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Cosmetic dentistry: a guide to tooth whitening

Tooth whitening

Dental veneers (teeth veneers) are a type of cosmetic dental treatment which improve the appearance of crooked, stained, or damaged teeth. A veneer is a wafer thin layer of porcelain (or other composite material) fitted very precisely over the surface of a tooth – much like a false nail fits over a real fingernail. For this reason teeth veneers do not actually restore the health or function of teeth, but they do improve the appearance. The result of this cosmetic dental surgery is a set of straight, matching teeth of healthy white colouring, giving the patient greater confidence to show off their smile.


This article is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites. 


Causes of tooth discolouration

Your teeth can turn yellow for a number of reasons. For many, it is a natural symptom of ageing. Over the years, stains creep into the enamel where toothpaste can’t reach, so while you may always brush and look after your teeth they will naturally look duller over time.

Certain foods and drinks are more likely to stain your teeth than others. The worst culprits are carbonated drinks, red wine, tea, coffee, and berries, which all contain chromogenic (or colour-producing) agents. Smoking or chewing tobacco will also turn your teeth yellow, brown, and eventually black.

It’s important to be careful which medications you give to young children – antibiotics which contain tetracycline cause yellow-brown and even blue-grey stains on still-forming enamel. Children who swallow a lot of toothpaste can also suffer from fluorosis which can be seen as white patches, or lines on the teeth.

Stains on the teeth can be divided into two categories: extrinsic (external) and intrinsic (internal). External stains are usually yellow or brown and can be treated with simple tooth whitening solutions. Internal stains are more grey or blue and require intensive whitening treatment.


Tooth whitening treatments

There are various tooth whitening systems available, from home whitening kits to professional treatments using dental lasers. When selecting which treatment is right for you, consider these factors:

  • the extent and type of staining

  • the procedure

  • the effectiveness

  • the costs

  • any risks


Home treatments

Home tooth whitening kits are inexpensive and ideal for people who only need a couple of shades of whitening. They contain a low concentration of a peroxide whitener which can reduce age- or diet-related stains. The difference is not dramatic, but these products can help to maintain professionally whitened teeth. Consider the following options:

Over the counter gel is a low concentration whitener, offering up to two shades of lightening. Treatment takes 1-3 weeks and may cause slightly sensitive teeth and gums as a side effect. However, it is cheap and easy to use with results lasting about a year.


Brush-on formula is very much like toothpaste, so the treatment method is easy and familiar. Results show after about two weeks, although it is short lived and you will need to keep using the formula on and off as required. Some formulas may cause bad breath due to the alcohol content.

 Whitening strips are an alternative to messy liquid treatments and come at an affordable price. They improve whiteness with only minimal tooth sensitivity with results lasting about a year. However if you’re not careful during the application the strips can leaves lines on your teeth.


Dental treatments

Cosmetic dental surgery tooth whitening treatments are much more effective than home kits. The results also last a lot longer – up to 15 years with some treatments. However, these cosmetic dentistry procedures are more complicated and the costs are dramatically higher. Consider the following options:

Laser tooth whitening is excellent for yellow teeth. The dentist applies a composite whitening gel with a high peroxide content. A laser light activates the crystals in the gel, to lighten the teeth by up to six shades in about an hour. This kind of bleaching can make the teeth and gums more sensitive, so use a specialist toothpaste afterwards to reduce pain.

Dental crowns are artificial teeth that sit over damaged or broken teeth. Often, this kind of damage causes serious decay so the effect of a crown is to hide the discolouration and produce a perfect white tooth. Crowns cost upwards of £300 and last for 10-15 years.

Porcelain veneers are wafer thin shells tightly bonded to the front surfaces of the teeth. They literally cover up the discolouration to produce a set of matching pearly whites. Prices start from £200 and the results last for 5-10 years.

Dental bonding is ideal for a single tooth that needs fixing. The tooth is coated in a special composite agent to artificially restore the shape and colour. It costs around £100 per tooth and bonding lasts for 5-10 years.


Profile of the author

Jackie Griffiths

Jackie Griffiths writes journal and newsletter articles for companies and non-governmental organisations across the UK. As founder and senior writer at Freelance Copy, she writes top level content for websites and print across a broad range of sectors including health, medical, biological, governmental, and pharmaceutical.


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