The Black & White of Teeth Whitening

[By Melissa Chew]

Have you just picked up toothpaste that touts teeth whitening and are delirious with excitement to start using it? Or perhaps you’ve been using such home DIY teeth whitening kits for sometime…to little effect. Regardless, it’s best to understand more about these quick-fix stain “solutions” before getting swayed by the powerful advertising. RSB speaks to Dr. Lam Ying Keat, Co Founder and Director of Smileworks to find out the various ways to achieve alluring pearly whites and how they compare.

1. What are the different types of DIY home teeth whitening available?

Dr. Lam: There are four common types of DIY home teeth whitening. They are in the form of toothpastes, strips, pens or trays (some with UV kits added).

2. Are there any differences between whitening strips/whitening pens and over-the-counter UV kits?

Dr. Lam: Essentially the differences are on how the whitening ingredients (peroxides) are dispensed on the teeth. As compared to the pens or the toothpastes, the strips and the trays, which stay on teeth longer, can be more effective in showing a difference in whitening.

The Black & White of Teeth Whitening

3. What are the dangers (or limitations) of DIY home whitening?

Dr. Lam: One limitation of such DIY home whitening treatments is that the consumer cannot expect a big difference in teeth whitening as can be expected if done by a dentist. This is because the percentage of peroxide that is legally allowed in these formulas is lower, translating to a mild whitening effect. Consumers should also be aware that only natural teeth respond to such home treatments; they do not work with users with crowns, veneers or teeth with lots of dental fillings as these do not change in colour.

The use of DIY home whitening kits can pose these dangers:

(a) Over zealous users may experience gum damage and painful sensitivity to their teeth. In their attempts to obtain the best results, these users may ignore instructions of the home whitening kits and over do it.

(b) Ill fitting whitening trays may get the bleaching gel might get all over the gums and can cause gum damage.

(c) Users with underlying or present problems such as gum disease or tooth decay may not be suited to use certain whitening kits. Without seeing a dentist beforehand to resolve these problems, a user with tooth decay can develop more problems with their gums and extreme sensitivity. Additionally, some users also have tetracycline stains, which these home kits are ineffective against.

Read More: Beautify your Teeth

4. Some celebrities tout bicarbonate of soda toothpaste or oil pulling. In your opinion, how effective are these DIY methods and would you recommend them to your patients?

(Oil pulling involves swishing a tablespoon of oil around the mouth for 15-20 minutes; this then supposedly draws out toxins in your body and your mouth, improving your oral health and in turn, whitening teeth as stains are drawn out).

Dr. Lam: Bicarbonate can lighten very slightly by removing stains. However, it is very abrasive to the tooth’s enamel and I do not advise this way of whitening teeth, as it will invariably cause more long-term damage to the teeth.

There is no scientific proof backing oil pulling and it’s really an ayurvedic remedy. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), there is not enough scientific evidence to prove oil pulling is beneficial to your oral health at all. There is also no evidence that it helps whiten teeth. Hence, I do not recommend it for teeth whitening or oral health purposes.

5. What in-clinic teeth whitening procedures are available?

Dr. Lam: There are 2 types of in-clinic teeth whitening procedures:

• Chair side
This is where the dentist administers the bleaching agent on the teeth directly. Results are immediate after 1 session.

• Take home kit
A customised tray that fits the patient’s teeth is fabricated. The patient uses this kit at home, together with bleaching gels that the dentist has prescribed. Results take approximately 2-4 weeks.

Read More: 5 Superb Ways to Make Your Smile More Attractive

6. How effective are these procedures compared to DIY whitening kits?

Dr. Lam: These procedures are definitely more effective because certified dental professionals are able to use higher concentration of bleaching agent to achieve the results.

7. What are the dangers of in-clinic teeth whitening? How often can one undergo them?

Dr. Lam: This procedure is relatively safe. There is usually post whitening sensitivity for about 1-2 days but it is not dangerous. I generally recommend an average of 2-3 years gap between previous whitening.

8. Are there patients who should not undergo teeth whitening?

The Black & White of Teeth Whitening

Dr. Lam: Yes. Patients with these problems should avoid teeth whitening:

• With active gum disease
• With tooth decay that has not yet been resolved
• Patients with crowns or veneers on their front teeth, as the whitening will not have an effect. It is best to get an advice from the dentist.

Read More: 4 Unhealthy Habits You Need to Break

9. What everyday tips would you give to help our readers maintain their pearly whites?

Dr. Lam: I would advice to maintain good oral hygiene – improve technique of tooth brushing and floss daily. You should also go easy on foods that stain teeth like coffee, tea and red wine.

It is important to choose the right mouthwash as well as many mouthwashes when used long term can cause stains.


Dr. Lam Ying Keat graduated from the National University of Singapore. In 1999, she was awarded a scholarship by the Japan Dental Association for an attachment in the prestigious Tokyo Medical and Dental University and also achieved accreditation from the Australian Society of Implant Dentistry. Dr. Lam has completed an advanced implant surgery and Prosthodontics programme in the Loma Linda University, USA. Apart from cosmetic dentistry, Dr. Lam has a special interest in children dentistry. Her clientele includes many models and celebrities.

 

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