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Lightening Teeth and Removing Stains
Provided by InteliHealth, Inc
The Journal of the American Dental Association estimates that 90 percent of dentists perform tooth whitening, a procedure that lightens teeth and helps remove stains and discoloration. Tooth whitening is among the most popular of cosmetic dental procedures because it can significantly improve the appearance of teeth with much less cost and inconvenience than other techniques, such as veneers. Whitening may not be appropriate if your teeth have large cavities. They would need to be treated first. But as long as your main complaint is the dingy appearance of your teeth, whitening can make a real difference.

What the Procedure Involves
There are two main approaches to whitening teeth: in-office whitening and at-home whitening. The two approaches may be equally effective, but in-office whitening has the advantage of allowing your dentist to supervise the process — and your progress — more closely.

In-office whitening (also called chair-side whitening) usually takes about 30 minutes to an hour and may require up to three appointments with your dentist. Here's what to expect:

  • Your dentist will start by taking a complete medical history to learn how the teeth became discolored. Different types of stains like those caused by tetracycline, smoking or coffee drinking, for example, will respond differently to the treatment.
  • Your dentist will probably photograph the teeth, which will provide a benchmark to monitor how the treatment is progressing. He or she will also determine the type and severity of staining.
  • When the examination is complete, a dental hygienist will clean your teeth. Once this is completed, the whitening procedure begins.
  • Your dentist will apply gel to the gums to protect them from the whitening agent.
  • Then the bleach is applied. The most common substance used for chair-side whitening is hydrogen peroxide. Some whitening agents are activated by special lights.
  • If your teeth are badly discolored, you may need more extensive whitening than can be performed in the office. Your dentist may provide you with a custom-made mouthpiece, which is filled with a whitening gel and worn for several hours a day, usually at night.
  • Whitening is unlikely to cause serious side effects, although some people may experience a temporary increase in tooth sensitivity. There may be mild gum irritation as well.

Laser Whitening
Some dentists have started to use lasers as a high-speed alternative to conventional bleaching procedures. Consumers like the high-tech aspects of laser treatments, but the technology is still too new and too expensive to justify its general use. The American Dental Association states that while the technique may be safe, it has not seen published data on the safety or effectiveness of using lasers for tooth whitening.

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