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If you’ve decided that your teeth are looking a little stained or yellow, one of the first questions you might ask yourself is what’s the difference between teeth bleaching and whitening?
Do you choose to bleach or whiten your teeth to get the best smile you can?
So, what exactly is the difference between these two practices?
Difference between bleaching and whitening
The first thing to clear up here is that whitening is a general, catch-all term for any method which is intended to break up stains and remove discolouration from teeth. So, let’s look in more detail at the difference between the two.
Bleaching is a specific form of teeth whitening which involves using peroxide based bleach to eliminate stains and restore teeth to their pearly whiteness.
There are a number of different other forms of teeth whitening, from over the counter gels, pastes and strips, to natural remedies which have been around for hundreds of years.
If you’re deciding whether or not to whiten your teeth with a bleach based treatment, the first thing you should do is seek consultation with a professional who will be able to advise and guide you towards the treatment which is best for you.
Before you book an appointment, here are some things to keep in mind which can help determine whether or not bleaching is likely to be necessary for you.
There are two types of teeth staining; intrinsic and extrinsic.
Extrinsic is lighter, exterior staining of the tooth usually due to factors such as the food/drink you consume and smoking, whilst intrinsic staining can often be linked to medical factors, or age.
Of the two types of staining, intrinsic is heavier and definitely will require dental consultation for a possible bleaching treatment.
Extrinsic staining levels can vary; light extrinsic staining may benefit from other treatments other than bleaching such as whitening toothpaste, mouthwash, or natural remedies.
How does bleaching work and how does it differ from other whitening methods?
Teeth bleaching involves the application of either carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide which penetrate tooth enamel, instigating an oxidising chemical reaction which breaks down and removes stains, leaving teeth shiny white as a result.
Bleaching teeth is more effective than milder methods of whitening; these latter methods are often better for maintaining whiteness once optimal whiteness has been achieved via bleaching.
The reason bleaching is so much more effective than gentler whitening methods is that it penetrates down to the enamel of the teeth where stains can be embedded and resistant to scrubbing and rinsing, etc.
When we talk about bleaching teeth, it’s important to bear in mind, however, that not all bleaching methods are the same; some are more effective than others. Let’s look at some of the various teeth bleaching procedures available, both at home and professionally.
The first thing to note is that bleaching at home and receiving a bleaching procedure from a professional are likely to be liable to different outcomes.
This is because Professional Whitening Technicians bleaching treatments will use a much higher percentage of bleaching agents and, as such, will be more effective.
Bleaching trays administered by a professional are also custom-made for more accurate results; at home generic bleaching trays can lead to uneven whitening results and gum irritation should the bleaching gel come into contact with gums.
Another thing to note when it comes to at home vs dental bleaching treatments is the cost; obviously getting your teeth bleached professionally will cost more but the results will be much more effective.
Bleaching is often supplemented by high intensity light exposure to speed up the process.
If you are bleaching your teeth at home this will likely involve an LED pen. Fully Qualified Professional Technicians will utilise a higher powered UV laser light for quicker and more efficient results.
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As bleaching is a bit more intensive than many other whitening methods, there are some risks to be aware of.
Bleaching can result in enhanced teeth sensitivity; this happens when the teeth become dehydrated as a result of the bleaching process.
This should never be long term and sensitivity should wear off between a few hours and a week.
As we’ve mentioned before, gum irritation is another factor to look out for, which is why custom bleaching trays from a clinic are preferable to generic ones you can buy and use at home.
Home bleaching also runs the risk of leaving teeth with an uneven finish, especially when using strips, as the bleaching agent may not reach the crevices of the tooth.
You should really always go to a qualified professional treatment to have tooth bleaching carried out.
If you decide bleaching your teeth is not for you – maybe you think the staining and discolouration is mild enough that it can be treated by other methods or you are wary of the risks of bleaching – what other methods are available?
Let’s look in a bit more detail at other whitening treatments.
Dental veneers offer an alternative means of creating a shiny white smile.
Made from porcelain, veneers have the added advantage of correcting other cosmetic flaws such as chipped or eroded teeth.
However, compared with whitening, veneers can be a pretty costly option.
You could combine veneers and whitening treatments; it’s best to talk to your dentist about this.
Whitening toothpaste and rinses are good ways to maintain your teeth a pearly white, but they don’t really work as an alternative to bleaching.
Rather, they’re ideal if you’ve had your teeth bleached and want to keep up the look for longer.
Similarly, eating certain foods (carrots, pineapples, bananas, and nuts) and avoiding certain beverages (coffee, red wine, cola) can help prevent staining of the teeth.
Again, if teeth are already extrinsically stained, these home whitening techniques like we’ve mentioned such as toothpastes, gels trays etc. won’t have a great impact on whitening them – rather, they’ll help keep teeth whitened after stronger treatments such as bleaching have been administered.
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