Teeth whitening

Everyday life takes its toll on our teeth. Drinking too much tea or coffee, smoking or even eating strongly coloured foods can stain and discolour them. There are toothpastes available that will help remove these stains, but they can't change the actual colour of the tooth underneath.

The colour of your teeth is determined by your DNA, just like the colour of your hair or your eyes. As we get older, the dentine - the soft, pulpy substance below the enamel that protects the nerves and the blood supply to the tooth - changes colour, becoming more yellow. This is something which a stain-removing toothpaste alone cannot help.

Dentists can, though. By applying a bleaching agent to the teeth, they can whiten the teeth, giving you a sparkly white smile. This procedure is simple, harmless and practically painless.

It is important, though, to do it under your dentist's supervision. Don't be tempted to buy kits over the counter or on the Internet. Not only are they not made to fit your mouth exactly, it may be that bleaching isn't suitable for you, especially if you have gum disease or crowns.

How does my dentist whiten my teeth?

The most common way a dentist will whiten or bleach your teeth is using a special sleeve and some gel. First of all, the dentist will give your mouth a thorough check-up to make sure there are no other problems and that your gums are nice and healthy. Then he or she will take an impression of your teeth, upper and lower, using a tray with dental putty. Using that impression, a plastic sleeve will be made which can fit snugly and exactly around your teeth.

The dentist will then show you how to put a small amount of the bleaching gel into the sleeve and then how to slide it over your teeth. Then you take the sleeve and the gel home and use it overnight, maybe every other or every third night, until your teeth are the desired colour. You may find that your teeth are more sensitive for about 24 hours after each application, but this is only temporary.

Teeth whitening involves bleaching your teeth to make them a lighter colour. Teeth whitening can’t make your teeth brilliant white, but it can lighten the existing colour by several shades.

Standard teeth whitening involves several visits to the dentist plus sessions at home wearing a mouthguard containing bleaching gel. The whole process takes a couple of months.

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