How Laser Teeth Whitening Works

Although there are numerous do-it-yourself teeth whitening kits that can be purchased off the shelf, the safest and most effective tooth whitening is performed by a cosmetic dentist. The San Diego Union-Tribune ran a story about over-the-counter tooth whitening products some years ago that highlighted the shortcomings of home tooth whitening products.

Ill-fitting trays and the inconvenience of overnight multiple treatments topped the list. The issue with DIY tooth whitening is that they are designed by law to be foolproof. The active ingredient in at-home tooth whiteners (carbamide peroxide) is a much weaker dose than what is used at the dentist’s office. That’s because if applied incorrectly or for too long, carbamide peroxide can eat away at your enamel and lead to persistent, stabbing pains in your teeth that last for several minutes at a time (called “zingers” by dentists).

When tooth whitening is performed by a cosmetic dentist, a number of measures are taken to ensure safe, effective results. For whitening pastes that use trays, a custom-fitted tray is professionally made for the patient so it conforms to their teeth perfectly. Patients wear the trays under close supervision for about an hour per session. Another way that cosmetic dentists get better results with less risk is by using laser tooth whitening. After a concentrated whitening agent is applied to the teeth, a special light is used to activate the peroxide molecules for more dramatic whitening. This procedure, too, is risky if performed by anyone other than a trained professional. For optimal results, a high energy light must be used in order to “excite” the molecules—but too much heat could damage the soft tissue of the tooth. The results of professional tooth whitening are more effective by several orders of magnitude when compared to at-home treatments.

Laser tooth whitening sessions typically last 30 minutes to an hour and desirable results can usually be achieved in a single visit. Results typically last between six months and a year. Touch-ups can usually be performed concurrently to your yearly or twice annual cleaning and hygiene appointment.

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