The pursuit of perfection – should we be whitening our teeth?

When the darlings of Australian TV descend on Melbourne’s Crown Casino for the 2016 Logie Awards we can be assured of a few things: cringe-worthy moments, an appearance from a bemused foreign star, a touch of Hollywood glamour, a few inappropriate gowns, and a sea of glistening pearly whites. If we’re lucky, Lee Lin Chin or Waleed Aly might score the Gold Logie, but let’s not hold our breath!

And while we could drone on about diversity and the state of Australian television, what we really want to discuss right now is teeth whitening. It’s everywhere! But is this a bandwagon you should be jumping on?

The stats

As dentists, we can’t belittle the importance of a good smile. But it still upsets us to read on Beauty Heaven that a recent Colgate survey found “that 50 per cent of the 350 Australian women aged 25-45 polled were more concerned about teeth whitening than preventing cavities, plaque and gum disease.”

Things aren’t much better in America, with Prevention reporting that “bleaching is the most requested procedure among patients ages 40 to 60… And teeth whitening toothpastes are now more popular than any other kind.”

Efficacy

With folks forking out their hard earned cash, our favourite consumer advocates, Choice, examined the efficacy of whitening toothpastes, finding that “none contain a bleaching agent.”

Of your more advanced options, it’s worth remembering that while teeth whitening “can lighten the existing colour by several shades… teeth whitening isn’t permanent. It can last from a few months to up to three years, but this varies from person to person.”

Loving dazzling smiles as we do, we don’t say this to put you off, but to manage your expectations ahead of your treatment.

The options

As always, over the counter options remain the cheapest. Otherwise, your dentist can prepare a take-home kit for you, or perform a whitening procedure in the chair. At Brunswick Dental we favour take-home kits as these provide our clients with the safest, most affordable option. Essentially, we’ll take a cast of your teeth to prepare a mould that fits perfectly to your mouth, meaning there’ll be no spillage of peroxide. We will also ensure you only receive the exact amount of product you’ll need.

There are also beauty clinics popping up that offer whitening services. However, like that old British stalwart the NHS, we would appeal that you “only go to a registered dental professional for teeth whitening because whitening by people who aren’t qualified, for example in beauty salons, is illegal.”

Is it safe?

Call it the Botox of the dental world, professional tooth whitening essentially requires the administration of a dangerous substance; hydrogen or carbamide peroxide.

Understandably, horror stories abound, of sensitivity, of fainting and intense pain. However, like Botox, when applied under controlled conditions (i.e. a dental chair), or with a kit especially formulated by a dentist, the process should be safe and the risks mitigated.

In fact, in their article ‘Are you obsessed with whiter teeth?’ Prevention highlighted

“Studies have shown that it’s safe to undergo a course of bleaching—2 weeks with a drugstore method or a dentist-prescribed night guard, or a single in-office power-bleaching session—once or twice a year. But dentists are less confident about the safety of using the chemicals as simply another part of the morning shower-shave-brush grooming routine.”

And that is the thing to stress, that largely the dangers lie in over use:

“Unfortunately, many people don’t stop when they should. ‘Ten years ago, people weren’t even aware of bleaching,’ says Irwin Smigel, DDS, president of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics. ‘Now every dentist I know has had to cut off at least one patient because of overbleaching. People come in with great, great pain, and I can see immediately from the colour of their teeth and the irritation along the gums that they’ve been bleaching and bleaching.”

Of course, like many other procedures, there are inherent risks, even under controlled circumstances. It may just be that some patients are more sensitive than others. Accordingly,“dentists are scrambling to identify who makes a good candidate and who should skip the procedure.” The benefit of arranging whitening with your dentist is that they can provide you with gels to manage the sensitivity.

What should you be looking for?

While there are an array of whitening toothpastes, over the counter potions, and beauty clinics advertising teeth whitening services, your best (and safest) chance of looking like a Logie star is to seek the assistance of your dentist. They will confirm that you are a suitable candidate for the procedure and provide the right equipment to ensure the safest and most effective whitening experience for you.

And, because we just love seeing your smiling faces, might we remind you that you shouldn’t “use teeth whitening as a substitute for maintaining good dental hygiene. A regular six-monthly professional clean and check-up is still advised.”