Teeth whitening can be a highly effective way of lightening the natural color of your teeth without removing any of the tooth surface. It cannot make a complete color change, but it will lighten the existing shade. Professional bleaching is the most common form of tooth whitening. Your dentist will be able to tell you if you are suitable for the treatment, and will supervise it if you are.
First the dentist will put a rubber shield or a gel on your gums to protect the soft tissue. They will then apply the whitening product to your teeth, using a specially made tray which fits into your mouth like a gum-shield. The ‘active ingredient’ in the product is usually hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. As the active ingredient is broken down, oxygen gets into the enamel on the teeth and the tooth color is made lighter. The total treatment can usually be done within two weeks.
You will need two visits to the dentist. Your dentist will need to make a mouth guard and will take impressions for this at the first appointment. Once your dentist has started the treatment, you will need to continue the treatment at home. This means regularly applying the whitening product over a period of time, for 30 minutes to one hour at a time. However, there are now some new products which can be applied for up to eight hours at a time. This means a satisfactory result can be achieved in as little as a few days. Some people may find that their teeth become sensitive to cold during or after the treatment. Others report discomfort in the gums, a sore throat or white patches on the gum line. These symptoms are usually temporary and should disappear within a few days of the treatment finishing. If any of these side effects continue you should go to your dentist.
There are also several whitening toothpastes on the market. Although they do not affect the natural color of your teeth, they may be effective at removing staining and therefore may improve the overall appearance of your teeth. Whitening toothpaste may also help the effect last, once your teeth have been professionally whitened. Tooth whitening can only lighten your existing tooth color. Also it only works on natural teeth. It will not work on any types of ‘false’ teeth such as dentures, crowns and veneers.
A veneer is a thin layer of porcelain made to fit over the front surface of a tooth, like a false fingernail fits over a nail. Veneers can improve the color, shape and position of your teeth. A precise shade of porcelain can be chosen to give the right color to improve a single discolored or stained tooth or to lighten front teeth (usually the upper ones). A veneer can make a chipped tooth look intact again. The porcelain covers the whole of the front of the tooth with a thicker section replacing the broken part.
Veneers can also be used to close small gaps, when orthodontics (braces) are not suitable. If one tooth is slightly out of position, a veneer can sometimes be fitted to bring it into line with the others. Veneers make teeth look natural and healthy.
Because they are very thin and are held in place by a special strong bond very little preparation of the tooth is needed. Some of the shiny outer enamel surface of the tooth may be removed, to make sure that the veneer can be bonded permanently in place later. The amount of enamel removed is tiny and will be the same as the thickness of the veneer to be fitted, so that the tooth stays the same size. A local anesthetic (injection) may be used to make sure that there is no discomfort, but often this is not necessary. Once the tooth has been prepared, the dentist will take an ‘impression’ (mold). This will be given to the dental technician, along with any other information needed to make the veneer. The color of the surrounding teeth is matched on a shade guide to make sure that the veneer will look entirely natural.
A veneer takes at least two visits: the first to prepare the tooth and to match the shade, and the second to fit it. Before bonding it in place, your dentist will show you the veneer on your tooth to make sure you are happy with it. Bonding a veneer in place is done with a special adhesive, which holds it firmly on the tooth. Veneers should last for many years; but they can chip or break, just as your own teeth can.