The Science Behind Teeth Whitening: Understanding the Process

White teeth and a brighter smile might be the end goal that connects the various whitening methods available on the market, but how do we get there?

With so many different methods for teeth whitening available, from the natural remedies to DIY and at-home kits, through to professional treatments and services at renowned dental clinics, understanding the science of teeth whitening means first recognising what causes teeth to become stained and discoloured. 

And that’s exactly where this blog starts. 

What causes teeth to become discoloured?

There are a number of things that can cause teeth to become discoloured, the majority of which fall under one of three categories

Extrinsic discolouration is caused by stains on the surface of the tooth. These are the easiest stains and signs of discolouration to treat and remove, because they only affect the outer enamel of the tooth. Typically, this kind of discolouration is caused by food and beverages – think red wine, coffee, and other lifestyle choices, such as smoking. 

Intrinsic stains are the opposite, with the discolouration coming from inside the tooth. With intrinsic discolouration, it tends to be the dentin underneath the enamel which has become stained, making this kind of issue more resistant to over-the-counter whitening kits, and more difficult to treat through natural remedies. Some of the common causes of intrinsic stains include tooth decay, trauma or injury to the tooth, and some medications.

And then, we have age-related staining, which is simply caused by the enamel on your teeth starting to wear away. This can leave teeth with a yellow hue.

So, now that we know a little more about what causes teeth to become stained, discoloured, and in need of whitening treatment – how do we achieve a picture-perfect smile?

A guide to laser teeth whitening

Laser teeth whitening is the more effective method of brightening your smile, as it combines the expertise and experience of trained dentists, a potent bleaching agent, and the power of a laser to activate the ingredients and lighten your teeth to the ideal shade. 

The process of laser teeth whitening starts with a consultation, during which you will be encouraged to discuss your ideal results and the shade that you hope to reach through treatment. Taking a shade sample of your teeth as they are, we demonstrate what your final shade could be through a comprehensive whitening treatment – highlighting the importance of proper aftercare in maintaining the results. This is designed to facilitate complete transparency and ensure that clients are happy with the process and the projected outcome. 

The next step is a thorough cleaning, using an activator which prepares the teeth for the laser treatment. This is followed by a layer of a whitening agent, before a mouth guard is placed over the teeth and a blue spectrum LED light shone onto the teeth. The laser is used in short blasts of around 20-30 minutes, with two or three cycles required depending on the client.

This is where it gets a little more scientific, with the choice of a blue spectrum LED light specifically selected as the most effective wavelength to initiate and activate the whitening agent without damaging the teeth. There is a fine balance between attacking the stains on teeth and impacting or damaging the enamel itself, with blue spectrum light the best go-to for brighter teeth that are still strong and healthy.

The final step of the process is to verify the results of your whitening treatment and show you the comparison between your original shade and the new shade – before inviting you to showcase your brand-new smile and enjoy your new-found confidence. 

The full process shouldn’t take more than an hour – leaving you with instant results and a smile to be proud of. 

How do DIY and natural remedies support teeth whitening?

In comparison with professional teeth whitening, DIY and natural remedies are neither as potent nor as guaranteed as the use of a proper laser and whitening agent. Generally, natural remedies are good for those who want to maintain whiter teeth, as they help to remove any residual discolouration from meals and drinks, while DIY and at-home whitening kits can be minimally effective – best used in cases of minor discolouration. 

On the whole, professional teeth whitening is grounded in scientific research and has the backing of a professional dentist, who can talk you through not only the process itself but the projected results and how to maintain them. Which is where the next question in this blog comes in…

Does teeth whitening last a long time?

The success and sustainability of your brighter smile depends on a number of things, including the potency of the whitening treatment and your approach to aftercare and long-term dental hygiene. 

Professional teeth whitening is considered the most sustainable method, primarily because it combines a potent and powerful whitening agent with the support of a dental specialist, who will use the laser to ensure that your ideal results are met. However, even professional whitening treatment requires proper aftercare if you want your results to last.

This aftercare includes the following:

  • Drinking less coffee, and drinking a glass of water after coffee and other drinks known to stain the teeth, where possible
  • Drinking red wine with caution, again consuming water directly after, where possible
  • Cutting out smoking, as tobacco can have a debilitating effect on teeth whitening results
  • Adopting an effective dental routine, which includes regular brushing, flossing, and trips to the dentist
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet full of those ingredients that act as natural cleansers for the mouth and teeth

Teeth whitening is safe when carried out by a trained dentist in a proper facility, with results that can last upwards of two years when you follow the correct level of aftercare.

For more information on teeth whitening, including prices and the questions that clients regularly ask, head to the Harley Teeth Whitening homepage, or get in touch with your local dentist directly.