Teeth whitening: questions to ask your dentist

Cosmetic and Restorative Dentist at Bupa UK
07 February 2017
Young couple smiling

If you’re looking for whiter teeth, don’t skimp on safety. Tooth whitening isn’t a quick-fix beauty treatment. It’s a dental procedure that needs to be taken seriously. Before you commit to having any whitening treatment, make sure you know what to expect and who’s carrying it out.

Safe practice

Tooth whitening legally needs to be carried out by dental professionals who are registered with the General Dental Council. This means a registered dentist, dental hygienist, dental therapist or clinical dental technician. If they’re registered with the General Dental Council, they should be trained to:

  • assess whether or not you’re suitable for tooth whitening
  • carry out the procedure with safe products that work
  • keep the risk of side effects, such as sensitivity, to a minimum
  • provide appropriate aftercare

Your consultation

Your dentist will want to make sure tooth whitening is right for you. The procedure is suitable for most people, but you’ll need a full dental examination first. Teeth can be discoloured for many reasons, not just staining from food and drink. Your dentist will check for a specific cause, such as tiny cracks or a build-up of tartar.

They’ll also check that your teeth and gums are healthy. If you do have any problems with your teeth, these will need to be dealt with before you have tooth whitening. If there’s a risk the procedure will cause more damage to your teeth or gums, your dentist will advise you not to go ahead with it.

Your dentist will talk through the different whitening methods. You may be able to have one of the following, or a combination of both.

  • The simple tray method. This involves leaving bleaching gel on your teeth during the day or overnight. Once your dentist has started the treatment, you can continue it at home.
  • Laser whitening. This involves applying bleaching gel to your teeth, then shining a light or laser on your teeth for 15 minutes to activate the whitening chemicals.

The active ingredient used in bleaching gels is hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Anything else won’t work and could be harmful.

Your dentist will discuss with you which method is best for your teeth, overall health and lifestyle.

Be realistic

Whitening lightens your natural teeth, so any colour changes vary from person to person. Some people don’t notice any changes at all. Your dentist can show you a shade guide, so you both know what to expect. You’ll want your teeth to look as natural as possible. Whitening only whitens your teeth and won’t lighten any crowns, veneers or white fillings. So you may need to have some of these replaced.

Whitening usually takes a few weeks to have a noticeable effect. It’s usually a safe procedure, but if it’s applied incorrectly it may cause some damage. Sometimes whitening causes sensitivity during or after treatment, and may cause your gums to feel uncomfortable. A dentist can explain how to reduce the risk of problems. If you’re having your teeth whitened, always follow your dentist’s instructions carefully.

Questions to ask

Don’t be afraid to ask any questions during your appointment. Here’s some questions you may like to ask.

  • Who will be carrying out the procedure?
  • What training, experience and insurance do they have?
  • How effective are the different tooth whitening methods?
  • How will you make sure stained veneers, crowns or dentures match my natural teeth?
  • What are the risks?
  • Will it hurt?
  • How long does tooth whitening last?
  • What aftercare do you provide?
  • What happens if I’m unhappy with the results?

Dr Lance Knight
Cosmetic and Restorative Dentist at Bupa UK

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