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Frequently asked questions

Dr Zena Aseeley, a dentist at The Parade Specialist Dental Centre, Part of Bupa, has answered some of the most frequently asked questions she gets asked about teeth whitening.

Yes, teeth whitening works if carried out by a trained dental professional. Whitening uses a peroxide-based gel to lighten the teeth. When these chemicals break down, they release oxygen. This gets into the hard, outer surface of your teeth (the enamel) and whitens them.

Yes, whitening is safe if it’s done properly. It’s illegal for anyone else other than registered dental professionals to carry out whitening procedures. A dental professional includes dentists, dental hygienists, therapists and technicians - who are registered with the General Dental Council.

Shop bought whitening treatments should only contain 0.1% of hydrogen peroxide. It’s illegal to sell any kits with a higher level than this in the UK.

These low levels of peroxide don’t achieve stable results in the way professional whitening does. Whitening treatments carried out by a dentist can contain up to 6% of hydrogen peroxide, which must be dispensed by a trained dental professional and your suitability will need to be evaluated first.

Some over-the-counter are abrasive and work by wearing the enamel away. Your teeth may initially appear whiter but can cause long-term tooth surface loss.

Whitening doesn’t hurt, but it’s common to experience some mild sensitivity either during or after the initial treatment. This should settle down after a couple of days. If it doesn’t, get in touch with your dentist who can give you further advice.

Your dentist can recommend suitable toothpaste and other products to help if you do experience sensitivity. High-quality whitening products, used by dentists, come with anti-sensitivity ingredients incorporated into their gels, to avoid this happening.

Lots of people can have teeth whitening treatment, but some people may not be suitable if they have gum disease or other dental health problems such as tooth decay.

You’ll need to have consultation with your dentist before having treatment, to assess the suitability of your teeth.

You can choose to have your teeth whitened either at-home or in-practice. With treatment in-practice, your dentist will carry out the whitening for you, and you’ll see results in about two hours. You’ll then need to use a top-up kit, at home, for around a week to ensure the results stay permanent.

With at-home teeth whitening, your dentist will give you a whitening kit for you to apply yourself at home. This takes around two or three weeks to take effect.

No, whitening only works on natural teeth. Restorations such as fillings, crowns and dentures can’t be whitened.

If you opt for in-practice teeth whitening, it takes about two hours to achieve results, but whitening needs to be maintained with a top-up kit for around a week to ensure the results are permanent.

At-home teeth whitening kits take around two to three weeks to take effect.

The outcome of whitening varies depending on your individual teeth. Your dentist will be able to advise you on the likely results following an initial consultation.

In-practice whitening products such as Philips Zoom! whitens the teeth by up to six shades in an hour*.

When carried out well, whitening results should be permanent and only need simple top-ups every six to nine months, which you can do at home. Your dentist will provide you with these when necessary.

If you opted for a home-whitening kit to begin with, you can top-up as and when required.

* Source: ‡Philips data. Zoom 6% Whitening Gel Efficacy Test. Data on file. 2013.†Giniger et al Jada Vol. 136, March 2005 and Li et al Compend Contin Educ Dent. Vol 24(5) May 2003.

Find out more about tooth-whitening and finding a nearest practice

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Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Healthcare Limited. Registered in England and Wales number: 03257078. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.