Want to look your best for the new year? White teeth and a bright smile are the surest ways to makeover your look for 2020.
Some of you might ask: Must we get our teeth whitened by a dentist? What about other DIY teeth whitening methods? We got Dr Lynette Ng, our specialist dentist, to answer your burning questions.
1. Do Over-The-Counter (OTC) Teeth Whitening Products Work?
There are currently many OTC products in the market that claim to whiten teeth. But many people wonder how effective these products are and if they might cause any side effects.
In terms of effectiveness, only peroxide can whiten teeth, as it releases oxygen to penetrate the outer layers of the tooth. The more concentrated the peroxide, the faster or more effective the teeth whitening process.
Because high concentrations of peroxide can be harmful if used inappropriately, the Singapore Dental Association (SDA) has clear guidelines regarding the sale and prescription of tooth whitening/bleaching products, to safeguard consumers. These include:
- Tooth whitening products that contain concentrations up to 0.1% hydrogen peroxide (equivalent to 0.3% carbamide peroxide), can be sold over the counter for home use. This would include products such as whitening toothpaste.
- Tooth whitening products that contain concentrations up to 6% hydrogen peroxide (equivalent to 18% carbamide peroxide), can only be prescribed by a registered dental practitioner after consultation, for home use by the patient. Such products are not for direct sale to the general public.
- Any tooth whitening products containing concentrations above 6% hydrogen peroxide and up to 35% hydrogen peroxide can only be used by a registered dental practitioner in a dental clinic.
Let’s take a look at some common OTC products that patients often ask me about:
1. Teeth Whitening Strips
These adhesive strips have mild peroxide lined on its sticky surface. As peroxide concentration is low, you have to use these strips for at least 2 weeks, each time over a duration of 1–2 hours.
While some patients feedback to me that these whitening strips work, they are not readily available OTC in Singapore. Also as these strips look like scotch tape, they are not easy to apply evenly, which can lead to an uneven whitening effect. If the strips are applied over the gums, they can also cause irritation to the soft tissue. Lastly, if you have crooked teeth, the stiff strips would be highly unsuitable because of the poor fit.
2. Whitening Toothpaste or Mouthwash
The concentration of these products is too low to cause any discernible whitening, they also do not stay in the mouth long enough for a sustained effect. Such products are generally more suitable for external stains from coffee, tea or smoking vs changing the internal colour of the teeth.
3. Charcoal toothpaste
Charcoal is an abrasive agent. It does not chemically whiten teeth so it would be more effective against external stains (read more about external stains e.g. food stains vs internal stains e.g. trauma).
It is important to note that prolonged use of charcoal toothpaste with a stiff brush coupled with improper brushing techniques can wear out enamel (the basic tooth structure).
When enamel thins, the inner layer (dentine) becomes more obvious. As dentine is yellow in colour, your teeth may inadvertently appear more yellow instead.
Do Take-Home Whitening Kits from Dental Clinics Work then?
Dentists will customise your take-home whitening kit to match your teeth and contour it to avoid your gums. This ensures that the whitening process is safe, uniform and effective. These kits use carbamide peroxide and whitening results can be seen in as quick as 5 days, with as little as 15 minutes wear time per day.
What about Teeth Whitening Treatments Provided by Beauty Salons?
I have seen teeth whitening treatments offered by beauty and even hair salons, offering cheap and quick teeth whitening packages. However, treatments that are not supervised by a trained dentist are generally not safe. Only dentists can prescribe hydrogen peroxide for use on a patient. As such, teeth whitening done at salons usually use salt solutions or other non-peroxide based solutions. Hence, the whitening results are minimal to none.
For teeth-whitening treatments that promote the use of blue light, it is important to understand that blue light itself does not cause whitening. It only accelerates the whitening effect of peroxide.
In addition, untrained staff at the salon may not protect the soft tissue of the face and gums adequately when using blue light, which can be a safety hazard. Their lamps may also be heat-emitting (unlike lamps used by dentists). These can burn soft tissue and gums (resulting in ulcers) or damage the nerve in teeth, causing pulpitis and toothache.
Can Online Teeth-Whitening Products be Trusted?
Online products are unregulated solutions which might cause burns to the gums, causing ulcers or worse, infections and gum recession. The solutions may not contain peroxide, or may contain high concentrations of peroxide which are unsafe for home-use as consumers may damage their teeth or cause inflammation of teeth roots in the gum.
The LED-emitting mouth prop can also produce heat that harms soft tissue and dental pulp.
Only solutions containing peroxide can whiten teeth. High concentrations of peroxide can whiten teeth faster and more effectively. Only a registered dental practitioner can prescribe these concentrations.
Thus, over-the-counter treatments such as whitening strips may only be minimally effective due to their low concentration. Whitening toothpaste or mouthwash can lift external stains, but they do not change the internal colour of your teeth.
Additionally, salons cannot prescribe peroxide for teeth whitening. Although they may be cheap, they can only use salt solutions or non-peroxide based solutions. Thus, the whitening results are minimal and your face may not be adequately protected by untrained staff before using the blue light. These lamps can be a safety hazard.
Lastly, online products contain unregulated solutions that may burn your gums, cause ulcers or worse, infections. The handheld LED-emitting device can also produce heat that harms your soft tissues.
For maximum safety and results, teeth whitening is best carried out by a dentist. Most dentists will perform a dental check beforehand to assess your suitability for teeth whitening and prescribe treatment accordingly.
If you’re looking to brighten your smile, you can consult our friendly dentists today for teeth whitening.