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Tooth whitening – a Q & A session with an expert

How white are your teeth?

Some questions about tooth whitening you were too afraid or too embarrassed to ask

Supermarket shelves are groaning with tooth-whitening products such as gel strips, home-whitening kits and whitening tooth pastes.

Without expert advice it is hard to know when it is appropriate to use home whitening and when it is best to use ‘at-the-dentist’ procedures such as Zoom Teeth Whitening.

London dentist Ethicare is one of many practices which offers Zoom – a process which involves spending about 90 minutes in the dentists’ chair, with the Zoom Lamp activating whitening gel which has been carefully applied to your teeth.

Ethicare can also advise and supervise home-whitening schedules for patients, so who better to speak to for advice than Glafcos Tombolis, who runs the dental practice with his wife Klaudia?

Question: Glafcos, have you had tooth whitening yourself?

Glafcos Tombolis:Yes, about five years ago. I had home whitening which was very good and Zoom in-office power whitening which was fantastic. Having a combination of the the two treatments together had a ‘multiplier’ effect – far more effective than just having one type of treatment in isolation. I did experience some sensitivity afterwards, so I know how patients feel; but the end results were worth it.

Q: How many people are not suitable for tooth whitening?

GT:Most people are suitable for tooth whitening, but it is essential to evaluate whether you need treatment before starting the whitening process. Teeth with existing fillings and crowns won’t whiten – you might need to have dental work done before you have tooth whitening.

Q: Do you have a shade chart you offer patients before they undergo a whitening procedure – so you can choose a shade for your teeth in the same way that you choose a wall-paint colour?

GT: Yes we do take a shade before starting and it’s often very satisfying to show patients the finished result when whitening has been completed. Some people take to tooth whitening far more easily than others; some forms of discolouration are more responsive to teeth whitening. You can have a husband and wife undergoing the same tooth-whitening procedure and one takes to it far better than the other.

Q: What home whitening treatments would you recommend?

GT:Ones which are carried out under supervision. Expert advice can ensure that whitening trays fit your mouth properly and won’t expose your gums to harmful contact with gel. Super-sealed trays are great as they keep saliva out and lead to a more even whitening effect. Trays with specific loading points are also useful.

Q: Is tooth whitening a procedure which is constantly getting more sophisticated and effective or has it remained largely unchanged recently?

GT:The materials have remained the same but the process is getting fine-tuned all the time; further improving patient care. For instance, the Zoom Advanced Power lamp machine has been tweaked so that patients have far less sensitivity issues immediately after using it, compared to the original zoom lamp.

Q: Are there any products which should be avoided?

GT: It is best to bear in mind that chemists cannot sell products where the concentration of teeth-whitening hydrogen peroxide is too high. This means that, in order to comply with these regulations, the home kits found in chemists aren’t that effective. The products that they do sell can be acidic – causing enamel to be damaged and destroyed. Always seek expert advice before investing in home whitening materials.

Q: What do you think about tanning salons and other outlets which don’t have dental expertise offering whitening procedures? Some dentists in some states in the USA believe that only dentists should offer whitening treatments.

GT: You should avoid these tanning salons for tooth whitening procedures. They may be cheap, but tooth whitening procedures should be carried out by a trained dental professional. The General Dental Council has produced statements that non- dental professionals should not be allowed to offer specialist whitening procedures.

It’s worrying that places like shopping centres don’t offer initial consultations before carrying out tooth whitening. An initial consultation is vital to ensure that teeth and gums are in a healthy enough condition to undergo teeth whitening.

People with stained or tartar-covered teeth, as well as people with gum disease, should receive treatment before they have teeth whitening. You need a proper check-up before undergoing teeth-whitening and yet shopping centres don’t have the facilities to carry this out.