Laser Teeth Whitening
Have you ever scrolled through social media and been envious of the white smiles of various influencers? Or been flipping through a magazine, imagining yourself with celebrity-white teeth? Or perhaps you’ve been brushing your teeth as you get ready for bed only to think, ‘I wish my teeth were whiter...’ Well, rest assured knowing you are not alone… by a long shot.
According to recent data collected by Statista, over 40.5 million Americans used tooth whiteners in 2018 alone. What’s more, this number is expected to rise in the next few years with a projected increase to 40.57 million by 2020. That’s quite a lot of people wanting whiter teeth!
But how are they getting them?
A lot of these consumers are opting for over-the-counter whitening treatments such as whitening strips, at-home whitening kits or whitening pens. These forms of teeth whitening are cheap, convenient and easy to use. It’s easy to see why teeth whitening is a market that makes (and continues to make) a lot of money.
In fact, every year, over $11 billion is spent on teeth whitening products and procedures. However, it can be noted that only around $1.4 billion of that figure is spent on those non-prescription and DIY teeth whitening alternatives mentioned above. So where is the rest of that money going?
The answer: In-Office whitening.
Professional whitening has become more popular with consumers wanting faster, more effective and longer-lasting results. While in-office whitenings are more expensive than over-the-counter methods, they are generally safer and require fewer touch-ups.
In addition, in-office whitening is performed by a professional (your dentist!) so the risk of messing up a treatment or applying the whitening solution incorrectly is extremely low.
There are a few different types of in-office whitening treatments and your dentist will be able to guide you towards the best option. The quality and history of teeth will vary from person to person, and some methods may be safer or more effective than others.
But here we’re talking about one of the biggest in-office whitening procedures available: laser teeth whitening.
And yes - this whitening method is exactly what it sounds like. A small, pen-like laser is used to target individual teeth after a whitening solution has been applied by your dentist.
When the laser comes into contact with the solution, it activates the whitening agents and speeds up the whitening process. In addition, laser teeth whitening can help provide more noticeable results (ie: whiter teeth!)
Laser teeth whitening can only be performed in-office by a dental professional. Because this whitening process involves specialized lights and equipment, there are no at-home alternatives to laser teeth whitening.
And while many at-home whitening treatments (like whitening strips or gels) can remove surface stains, laser whitening can penetrate beyond the enamel layer to target deep-set, stubborn stains.
So how exactly does laser teeth whitening work, what are the benefits in opting for laser whitening and, most importantly, is it the right whitening option for you?
Let’s jump right in!
How Does Laser Teeth Whitening Work?
Like most teeth whitening treatments, laser teeth whitening incorporates the use of hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is a bleaching agent that can alter the overall color and shade of the tooth.
To understand how this whitening agent works, we need to first understand the molecules that make up our teeth.
Yes! Our teeth contain molecules and these very molecules affect the overall color of our teeth. When these molecules are more complex, the tooth color may appear darker or more discolored.
The reason hydrogen peroxide is so effective for teeth whitening purposes is that it has the ability to penetrate the pores of the tooth and breakdown stain-causing molecules until they dissolve, resulting in the appearance of whiter teeth.
While most whitening toothpastes or rinses can only remove extrinsic stains (surface stains made on the outer, or enamel, layer of the teeth), hydrogen peroxide present in whitening gels and other solutions can go deeper to attack intrinsic stains made on the dentin layer beneath.
Therefore, the higher the concentration of peroxide in a whitening solution, the more effective your whitening experience will be.
It is important to note that while using a higher dosage of hydrogen peroxide will be more effective, it will also be more abrasive and possibly damaging to the enamel of your teeth.
For this reason, most over-the-counter whitening treatments will contain around 3% hydrogen peroxide while in-office treatments will have a significantly higher concentration (because they are being applied by a professional.)
Some in-office whitenings will only use a peroxide-based gel or solution as a means to whiten teeth, and it’s an effective method. However, the introduction of laser teeth whitening resulted in faster, more effective results.
Once the bleaching solution is applied to your teeth, your dentist will begin to target the laser on each individual tooth.
The heat from the laser will active the whitening agent (the peroxide product) and cause the solution to begin to foam. This speeds up the chemical reaction mentioned above (remember: the process of the hydrogen peroxide penetrating your teeth and combating the complex molecules!) and significantly shortens treatment time.
As I mentioned in the introduction, laser whitening can only be done by your dentist. This is because there are special types of lasers that your dental professional will use to perform the laser whitening treatment.
In order to fully understand how this whitening method works, let’s discuss the different lasers used in teeth bleaching.
So far, there are 3 dental lasers that have been approved by the FDA. They include:
- Argon Laser
- CO2 Laser
- Diode Laser
The application time will vary from laser to laser but, in general, will fall somewhere between 5-10 minutes.
If you are considering laser teeth whitening, don’t hesitate to ask your dentist about the type of laser he or she plans on using. Knowing the equipment and technology used in your treatment is a great way to stay informed about the laser whitening process.
Is Laser Teeth Whitening Safe?
Like most processes performed in-office, laser teeth whitening is safe. Because the treatment is being performed by a professional, there is a very low risk involved.
The only ‘harmful’ aspect associated with laser teeth whitening is temporary tooth sensitivity post-treatment. However, this is a side-effect of most whitening treatments (both at home and in-office).
Who is Eligible for Laser Teeth Whitening?
Those with healthy teeth and strong enamel are ideal candidates for laser teeth whitening.
It is advised that those who are pregnant or nursing stray from any teeth whitening methods that contain peroxide. Although there is no hard evidence that these chemicals affect either the mother or the baby, dental professionals tend to suggest other means of whitening to be safe.
In addition, adolescents are not typical candidates for laser teeth whitening as their teeth and enamel are not yet strong enough to withstand the procedure.
Laser Teeth Whitening: The Process
Like most teeth whitening methods, there are important steps that should be taken prior to beginning the whitening process.
What You Can Do
Your dentist will have his or her own pre-treatment guide when you opt for in-office whitening. However, there are still things that you can do to have a stress-free, pain-free and more effective whitening job.
Brush Your Teeth - Prior to showing up to your appointment, make sure to brush and floss your teeth. Your dentist will also clean your teeth prior to treatment but this will ensure than any excess plaque is removed. Plaque and other substances can prevent the whitening solution from reaching the entire surface of the tooth.
What Your Dentist Will Do
Screening - Before doing anything else, your dentist will screen your teeth to make sure they are in good health and able to withstand the whitening treatment. A few things they may be looking for include:
- Receding Gums - Gums that are receding may expose a part of the tooth that cannot be bleached - meaning that the whitening treatment may not be applied evenly.
- Dental Restorations - Your dentist will also make note of any tooth/teeth that have had dental restorations such as fillings, veneers, crows and so on. Bleaching solutions will only work on natural teeth so it’s important to know if and where any artificial dental work resides.
Cleaning - After your dental screening, your dentist will then begin to clean your teeth to prep them for the whitening treatment.
Anti-Inflammatory - If you have naturally sensitive teeth, your dentist may also be able to provide an anti-inflammatory to soothe your teeth and gums during the whitening process.
Every dentist will have his or her own way of performing a treatment but you can expect the process to be similar to the one listed below:
Step 1 - To begin the treatment, your dentist will use a mechanism to hold open your mouth. This is important to the whitening process for two reasons.
To start, it relieves some of the pain from having to keep your mouth open for an extended period of time. In addition, it ensures that saliva has a harder time reaching your teeth. (Saliva can actually counteract the whitening solution and prevent it from effectively whitening your teeth!)
Step 2 - Next your dentist will apply a barrier over your gums to protect them during the whitening treatment. Usually this barrier will be a gel that hardens into a protective case around the gums. This is an important step because the whitening solution contains hydrogen peroxide which can irritate and cause sensitivity in the gums if they aren’t protected.
Step 3 - After the gum barrier and mouthpiece are situated, you can expect your dentist to begin applying the whitening gel/solution. They will gently coat the ensure front of your teeth with a syringe or similar device.
Step 4 - Once the whitening solution has been applied, your dentist will now use the laser to activate the solution. He or she will use the pen-like laser over every tooth and you’ll notice the whitening solution begin to foam as it is heated up.
Step 4 - After all your teeth have been exposed to the laser, your dentist will generally want to let the solution sit for a few minutes more.
Step 5 - Next, your dentist will clean off the remaining solution using a small vacuum. You’ll be happy to know that cleaning the solution off your teeth is the final step of your laser whitening treatment. (Note: This treatment can be repeated up to 3x and is at the discussion of your dentist.)
Your dentist will likely provide you with a list of post-treatment steps and may even possibly schedule you for another whitening appointment, depending on the severity of your tooth discoloration.
For general follow-up care, follow these guidelines below:
Brush Softly - Your teeth will be sensitive after treatment (this is because of the way that hydrogen peroxide weakens your enamel) so make sure to brush slowly and carefully. Opting for a soft-bristled brush can be helpful in gentle brushing.
Use a Desensitizing Toothpaste - Again, there is a high chance that your teeth will be more sensitive than usual after treatment. Desensitizing toothpastes are less abrasive than regular alternatives (which your enamel will thank you for) and can help relieve tooth discomfort.
Avoid Stain-Causing Foods - You didn’t pay nearly $1,000 for nothing, did you? It’s important to steer clear of certain foods and beverages post-treatment, specifically in the first 24-48 hours. Doing so will help prevent re-staining your newly treated teeth.
Some food and drink to avoid are: Sodas, coffee, tea, red meats, berries and most fruits, foods with powders or dyes, tomato sauce/juice, carrots, etc.
To be extra safe, you could implement the ‘white diet’ which includes foods that have little or no pigmentation. This can include: Chicken, rice, cauliflower, milk, water, pasta with Alfredo sauce, egg whites, bread and so on.
How Much Pain is Too Much Pain?
As I mentioned above, it is very normal to experience increased tooth sensitivity and discomfort. However, if you are experiencing sharp or persistent pains, make sure to talk with your dentist as soon as possible.
Pros and Cons of Laser Teeth Whitening
Let’s go over the pros and cons of laser teeth whitening below:
How Much Does Laser Teeth Whitening Cost?
Laser teeth whitening can cost anywhere from $500-1,500 (quite a range!)
What to Consider
If laser teeth whitening seems like the treatment for you, consider the following:
Be Realistic - Yes, laser teeth whitening is effective in dissolving stains and whitening teeth. But it’s important to know that the success of teeth whitening is directly correlated with the genetic makeup of your teeth.
What does this mean?
Whitening treatments can only whitening teeth back to their natural shade. What most people don’t realize is that this natural shade is not always ‘white.’ In fact, most teeth have a natural shade that is closer to off-white or even yellow in color.
Therefore, be realistic about your teeth whitening expectations and the results you would like to see.
Talk With Your Dentist - Again, if you are seriously consider laser teeth whitening, talk with your dentist. He or she will be able to provide you with detailed information concerning the procedure and can let you know if you are a viable candidate.
If you’re willing to put down some cash for a laser whitening treatment, know that you’ll most likely see significant results. Because it is a process performed by a dental professional with high-quality tools and equipment, your chances of whiter teeth increase significantly.