Teeth Whitening Vs. Bleaching

Teeth whitening procedures are on the rise, as more and more individuals seek a brighter smile. Not only will white teeth knock years off of your appearance, you will look healthier and make stronger first impressions. Boosting your confidence has never been easier, thanks to advancements in cosmetic dentistry.

Over-the-counter teeth whitening options overrun the shelves, however, custom take home bleaching kits and laser whitening offer more uniform, longer lasting results.

Whitening vs. Bleaching

According to the FDA, the term "bleaching" is permitted for products that can whiten teeth beyond their natural color. This applies to products that have active ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. On the other hand, the term "whitening" is used to describe the process of restoring teeth to their natural color by removing stains and debris from the tooth’s surface. Whiteners include cleaning agents such as mouth rinses and toothpaste. Since "whitening" sounds more pleasant, most "bleaching" products with active ingredients are deemed “whitening.”

Causes of Tooth Discolouration

The crown of a tooth is made up of two mineralized layers. Enamel is a white, heavily mineralized, porcelain-like, external layer. The inner layer, dentin, is the yellowish, less mineralized, supporting layer. Over time, the enamel breaks down and micro-fractures can form in the outer layer. These micro-fractures pick up stains, debris, pigmentation, and start to show the yellow dentin support layer. The degree of staining over a lifetime is influenced by foods (curry, coffee), drinks (red wine), habits (smoking, teeth grinding), and medications (Tetracycline). There is also a genetic component to the color of your dentin that affects how white your teeth are.

How Bleaching Works

Bleaching (whitening) products contain an active ingredient called hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Whitening activates the peroxides to release oxygen molecules that enter the enamel micro-fractures to break down stain pigmentation. This release of oxygen can occur over time or rapidly. Custom take home whitening treatments stimulate the release of oxygen over a period of a few hours. Laser whitening, such as Zoom, causes the rapid release of oxygen within a few minutes. This is accomplished by using a high intensity light source. The main side effect of bleaching is temporary tooth sensitivity to cold. This is because the micro-fractures and your natural enamel pores are open during treatment. These micro-fractures and pores will re-mineralize over time. Special toothpastes can help reduce sensitivity by accelerating this re-mineralization process.

Custom Take Home Bleaching

Take home bleaching involves a custom dental bleaching tray that will administer optimal amounts of bleaching material over the specific teeth to be whitened. A model is made of your teeth and a filler gel is painted over the teeth targeted for whitening on this model. The amount is specific to the location and angulations of your teeth. A custom bleaching tray is then created using your mold. You typically wear trays at night for 2-3 hours for 1-2 weeks. One of the strengths of custom take home bleaching is that you control the amount of time and concentration of the bleaching treatment, which can reduce tooth sensitivity. Another bonus is the trays created for you can be used multiple times with minimal cost. You will only need to purchase bleaching refills.

Zoom Laser Bleaching

Zoom laser bleaching uses a 32% hydrogen peroxide light activated gel to achieve rapid and powerful whitening results. The light activated material is painted directly onto your teeth. Again, the amount and location of its administration is customized to your teeth. A powerful ultraviolet (UV) laser lamp is used to activate the whitening material to release oxygen. Typically the treatment takes 1-2 hours and you walk out of the dental office with a whiter natural smile.

What’s the difference between professional dental bleaching and over-the-counter bleaching kits (ex. whitening strips)?

Over-the-counter whitening kits are not customized to your teeth. Your teeth have many different angulations, shades of color, and fillings/crowns that don’t respond to the over-the-counter bleaching kits. Whitening strips and paint-on kits have lower concentrations of active ingredients and are not applied uniformly. Therefore, results may be inconsistent. Professional dental bleaching treatments contain higher concentrations and the amount administered is specific to your individual smile.

How long will whitening results last?

Whitening treatments help to reduce existing stains, but consuming coffee and pigmented foods, smoking, and just natural aging may eventually lead to discoloration again. We typically see results that last for 8-24 months. If you avoid foods and drinks that stain your teeth and follow proper dental maintenance, you can expect your teeth to stay lighter for an even longer period of time.

To determine the best course of action when it comes to whitening your teeth, visit Third Street Dental Clinic where Dr. Ho and his experienced team will find the perfect solution. The clinic offers custom home bleaching kits and in-office Zoom! Laser whitening. You will be astonished by the results. To achieve a sparkling smile in a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere, call (604) 401-4778, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or visit the Third Street Dental Web site today.

- Dr. Andrew Ho (BSc, DDS)

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Dr. Ho brings his expertise to the Third Street Dental clinic where he performs complex root canals, gum surgery, extractions, orthodontics and dental implants. His greatest joy comes from making patients feel comfortable and exceeding their expectations.

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