Teeth that have been stained or darkened by food, tobacco use, age, medications or injury can be lightened and brightened by means of a non-invasive process known as teeth whitening.

Teeth whitening or bleaching simply refers to any process that will make the teeth appear whiter. While there are many over the counter options for teeth whitening, the most effective and safest teeth whitening systems are the professional strength ones available at the dentist’s office. A dental professional whitening system offers a higher concentration of whitening components and delivers them to the teeth in the most efficient manner to achieve optimal results.

Teeth whitening is a simple process. Whitening products contain one of two tooth bleaches (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide). These bleaches break stains into smaller pieces, which makes the color less concentrated and your teeth brighter.

Be aware: Some people who use teeth whiteners may experience tooth sensitivity. That happens when the peroxide in the whitener gets through the enamel to the soft layer of dentin and irritates the nerve of your tooth. In most cases the sensitivity is temporary. You can delay treatment, then try again.

  • A cheek retractor is placed in the mouth, exposing all the “esthetic zone” teeth (teeth that are most visible when you smile).
  • A liquid rubber dam or hardening resin is painted onto the gum tissue to protect against any irritation caused by the bleaching gel.
  • A bleaching gel containing carbamide peroxide is applied to the esthetic zone teeth and kept on for approximately 60 minutes.
  • The bleaching gel is suctioned or washed off, and fresh gel is applied for one or more additional periods of 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Some whitening treatments incorporate an intense light that is focused on the teeth and is said to activate or enhance the bleaching process. Opinions vary as to whether this light improves the bleaching outcome.
  • Between gel applications, the teeth are checked to see how well they have whitened, and whether more bleach needs to be applied.
  • After the final gel application, the cheek retractors are removed, the patient rinses and the immediate post-treatment shade change is measured. The teeth may whiten by as few as two to three shades or as many as eight (out of a total of 16). Part of the whitening effect is due to dehydration during the bleaching process, which makes the teeth look whiter than their true new color. That color will emerge after a couple of days.
  • If a satisfactory level of whitening hasn’t been achieved, your technician may recommend follow-up in-office bleaching at a future date, and/or a regimen of take-home bleaching trays.