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Your smile creates an immediate, subconscious, visual impact on people you meet. A brighter smile gives the impression of youth, vitality, radiant health, happiness, and warmth. A bright smile is perceived as a healthy smile.

Teeth whitening remains one of the most economical ways to enhance your smile.A recent survey revealed that we place a high value on our smile:

• Virtually all adults (99.7%) believe a smile is an important social asset. 96% of adults believe an attractive smile makes a person more appealing to members of the opposite sex.

• Three-quarters (74%) of adults feel an unattractive smile can hurt a person’s chance for career success.

And when the survey respondents were asked, “What would you like to improve most about your smile?” The most common response was: Whiter & brighter teeth.

If you are not happy with your smile, teeth whitening may be a good first step.

1. What Is Whitening?

Whitening teeth is when a gel-like substance placed on your teeth oxidises the surface so it appears whiter and brighter. It is bleaching, as the active ingredient is usually Hydrogen Peroxide which is safely contained in the gel.

There are many whitening products these days. Most are professional whitening systems to be carried out by the dentist. There are also home-use remedies, which you can buy off the shelf and to apply on yourself at home.

The main difference is in the formulation / content of the gel-like mixture. Professional systems are of much higher concentration than those in the home use packages due to several factors.

2. Why Are In-house Whitening Gels Stronger Than Take-Home Kits

First and foremost, a patient needs to be examined at the very start of a treatment for cavities (holes), cracked teeth, and leaking fillings. Any teeth that require attention needs to be attended to first before anything else! Imagine placing a bleaching agent on an exposed tooth! It could be very painful and might damage the tooth even more. This is a very important and crucial step to be done by us, the dentist.

Most people are (unfortunately) afraid of dentists, therefore avoid visiting one. Hence manufacturers of home-use products, very prudently, only include a mild formulation that doesn’t have an active cycle that lasts long for its intended purpose. Home-use bleaching package degrades quickly and become harmless within minutes, in order to avoid problems and complications as much possible.

Secondly, a home-use formulation is usually placed in a ’stock tray’; a standard sized U-shaped tray that is used to place the gel and fit into your mouth, to hold the gel onto the teeth. These standard trays would not fit onto your teeth exactly even if they are placed in hot water first to be adjusted, resulting on the leakage of gel mixture. Trays that are custom-made for you by a dentist are made to fit your jaws perfectly with just enough space to hold in the gel safely.

Small amounts of home-use bleaching mixture risks being swallowed, which is why it has to be rather mild in concentration to appear safe to sell over-the-counter, and for it to be used unsupervised at home.

3. Causes Of Tooth Discolouration

Deciduous (baby) teeth are typically whiter than the adult teeth that appear later. As we age, our adult teeth often become darker, yellower, or stained. This is partly why white teeth makes people appear more youthful. Just as there are a number of ways to lighten or brighten teeth, there are also several different ways for teeth to become discoloured. The main causes of darkened teeth are genetics, antibiotics, and certain foods, also teeth tend to naturally darken as we age.

Internal tooth discolouration is caused by changes in the enamel of the tooth and the dentin. The main causes of internal tooth discoloration are exposure to high levels of fluoride, tetracycline, use of antibiotics as a child, developmental disorders, tooth decay, restorations, root canal issues, and trauma.

External tooth discolouration is caused by factors outside the body, mainly food and tobacco. The main causes of external tooth yellowing are smoking, foods with tannins, coffee, tea, carrots, oranges, and other foods.

4. Stains That Are Best Removed In-Office Whitening

Chairside whitening removes organic stains or discolourations primarily caused by:

• Aging. Over time, the teeth darken with a yellow, brown, green or grey shade which may be due to heredity and/or eating habits. Yellowed teeth tend to whiten most readily.

• Consumption of certain foods especially coffee, red wine, sodas and dark-colored vegetables and fruits.

• Tobacco use.

5. Stains Resistant To In-Office Whitening

• Teeth with certain stains typically those that are inorganic, do not respond well to in-office whitening. In fact, these teeth may look even darker after the surrounding teeth have been whitened.

• Trauma, which causes the dentin to darken. The enamel of teeth are whitened not the dentine.

• Tetracycline antibiotics ingested during tooth-formation in childhood. These drugs chemically bind with the structure of both the tooth's enamel and underlying dentin.

• Overexposure to fluoride which can cause fluorosis, resulting in tooth discoloration. Fluorosis is treated by ICON Resin Infiltration, which is a different procedure offered by our clinics. It specifically treats these discoloured spots by pre-treating these areas with a special liquid then applying the resin to these areas. The infiltrated areas will visually take one the appearance of the surrounding healthy tooth structure. You will find out more details in the topic ICON Resin Infiltration.

6. The In-House Whitening Procedure

In the dentist’s office, a patient would be examined first, subsequently a scaling and polishing of your teeth will be carried out. After cleaning, initial colour of the teeth is recorded then the desired and final possible colour after whitening is discussed.

To make it more comfortable and easier for the patient, a special cheek retractor is inserted into the mouth, exposing the teeth in the ‘aesthetic zone’, the teeth that are visible when you smile. The patents gums are then protected by a special barrier, which is painted on to the gum tissue. Only after all the gums are protected does the procedure really start.

The whitening mixture is prepared and immediately placed on the teeth. This step is very closely timed, and the concentration of the gel mixture is measured precisely. The dentist then either passes a plasma light (a high intensity light) or uses an ultra violet (UV) light source, further activating the release of oxygen from the mixture.

All these is done under very strict supervision. Once the appropriate time is over, the bleach mixture is carefully suctioned off so patients would not swallow it. The whole process is repeated. Again, very strict control is exercised as to the protection of your gums from the bleach, the concentration of the mixture, the length of time it is placed on your teeth and the suctioning off of all the mixture after each application.

Once all the bleaching cycles are completed, the dentist will remove the barrier over the gums and treat the gums with Vitamin E to sooth it. Usually we advise the patient to stay away for at least a day, from food and drink that may stain the teeth. Usually 24 hours will be more than sufficient for the teeth to remineralise from the natural saliva, after 24 hours eating and drinking beverages like coffee and coke would be fine.

In short, whitening can be a complicated procedure and could take up to an hour or longer so the best way to get your teeth whitening is to leave it to the professionals!

“Dr. Fauziah is the best! Went to the clinic with a gap in my teeth and left the place constantly smiling. Highly recommended.”

- Justin Kong