Dentist’s Insight- 50 shades of white

Thinking about whitening?
Whitening your teeth can be one of the most effective ways of improving your appearance. It is also the most cost effective and less harmful treatments on your teeth which can get wonderful results. But how much do you know about this treatment?

What Is It?
Tooth whitening uses peroxide to lighten teeth and helps to remove stains and discoloration, most commonly those from food and drinks, smoking and damaged teeth.

  • Extrinsic stains- most commonly those from food, drinks and smoking. Sometimes a scale and polish is all you need to remove these stains but other times this is not quite enough and whitening is required.
  • Intrinsic staining- Some people have stains that shine through from inside the tooth, for example, exposure to too much fluoride or tetracycline antibiotics as a child, most commonly trauma may also darken a tooth.

Tooth whitening is most effective on surface (extrinsic) stains but whitening may help intrinsic stains in combination with other treatments such as veneers.

So how do I go about whitening my smile?
You may find may dental practices offering upfront payment discounts on whitening, however, this is no guarantee this treatment will be right for you. Those who have a lot of fillings and/or crowns/bridges/veneers on their front teeth need to be aware that the bleach will NOT change the colour of these and you may need other treatment to coincide with your whitening.

It is very important a dentist is the one who prescribes your tooth whitening. It is illegal to sell whitening with peroxide unless you are a qualified dentist. This is for your protection and we are well trained to provide you the appropriate instructions and concentrations.

Most whitening happens at home, your dentist will make trays to hold the whitening gel that fit your teeth precisely. Home whitening gel usually needs to be applied daily for a few weeks. For a quick fix you can have treatment in the surgery , but this isn’t as predictable in the long run and for more reliable results it is sometimes recommended that you also to do the home whitening as well to ensure the results last  longer.

Bleaching can make some peoples teeth very sensitive while having the treatment done, and this may be a little uncomfortable for some people (myself included). This sensitivity usually wears off after you stop using the gel.

But one tooth is darker than the others?
Most likely this tooth had a knock in the past which means the nerve is no longer alive any more or you had a root canal filling in that tooth. The staining is coming from inside the tooth which is why it is called intrinsic staining. In these circumstances we use a different procedure that whitens the tooth from the inside. This is done by putting a whitening agent inside the tooth and put a temporary filling over it. The tooth will be left this way for several days. You may need this done only once, or it can be repeated until the tooth reaches the desired shade.

Is whitening a one-off treatment?
Whitening is not a permanent solution and the stains can come back over time. This amount of time varies i.e. if you smoke or consume a lot of staining foods or drinks, you may see the whiteness start to fade in a few months. If you avoid these sources of staining, you may not need a top up treatment until after 6 to 12 months. Having a regular scale and polish can help Re-whitening can be done in the dentist’s office or at home. If you have a custom-made mouthpiece and whitening agent at home, you can ask your dentist for more gel to top up.

What are the risks?
Whitening is unlikely to cause serious side effects, although some people’s teeth may become more sensitive for a short while. You may get mild gum irritation as well and should see your dentist if this occurs. Women should avoid whitening while pregnant. The effect of the whitening materials on the fetus is unknown, so it should be avoided until after delivery/breastfeeding.

Dentist’s Insight: We can rebuild him. We have the technology.

There comes a point where tooth brushing and diet alterations can no longer undo the damage of decay. Once this decay has spread into the dentine it is very likely the tooth will require a filling. This is often necessary because spreading decay compromises the integrity of the tooth, therefore putting it at risk of fracture. There is also a risk that the nerve may become infected if the decay spreads further which may lead to further complications (abscess, swelling, pain).

Those of you with fillings will know that there are different types, and these can generally be broken down into those you can clearly see (silver amalgam) and those you can’t (mainly tooth-coloured composite fillings). These days more and more patients are asking to have composite fillings placed, and it is becoming more important that patients understand what the benefits and risks are of having these fillings.

What is a composite filling?

A composite filling is a resin which is mixed with glass to make it resemble a tooth when placed in a cavity. The technology of these materials has advanced enough that they now have multiple uses, for example, front teeth can be altered to improve the smile, or repair fractures after accidents.

How is the filling done?

Composite materials are VERY moisture sensitive, so sometimes a dry rubber dam is placed to avoid the tooth getting wet. The cavity is prepared and then the composite is applied in layers which are set hard with a blue light. Once finished, the filling is shaped so it fits the tooth and then polished smooth.

What are the advantages of composites?

Composites are more aesthetically pleasing (i.e. they look more natural) than other materials. Placing this type of filling can be an art form, and different shades can be blended to create a colour nearly identical to that of the actual tooth. Resin fillings can provide some extra support for the remaining tooth structure which can help delay breakage and insulate the nerve of the tooth from temperature changes.

What are the disadvantages?

After having a composite filling, a patient may experience some sensitivity once the local anesthetic has worn off. Over time the colour of the composite can change slightly, especially if regular amounts of tea, coffee or other staining foods are consumed which may stain it. A coating can be placed over the filling to reduce how quickly it stains, however, regular maintenance is needed to remove staining. Composites tend to wear away a little faster than amalgam fillings when in large cavities, although they hold up as well in small cavities.

Here are some photos of composite fillings I have done recently:

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