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What exactly happens during teeth whitening?

Teeth whitening comes under the purview of cosmetic dentistry. This procedure helps remove stains from the teeth and improve the overall appearance of your smile.

Stains in the teeth happen due to various reasons. Teeth change colour due to aging, dental problems, continued medications, trauma to the mouth/teeth etc. Certain lifestyles and habits also lead to a change in colour like the use of tobacco, smoking, continued intake of wine etc. The colour of the teeth can get dull, yellow tinged, or even a darker shade in some cases.

The type of teeth whitening procedure is decided by the dentist after a dental consultation. This helps the dentist to thoroughly examine the underlying reasons for the colour changes. A first level visual oral examination helps find out if there are other dental issues troubling the person like dental cavities or gum infection. Upon checking, the dentist will decide if the stains are extrinsic or intrinsic. They also check which parts of the teeth are discoloured.

Each tooth has an outer dental enamel that offers protection to the teeth. The inner layer covers the crown region of the teeth and the root area of the tooth. Dentine is the covering that is seen just below the dental enamel. Then there is the softer pulp region of the teeth where the nerve endings of the tooth are seen.

Extrinsic and intrinsic stains

Extrinsic stains are those stains that affect the outermost layer which is the dental enamel. And as the name suggests, intrinsic stains are those on the inner layer of the tooth. The darker shade of the inner layer can give the whole tooth a discoloured tooth.

Needless to say, intrinsic stains are more permanent than extrinsic stains. Extrinsic stains are mostly food stains, stains from tobacco or smoking. Examples of intrinsic stains are fluorosis, pulpitis etc.

Extrinsic stains are found externally on the surface of the teeth while intrinsic are found in the internal structure of the tooth.

Teeth whitening procedure

The whole purpose of teeth whitening is to reduce the stain that is seen on the teeth. This involves removing the stains or breaking them down to a lighter shade and thus reducing the stains.

At-home or in-office

Teeth whitening is a simple procedure. This can be done at the dental clinic and also at home. If it is done at home, then care must be taken to make sure the dental and oral health is not affected by the procedure. Understanding the procedure and taking protective measures with regard to the soft oral tissues is important. You must also watch out for allergic reactions and take appropriate steps if that happens. If it is the first time that the whitening procedure is being done, then it is best to get it done under professional supervision at the dental clinic.

Preparing for the procedure

There are several aspects that needs to be taken care of before teeth whitening. Though the focus of the procedure is the teeth, it is very important that the oral health of the person is good. The health of the gums especially must be in good condition so the procedure can be done successfully.

If a dental consultation has not been done prior to this procedure, then it is better to go for a routine dental check-up. This will help gauge the health of the gums and teeth and help understand if oral health is optimum and can receive the teeth whitening procedure. Before the procedure, teeth must be brushed and cleaned.

If additional dental procedures being planned like dental crowns or bridges, then teeth whitening can be done after the procedure. This will also help you pick crowns that are the same colour as the natural teeth which are whitened.

The actual procedure

In the dental clinic, the teeth whitening procedure starts by cleaning the plaque or tartar build up on the teeth. Both affect the colour of the teeth and removing those gives better results after whitening. Just before the whitening gel is applied, gauze is applied to protect the gums and other soft oral tissues. This will also restrict the whitening material from seeping into the oral tissues.  Some dentists will also paint the tissues with a protective covering before the procedure.

The whitening gel is applied to the teeth that require whitening. This whitening mixture has a peroxide ingredient in it that will break down the stains in the teeth. To active the gel or the mixture, a light is applied. This will also speed up the process, some feel a slight tingle when the light is applied.

This procedure is pain-free and does not take much time. The process is continued till the desired colour change is obtained. Dentists will usually check it on a colour chart to know the progress of the stain removal or whitening. After the desired colour change is achieved, a fluoride solution is applied and the process is complete. Some experience teeth sensitivity after the procedure, the fluoride will help tide over the issues. Even otherwise, the teeth sensitivity disappears in a couple of hours.


To obtain the full effect of teeth whitening, it is important to be careful for the first two days. Care should be taken on what is consumed. Consuming food and drinks that stain the teeth should be avoided. You must also be careful to not go back to the earlier habits that caused the stains in the first place. This will help you get the best results from the teeth whitening procedure.

Continue taking care of your oral habits. Also repeat the teeth whitening procedure as required. This will help keep the teeth white and shiny.

The whitening procedure can be augmented by using whitening toothpaste that will keep the teeth stain free. Have a discussion with the dentist during consultations to find ways to keep the teeth white, sparkling and shiny. This will help maintain the appearance of the teeth as well as boost oral health.

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