26 February 2019

Cosmetic dentistry is on the up and more and more people are now heading into the dentist enquiring about how they can improve the look of their smile.

A recent survey carried out by RealSelf, found that 40% of Brits want to improve their teeth with whitening, veneers or Invisalign. With that being said, there are still many myths out there about tooth whitening.

Here, we separate fact from fiction and help you learn more about tooth whitening.

Top ten facts about tooth whitening

1. There are many factors that influence the whiteness of your teeth. Food and drinks such as tea, coffee and red wine can stain your teeth over time, as can smoking. Genetics may also influence how bright your teeth are.

2. If plaque is not removed regularly by brushing and flossing, it hardens to form calculus. Calculus (also known as tartar) can also affect the colour of your teeth.

3. Some people may have staining under the surface. This can be caused by some antibiotics or by tiny cracks in the teeth which absorb stains.

4. Regardless of your stains, the natural colour (and genetic makeup) of an individual's teeth are set at birth. The only thing a whitening product can do is remove all the stains that have accumulated over time.

5. Professional bleaching is the most usual method of tooth whitening and can lighten your teeth from their natural shade . The ‘active ingredient' in the product is usually hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. As the active ingredient is broken down, oxygen gets into the enamel on the teeth and the tooth colour is made lighter.

6. The effects of whitening are thought to last up to three years. However, this will vary from person-to-person. If you eat or drink strongly-coloured foods or smoke, it is possible that the whitening will not last as long, so taking care of your teeth is still important.

7. In the UK and EU, tooth whitening can only be legally performed by a dentist. Therefore, getting your teeth whitened by beauticians, or in whitening kiosks, is against the law. It could expose you to dangerous products and cause lasting damage to teeth and gums.

8. In the UK, tooth whitening products you can buy over-the-counter can only legally include 0.1% hydrogen peroxide. This concentration is too low to have any noticeable effect on the colour of the teeth.

9. Tooth whitening can only lighten your existing tooth colour and won’t be able to get rid of deep stains.

10. You can help to keep your teeth white by cutting down on the amount of food and drinks you have that can stain teeth. Don't forget, stopping smoking can also help prevent discolouration and staining.

Top three tooth whitening tips

1. Don’t purchase teeth whitening products from overseas

While the prices might make it tempting, don’t purchase tooth whitening products from abroad.  It is difficult to guarantee the product ingredients, and this puts your safety at risk. It is much harder to police companies and products online, so you cannot be sure they are regulated and of the highest standards. The best way to know that tooth whitening products are safe is to check with your dentist first.

2. Talk to your dental team

When it comes to tooth whitening, there really isn’t a better source of information than your dentist. Not only are they fully-qualified and licensed to perform the treatment, but they will be able to take your dental needs into account.  Dentists can treat you with 6% hydrogen peroxide (the bleaching agent that whitens teeth) – this is nearly 6,000 times stronger than any over-the-counter tooth whitening product.  Because of this, tooth whitening by a dentist will give you the very best results.

3. Don’t break the law

It is illegal for anyone other than a qualified dental professional such as a dentist or hygienist. Any beauticians that claim to offer a tooth whitening service are breaking the law. By having your teeth whitened by a dentist you can rest assured that you are getting a good quality service and that they are operating within the strict guidelines of the law. When tooth whitening goes wrong, it can result in long-lasting or permanent damage – it is not worth saving a few pounds to put your health at risk.  

Expert comment from Dr. Nigel Carter OBE

“When done incorrectly, tooth whitening can lead to significant long-term damage.

“Having treatment done by unqualified persons can lead to severe chemical burns, permanent scarring and in extreme cases, affect the ability to eat and even breath.

“It’s important that people consult their dentist if they want to get professional whitening done. It is the practice of dentistry and while it may cost a little more, by getting treatment from your dental practice you avoid being put in harm’s way.

“Tooth whitening carried out by anybody other than a qualified dentist or hygienist is illegal. Don’t put your health at risk, you cannot put a price on that.”

For more information about tooth whitening, including the laws surrounding it, check out our 'Tooth Whitening Information Group' page.