Teeth Whitening Treatments 101

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Some celebrities like Food Network chef Giada De Laurentiis (pictured) have great smiles. And many ‘regular people’ want to achieve similar brilliance with their looks, which these days often involves teeth brightening treatments.

We’re all used to seeing TV commercials for those drugstore-purchased teeth whitening strips that claim they’ll brighten your smile for less than 40 bucks. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Of course! But who do you know that doesn’t want a gorgeous smile?

Some people get lucky in the gene pool and inherit great teeth. Others manage to avoid staining their pearly whites with caffeine, cola drinks, red wine and similar offenders and maintain bright smiles their whole lives. But many women find that going the ‘teeth whitening’ route gives them the look they’ve always wanted. It’s still them, only better. I don’t think it’s vanity – anything that makes you feel better about yourself and more confident is a good thing.

All these years after teeth whitening products showed up on TV, many people still have questions about the process. Is it safe? Will it weaken my teeth? Is it ridiculously expensive?

I go to a fabulous dentist, one who has a wonderfully calming touch when it comes to dealing with other people’s teeth. So I asked Dr. Marty Marcus, DDS, of University Associates in Dentistry and the Dental Implant Institute of Chicago, some questions about tooth whitening and brightening. And since he’s one of the official dentists of our Stanley Cup-holding Chicago Blackhawks, you can trust he knows what he’s talking about!

Is teeth whitening a dental-improvement product or a ‘beauty product?’ It’s as much a beauty product as a dental product—and more so a beauty product, if you ask me. There is no tooth benefit to tooth whitening, but it’s perfectly fine. People think it removes tooth structure, but it’s actually an oxidation process. You’ve seen this in TV detergent commercials: you’re bonding oxygen to remove the staining or discoloration from the teeth.

Why do you find that most patients want their teeth whitened in the first place? A lot of people want to look better. There’s a self-esteem issue. And people’s teeth are brighter now. In our cosmetic world, what used to be considered bright 15 years ago is nowhere near as what’s bright now. And saying ‘I bleached my teeth’ is totally acceptable now.

Studies show a smile is one of the main things people notice about someone’s appearance. Whitening is just a way to make yourself as attractive as possible. It just augments the rest of your beauty, whereas if you didn’t have it done, it might detract from it.

Do you find that more clients ask for teeth whitening when the weather gets warm? People are ready for change. I think people are hibernating in the winter, but come springtime, there are more weddings and social occasions where people think about (their teeth).

What should a patient keep in mind if she decides to pursue teeth whitening? And how much can it cost? When you get your hair cut, it’s not going to stay that way forever. It’s the same thing with teeth whitening. You can periodically boost it – if you’re going to a wedding you can do it in a night or two or three and get some brightening.

If you are going to need to augment things anyway, why not just use the trays? The molds are made specifically for you. You can use a variety of bleaching materials that are time-tested. You can wear the trays overnight, for a couple of hours, for 7-10 days at a time. I use the KöR Whitening Deep Bleaching System, which offers in-office pre-conditioning and boosting. Other products include Discus and Opalescence. Prices can range from $295 to $1,250, depending on the system used and the amount of work you need.

Cost is one issue. The other is, ‘How will the patient be able to use the product?’ Busy people may only be able to use them overnight; others can wear them for a couple of hours at night when they watch TV.

Even though the procedure is safe, are there still some potential issues patients face? The problems we have had in the past are two-fold: Sensitivity to the products as well as to the strength and particular (whitening) material of choice. There are desensitizing agents people can use on their teeth before and after, such as Sensodyne toothpaste.

What are some of the misconceptions you have to clear up when a patient comes to you for tooth whitening? It will brighten your teeth; it will not whiten your teeth. Heredity, tooth structure, the reason your teeth are stained (sometimes, tetracycline can darken them). Companies have come out with different shading charts. I look at it as, ‘You can brighten your teeth and they can get lighter, but you can (only) brighten your teeth in the realm of what your teeth can get.’ I like more of a natural look than a fake look. Porcelain veneers are what you have to get into if you really want white teeth.

The other thing people have to know is if they have caps or crowns or any restorative material on their teeth, they probably will have to be changed after getting the brightening.

If you need to have dental work done—such as cavities filled—can you still get your teeth whitened? You can do tooth whitening first and then get whatever dental work done to match. The whitening of your teeth allows you to maintain the shape and structure of your (own) teeth rather than using caps or crowns.

Tiffani Kim

About Tiffani Kim

Tiffani Kim is an entrepreneur, fashion designer, artist and founder of the Tiffani Kim Institute Medical Wellness Spa in Chicago’s River North. Ms. Kim helps you stay youthful and healthy from the inside out in her blog, “Living Well and Beautifully” with advice, recommendations, trends and more.