A perfect set of pearly white teeth is, in many people’s minds, essential for good looks – whether you’re a Hollywood star or not. If your smile isn’t dazzling, having your teeth whitened can be the answer.
But before you do, you should chew on a few facts.
For one thing, while teeth whitening can brighten discoloured teeth, not every tooth is responsive to treatment, points out Dr Dietmar Oesterreich, vice president of the German Dental Association.
“Dentists must inform patients that only their natural teeth can become whiter by bleaching, not fillings or artificial teeth,” he says.
What’s more, bleaching isn’t cheap, costing from RM1,400 to RM1,900, according to Dr Oesterreich. And since it’s a cosmetic procedure and not a medical one, you can’t expect your health insurance to cover it.
“Bleaching should always be preceded by a dental examination because only a dentist recognises whether and how teeth can be whitened,” he says.
For example, some discolourations can’t be changed by external bleaching – such as those caused by bleeding inside the tooth.
“Bleeding in a tooth makes it look darker,” Dr Oesterreich says.
Although a tooth of this kind can be whitened, this can only be done internally and at the hands of a dentist, the expert says.
Other experts also recommend professional teeth cleaning before bleaching. This alone can make teeth much whiter, and it’s usually much cheaper than bleaching.
Further prerequisites for bleaching include healthy teeth and gums, remarks Dr Wolfgang Esser, chairman of Germany’s National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Dentists.
“Teeth with untreated caries, defective fillings, deficient enamel or fractures are therefore unsuitable,” he says, since in these cases the bleaching agent “can penetrate the tooth’s interior, causing pain and damage the tooth and the nerve.”
Dr Esser has a warning for young patients: “[Bleaching] adolescents’ teeth carries a greater risk of damage to the dental nerve because their tooth structure hasn’t yet matured.”
Some people shouldn’t consider teeth bleaching, he says, namely pregnant or breastfeeding women, and anyone who doesn’t tolerate the ingredients of the bleaching agent.
There are basically two treatment options for teeth bleaching.
“You can choose between bleaching at the dentist’s surgery or bleaching at home,” Dr Oesterreich explains.
In the former, the dentist applies the bleaching gel.
“For at-home bleaching, dental splints are made first,” he says. “The patient can then wear them at home with a bleaching agent received from the dentist.”
The whitening effect isn’t permanent.
“You can generally expect it to last at least three to five years,” notes Dr Oesterreich. The duration depending heavily on the patient’s eating and brushing habits.
The treatment is very safe.
“When done properly, bleaching has only one known side effect: It can very briefly heighten the teeth’s sensitivity to hot and cold,” says orthodontist Wolfgang Boer, adding that this disappears within two or three days, and usually after just a few hours.
Neither Dr Oesterreich nor Dr Esser recommends using whitening toothpastes.
While they can remove superficial discolouration from coffee, tea or nicotine better than normal toothpastes, the effect is short-lived, Dr Esser says.
“Whitening toothpastes should be used with caution,” he warns. “They’re more abrasive than normal toothpastes and contain chemical additives. So they not only remove dental plaque and stains more effectively, they can also wear away the tooth enamel.” — dpa