with brushing or flossing alone. It includes tetracycline, antihistamines, antipsychotics, and medicines for high blood pressure.
  • Medicine for cancer treatments: It’s not uncommon for people who are undergoing cancer treatments to worry about their teeth, since patients can experience tooth discolouration as a side effect of chemotherapy and radiation. 
  • Aging process: Like any other part of the body, our teeth wear down over time. The outer layer of the enamel becomes discoloured as a person ages.
  • Amalgam dental repair: Silver fillings are notorious for causing black discolouration of teeth. It is because amalgam contains sulphide, which forms the grey-black shade on the teeth.
  • Use of tobacco products: Tobacco products are known to cause tooth discolouration over time. That’s why dentists recommend quitting them, not only for your teeth and gums, but for the health of your body as well.
  • Dark-coloured foods and beverages: There are many causes for surface stains, including coffee, red wine, dark teas, and soda. More obscurely coloured foods like blackberries can also cause unwanted discolouration on your natural teeth. 
  • Taking tetracycline while pregnant: Pregnant mothers taking tetracycline antibiotics increase the risk of tooth discolouration in their children.

Foods that Can Stain Teeth

Foods and drinks containing dark pigment and high acidic content can also leave stains on your teeth when frequently consumed. These are the types of foods and beverages that are the most significant tooth stain contributors. 

  • Berries: Although their antioxidant properties provide health benefits, berries can have profoundly permanent staining effects.
  • Sauces: Curries and tomato sauce are typically acidic, which can cause tooth staining. Opt for a lighter, creamy sauce instead to protect your teeth and reduce the chances of this happening.
  • Coffee: Drinking coffee can make your teeth appear more yellow and dull. Its dark colour and acidic properties can cause discolouration. 
  • Tea: Black tea can be even worse for your teeth than coffee. The tannins in black tea can break down the enamel on your pearly whites while staining them simultaneously.
  • Wine: It is known that the tannins in red wine can cause discolouration, giving the teeth a shade of grey. White wines, on the other hand, don’t directly stain as they have no natural pigments. However, they can cause existing stains to get darker.
  • Sugary drinks: Sugary drinks may be as bad for your teeth as they are for your health. Over time, frequent soda consumption will wear away your tooth enamel that coats and protects them, thus making them appear darker.
  • Smoking: Tobacco can leave residual stains on teeth that may affect the appearance and health of dental enamel. Consistent smokers may notice their teeth browned, commonly referred to as “smokers’ teeth”.
  • Braces: Braces for adults can straighten teeth, but they result in teeth looking a bit yellow.

How Does Teeth Whitening Treatment Work?

Teeth can be whitened using an active agent such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Studies have shown that these chemicals work and are safe for teeth whitening as long as they are not overused or misused. Moreover, hydrogen peroxide is also safe for the body to absorb.

Hydrogen peroxide has been used for many years as an effective tool to whiten teeth. When applied, the hydrogen peroxide reacts with your teeth’s enamel and dentin by oxidising them, which results in whiter and brighter looking teeth.

The majority of the treatments do not appear to have negative changes to tooth enamel. However, a few treatments may cause changes in the enamel and induce tooth sensitivity when the gel is left on the teeth for too long.

Different Types of Teeth Whitening Treatment

For patients who have discoloured teeth, whitening treatments are the perfect cost-effective and practical solution. No one can resist a white smile. It’s been long established that having whiter teeth makes you appear more attractive, healthy, and confident. 

Here are some teeth whitening methods: 

Professional Teeth Whitening 

In-chair teeth whitening treatments are among the most common and popular options because they provide immediate results with little time commitment required from the patient. Some whitening treatments, like ZOOM, BOOST, and Kor Whitening, provide the quickest results on the market today.

These treatments use either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as the active ingredient, and the dentist may or may not use a special light.

Dental in-office whitening can make your teeth two or three shades lighter and can be done in one dental appointment. The treatment typically lasts about 30 minutes. Alternatively, you may opt to have tooth whitening during your routine cleanings, which should take place every six months.

Take-Home Teeth Whitening

It is a more time consuming and intensive whitening treatment than an in-office whitening procedure. First, your dentist will create impressions of your mouth to create a custom-fitted set of moulds.

Your dental professional will give you six months’ worth of trays and whitening gel, depending on how often you use them. If this is for a long-term process, they will ensure you have enough on hand so that you don’t have to worry about running out while waiting for the next batch. Gel refills are available if you need more. 

This procedure is perfect for patients looking to get a fast, effective, and aggressive teeth whitening treatment.

Over the Counter Whitening Products

These products are inexpensive but time-consuming. Over-the-counter whitening products are the most accessible option for those looking to lighten their teeth. However, these treatments are not long-lasting. Hence, you need to do the home treatment again after a few months.

The over-the-counter whitening treatment market is flooded with whitening products such as strips, gels, toothpaste, and mouthwashes.

Whitening Pens

Whitening pens are more affordable and are excellent for people with busy schedules who don’t have much time to whiten their teeth. These are incredibly convenient as you can carry them around in any purse or bag, so you will always be able to use them when needed. The best thing is that you can whiten your teeth in just a few minutes per day.

When used consistently, whitening pens can help maintain teeth whiteness. Otherwise, consider using them in combination with other products like LED kits to maintain your bright smile.

LED whitening kits

The LED teeth whitening kit is an easy and effective way to get your pearly whites back. It is a new form of at-home treatment that you can order online. These kits use heat, whitening gel, and LED lights to target the stains on your tooth enamel for a whiter smile.

Using the LED light alone will not whiten the teeth. Still, when combined with a tooth-whitening gel, it can help expedite the whitening process by penetrating the enamel and lifting stains away.

LED lights are safer and different from UV light because they do not cause cell mutation. They merely accelerate the reaction, making one’steeth whiter in a short amount of time.

DIY Teeth Whitening vs Professional Teeth Whitening

Take-home teeth whitening kits are a cheaper alternative to professional in-clinic whitening treatments when it comes to whitening. However, they need more maintenance since the effect doesn’t last that long.

The price of LED whitening kits is higher than over-the-counter products, but they don’t require as much effort to reach your desired level of brightness. They can also be used in between professional treatments for upkeep or maintenance.

Over-the-counter whitening treatments can only be effective if the products are used consistently. In contrast, professional whitening treatments may only need to be done every six months to three years for maintenance.

Cost of Teeth Whitening in Australia

Treatment varies from person to person, but an Australian National Dental Fee Survey found that the average cost of take-home teeth whitening kits is $610 and in-chair treatments hover around $260 per tooth.

Learn More: Cost of Teeth Whitening: Detailed Breakdown

Ways to Whiten Your Teeth Naturally

While some people may want quick results, there are natural teeth whitening methods that some swear by. However, these approaches may take more time than traditional over-the-counter teeth whiteners because you have to continually apply the product daily for a couple of weeks or months to achieve your desired aesthetics.

  • Coconut oil pulling – It is an Ayurvedic technique for oral hygiene that has been popularised in India. When you swish oil around your mouth, it can loosen plaque and help clean your teeth and gums. To perform this method, one has to swish oil in their mouth for 10-15 minutes. If done correctly, many people notice their teeth feeling cleaner than before they started this process. Afterwards, you have to rinse and brush your teeth as you usually would.
  • A homemade whitening paste – If you are looking for a home remedy for whitening your teeth, try mixing baking soda with a bit of water or hydrogen peroxide to create a thin white paste. Apply the toothpaste mixture to your teeth for 30 seconds after brushing.
  • Activated charcoal – It is an incredible substance that will clean your teeth, but it may turn your whole mouth black. However, once you rinse it off, you’ll notice your smile is brighter. Moreover, it has been used in medicinal remedies for centuries and is available in powder or toothpaste.
  • Mashed strawberries – A few minutes of mashed strawberries rubbed on the teeth will quickly whiten them. Make sure to rinse thoroughly afterwards. However, be cautious when using this technique, as the citric acid in the fruit can erode your enamel surface.
  • Apple cider vinegar – One way to get rid of dark stains on teeth is by rubbing apple cider vinegar onto the teeth for about a minute, rinsing them with water, and brushing them like you usually would. Do the process again for at least a month to see results.

How Long Does Teeth Whitening Last?

Tooth-whitening treatments can last anywhere from a few months up to a year. Professional or home whitening trays last longer and provide the best results.

Learn More: How Long Does Teeth Whitening Treatment Last

Side Effects of Teeth Whitening

If you’re considering getting your teeth whitened, know that the process is safe. However, one of the significant drawbacks to tooth whitening products is the potential side effects.

In general, most people who undergo tooth whitening treatments are satisfied with the results. However, some people may encounter one or more of the following side effects:

Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth whitening is often associated with tooth sensitivity. It occurs when the dentin layer of your teeth is exposed during the bleaching process. Dentin, which is located below the surface enamel, can be stimulated by heat and light. 

Moreover, when you stop over-the-counter whitening treatments, the sensitivity goes away. However, suppose you are whitening your teeth at the cosmetic dentist’s office. In that case, they will take steps to avoid any sensitivity that might occur.

Gum irritation

You can experience gum discomfort when the whitening gel touches your gums. The irritation usually goes away within 24 hours if it doesn’t come into contact with your gums again.

When using at-home whitening kits, you may experience the following side effects: 

  • Instead of getting whitened, the teeth appear to have a more yellow appearance.
  • It causes tooth enamel to erode, making it more prone to cavities.
  • Higher risk of tooth damage

Learn More: Side Effects of Teeth Whitening

Is Teeth Whitening safe?

Tooth whitening treatments have been around for centuries. They are safe for both professional treatments and over-the-counter teeth whiteners.

However, the critical part of safely doing it is accurately following the directions given by the dentist or on the product label for OTC whitening kits.

Furthermore, do not overuse whitening products as they can cause sensitive teeth and gum irritation and irreversible enamel erosion.

Whitening your teeth at home generally involves a solution containing 5 to 10% hydrogen peroxide or 35% carbamide peroxide. The treatment is applied for 10 to 30 minutes, and you can repeat the process over several days if desired. Furthermore, this kind of treatment is absolutely safe.

Professional teeth whitening treatments in a dental clinic contain 25 to 40% hydrogen peroxide and remain on the teeth for 30 minutes. The treatment is only required every six to twelve months.

Do’s and Don’ts After the Teeth Whitening Treatment

When it comes to teeth whitening, you need to find a solution that works. There’s no such thing as permanent teeth whitening, but there are things you can do after the procedure to make sure your new smile lasts as long as possible:

Do’s

  • To maintain your oral health, you need to brush thoroughly and floss regularly.
  • Schedule an appointment with your dentist at least twice a year for regular checkups and book an appointment with a hygienist to clean and polish your teeth. It will reduce tooth decay and plaque from building up.
  • You may opt to use electric toothbrushes since they provide many benefits, but one of the most notable is the speed with which they remove plaque.

Don’ts

  • Reduce or avoid the intake of foods and drinks that are known to cause stains.
  • For sugary or acidic beverages, drink through a straw to help reduce contact with your teeth.
  • Avoid staining your teeth by rinsing your mouth with water or chewing sugar-free gum after consuming a food or drink containing stain-causing agents.
  • Avoid using vape or tobacco products. 

Teeth Whitening FAQ’s

Is Teeth Whitening Permanent?

Teeth brightening is only temporary, which means that it lasts for a few months to up to one year or more, depending on the person’s lifestyle and oral hygiene. Also, it will last a shorter period for those who smoke or eat food or drink beverages that cause discolouration.

The Potential Risk of Teeth Whitening

Whitening teeth is a common cosmetic dentistry procedure, but there are some risks involved. These side effects are related to the concentration, time spent whitening the teeth, and other components added to the product. It includes an increase in tooth sensitivity and gum irritation.

Can Teeth Whitening Treatment Damage Your Teeth?

No, it doesn’t damage the teeth. However, it has been shown that over-exposing your teeth to bleaching agents can cause tooth erosion. When enough of the enamel is worn off by bleach, it can leave the sensitive dentin underneath exposed. It makes it easier for bacteria to get in and create further dental problems.

Can Teeth Whitening Damage Your Gums?

It is against safety guidelines to apply carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide gel in high concentrations to the lining of the cheeks, lips, or inside the mouth soft tissue. If it gets in contact with these areas, a chemical burn will occur. It will cause blisters in response to this potent substance.

Can I Smoke After My Teeth Whitening Treatment?

It is generally accepted that people should wait for at least 24 hours after having their teeth whitened before smoking. Also, make it a point to brush or rinse your teeth before and after you smoke.

Can I Drink Coffee After Teeth Whitening Treatment?

After getting a tooth whitening treatment, it’s essential to avoid dark-coloured foods and beverages, including coffee, for at least 48 hours to protect your teeth. The enamel is extremely porous at this time, which means it absorbs colour quickly.

Alternatives to Teeth Whitening

Porcelain Veneers

Porcelain veneers are thin shells that are placed to cover the front surface of your teeth. They can be an effective way to hide cosmetic imperfections, such as discolouration or tooth gaps. They stay put firmly and allow you to eat and speak just as if you had your natural teeth.

Lumineers

Lumineers, similar to porcelain veneers, are bonded to the front surface of the teeth to cover imperfections. Aside from concealing tooth discolouration, you can also opt for a lighter shade to brighten your smile. Though they are thinner, they last longer than traditional veneers.

Dental Crowns

Crowns are a cosmetic and restorative solution for teeth that have sustained damage. Some people choose dental crowns because they have a tooth that requires simple cosmetic work and extensive structural repair. Crowns can be used to cover the entire tooth and not just the front, like what veneers do. Therefore, they can improve your oral health and keep your natural teeth longer.

How Can I Make My Teeth Whitening Last Longer?

Regardless of good dental hygiene, eating certain foods could leave your teeth looking dull. Fully understanding the benefits of professional tooth whitening is essential before investing. Once you’ve completed your treatment, there are ways to minimise further staining.

Your dentist may have used laser teeth whitening or chemical whitening. You must be wary of certain foods and drinks to avoid ruining the effects. The following tips will help you keep your teeth looking their best and protect them from future stains.

  • Visit your dentist for professional teeth cleaning twice a year. 

Schedule a dentist appointment twice a year for your regular checkup and professional teeth cleaning. They use a tool to fight against tooth discolouration instead of bleaching your teeth again.

With good dental hygiene, as well as professional dental cleanings, you can maintain your beautiful smile. However, stains can return over time even without the bad habits of coffee.

  • Eliminate the use of tobacco products

Tobacco use isn’t just bad for your teeth. Additional risks associated with tobacco use include gum disease, oral cancer, and dulled taste abilities. Eliminating it can result in significant improvements in the condition of your teeth and your overall dental health.

  • Avoid stain-causing foods and beverages.

Be mindful of what you eat or drink, as certain foods and beverages will stain your teeth. Stain-causing particles sink into the protein layer of the tooth enamel, resulting in dirty-looking teeth. To avoid this, cut back on dark-coloured fruits such as blueberries and blackberries, and drinks like red wine, coffee, soda, and tea. Furthermore, be aware that it contains dyes as it may also cause tooth discolouration.

If it can’t be avoided, try drinking your favorite beverages by sipping through a straw to keep the liquid away from your teeth. Drinking through a straw helps direct the fluid to the back of your throat, which limits teeth exposure and reduces stains. This way, you can enjoy these drinks without having to worry about the staining effects on your teeth. 

  • Have a good oral hygiene routine

With a proper oral care routine, you can make sure your teeth always look great. Despite this, it can be challenging with all of the food and liquids that we consume throughout the day. Keeping a low level of plaque will reduce the chances that any other substances can leave stains. Brushing twice per day will help to remove any plaque and decrease the likelihood of tooth discolouration. Moreover, make sure you floss daily since brushing is not enough to get rid of stubborn stains around the teeth.

  • Use whitening toothpaste

Whitening toothpaste is a great way to keep your teeth looking their best. Whiteners work by removing exterior stains that may have accumulated during the day. Even better, some people use hydrogen peroxide as a whitener, which can work from the inside out. Doing this easy step twice a day can give you a brighter smile.

  • Use at-home whitening kits for touch-ups.

You can prolong the life of your professional teeth cleaning by whitening your teeth at home. To keep your teeth looking good, whitening toothpaste, gels, touch-up pens and strips are all brighteners that you should use as needed.

Be sure to maintain your oral health by visiting the dentist twice a year. Professional and at-home teeth whitening products are not replacements for dental cleanings.

  • Drink plenty of water.

Drinking water not only keeps your mouth clean but also makes your teeth healthier by washing away bacteria that can settle between the gums and teeth. It also ensures that your enamel stays clean by rinsing away stains and keeping your teeth looking shiny.

Can I Go for Teeth Whitening Treatment when Pregnant?

Dentists recommend that non-essential dental procedures such as teeth whitening be delayed while you’re pregnant.

Whitening treatments are best avoided during the third trimester of pregnancy due to discomfort caused by lying still throughout the procedure.

Moreover, do not use any hydrogen peroxide whitener that has a concentration of more than 6%. Higher concentrations can be dangerous, so only dental professionals should apply it at that strength.

Learn More: Teeth Whitening While Pregnant: Is It Safe?

Final Thoughts

Teeth whitening is one of the most popular cosmetic procedures that has been around for years. The procedure can be done at a dentist’s office or even at home using over-the-counter products. Whether you are conscious of the appearance of your teeth or not, it’s never too late to improve your smile.

When you’re ready to take the next step in your dental health journey, consider teeth whitening. We want to ensure that our patients are fully informed about what they can expect from a teeth-whitening procedure. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have. If you’ve been considering getting an appointment for this treatment with us, please get in touch today at 08 9532 0247 or send us an email through our contact form on our website.

AboutDr. Abhi Singh
Dr Abhi is a member of the Australian Dental Association and loves living and working in our community. He has over a decade of experience in all aspects of dentistry with a special interest in implants, wisdom teeth removal and cosmetic dentistry.