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Unveiling the Science of Teeth Whitening: How does it work?

Unveiling the Science of Teeth Whitening: How does it work?

Teeth whitening is a simple and effective way to enhance the aesthetics of your smile. Hence why it is the most frequently requested cosmetic dental treatment. In response, there is a wide range of options available to whiten your teeth by several shades. But does it work and is it safe? Let us take a look at the science behind how teeth whitening works.

1. The chemical reactions involved in most teeth whitening processes

The chemical compounds that cause stains are called chromogens, which accumulate in the tooth (intrinsic) or on the tooth (extrinsic). During the teeth whitening process, these staining molecules will go through a chemical process, specifically an oxidation reaction. Teeth whitening uses hydrogen peroxide as an oxidising agent, which can permeate the enamel layer to break down the molecules. After the double bonds of chromogens break down, they will scatter and their own molecules will become smaller. They will appear lighter in colour, giving teeth a brighter and whiter appearance.

2. Teeth whitening options currently available

There are a wide variety of teeth whitening options to choose from. You can opt in for a chairside whitening from the dentist or get some at-home whitening kits over the counter. The safest and fastest way to get whiter teeth is by getting a professional, in-office treatment. The dentist will apply a barrier to protect your soft tissues and disperse high-concentration bleaching gel on your teeth. It typically takes less than an hour to achieve visible results in just a single visit! Other than in-office whitening, you can also achieve a whiter smile by getting home-whitening products easily at a nearby pharmacy or supermarket. Whitening strips are thin, flexible strips coated with low-concentration hydrogen peroxide. There are also many types of toothpastes available on the market that contain an active whitening formula or charcoal, which has abrasive properties to remove surface stains.

3. The current problem with some teeth whitening options

3. If you have not replaced lost teeth

Teeth whitening is innocuous for people with healthy teeth and gums, but not everyone is a good candidate for it. People with existing dental problems may need to address these issues before undergoing a whitening treatment to avoid any complications later on. If you have crowns or veneers, you can still opt for whitening treatment. However, it will not have any whitening effect on these restorations. The dentist might suggest that you replace them after the whitening treatment so they match your newly whitened teeth. It is best to seek advice from your dentist for any type of teeth whitening options in order to find the safest way for you.

4. The future of teeth whitening

The most common adverse effect post-whitening is temporary dental hypersensitivity, which will usually subside after 48 hours. Studies have shown that as many as 78% of patients experience tooth sensitivity following tooth-bleaching treatment. There has also been development for a new whitening system that uses nanoparticles and near-infrared (NIR) light to safely whiten teeth without causing problems to the gums. Eventually, this technology might be ubiquitous. With greater innovation, advancements will inevitably be made to improve not only the health of teeth but also their appearance.Healthy teeth and gums lead to an improved smile. They make it easy for you to enjoy good food, sleep well and boost your confidence. It is never too late to start taking control of your oral health and investing in the right tools to take care of your mouth.


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Being a dentist at the prestigious Tiew Dental, Dr Jacquelyn Lim is one you can rely on for accurate, professional advice. She graduated from University Malaya in 2019, and now has invaluable experience and knowledge, thanks to her time serving at government dental clinics. She has a special interest in Orthodontics and Periodontics. When she’s not treating patients at her clinic, she is either at the gym or travelling to her favourite destination.
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Unveiling the Science of Teeth Whitening: How does it work?