Teeth whitening is an incredibly popular dental treatment that offers fantastic results. In the hands of a dentist, the procedure is very safe, but in recent years the market has been inundated with at-home whitening kits that promise a whiter, brighter smile for a fraction of the cost of professional whitening.
With large marketing budgets and celebrity endorsements, teeth whitening kits are big business – but what can you expect in terms of results and, most importantly, safety?
The good news is that there are numerous whitening kits being sold by reputable companies that are completely safe. Thanks to an EU directive, safety is now a big priority in the industry and over-the-counter teeth whitening kits can only contain up to 0/1% hydrogen peroxide.
The bad news is that this percentage is too low to see a dramatic difference in the colour of your teeth and these kits are best suited to lifting surface stains like red wine and coffee.
What’s more, there are also some less-than-reputable companies selling teeth whitening kits – so shop and whiten with caution. Some online companies are selling whitening products for home use that don’t meet EU guidelines, putting your teeth and gums at risk of damage.
You should also be cautious of products that whiten teeth by exfoliating stains away, for example activated charcoal. While these can brighten your smile by rubbing away stains, they’ll also be rubbing away your tooth’s enamel (its protective outer layer). Currently charcoal isn’t endorsed by any dental association and little is known about its long-term effects.
Professional teeth whitening
If you’re looking for a subtle improvement, a DIY whitening product could be worth a try (just do your research first). However, if you want to see a noticeable difference, you may want to consider professional teeth whitening.
First and foremost, it’s important to know that professional teeth whitening must be provided or supervised by a dentist. It is illegal for anyone else to provide teeth whitening, regardless of how legitimate their training may seem.
Professional teeth whitening can include at-home whitening kits, but there are some crucial differences between professional and DIY kits.
1) Your dentist will begin by examining your teeth to make sure you’re a suitable candidate for teeth whitening. For example, do you have any crowns or veneers that won’t change colour, or tooth decay that needs treating before whitening?
2) Your whitening trays (pictured below) will be custom-made to fit your teeth, ensuring the whitening gel evenly covers your teeth – and not your gums! DIY kits often contain trays that you mould around your teeth at home, so they don’t always fit correctly and bleach can leak onto your gums.
3) Dentists can provide stronger whitening gels (containing up to 6% hydrogen peroxide), so you should see surface stains disappear and a noticeable difference to your natural tooth colour.