This article covers:
- What is professional teeth whitening?
- How are teeth whitened?
- How much does teeth whitening cost?
- Is taking a ‘dental holiday’ to whiten your teeth a good idea?
- What’s the difference between professional and over-the-counter whitening?
- How long does professional teeth whitening last?
- Are there any risks involved with teeth whitening?
When carried out successfully, teeth whitening can help remove staining and give you a brighter smile. With a wide variety of over-the-counter whiteners and professional whitening services available in Australia, we’ve shone a light on what’s involved and the various costs involved.
What is professional teeth whitening?
Professional whitening is a commonly available procedure that involves bleaching teeth to lighten their colour, according to government-funded website healthdirect. After treatment, the teeth look a few shades whiter, but not usually brilliant white. Moreover, healthdirect advises that teeth whitening is an optional procedure — it is rarely a necessity.
If you’re interested in teeth whitening, healthdirect recommends speaking to your dentist to see if your teeth are suitable. Teeth whitening is not recommended for some people – for example pregnant women, and it won’t work on crowns, veneers and fillings. Healthdirect cautions that teeth whitening may be offered by businesses that aren’t dentists, such as beauty and hair salons. However, teeth whitening treatments that can be sold over the counter or performed by non-dentists are not as strong (and so maybe not as effective) as those you’ll get from a dentist. In addition, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) says teeth whitening services operated by non-dentists can bring risks including chemical burns to the gums and lips, and sensitivity or pain affecting the teeth.
The upshot is that it’s worth speaking with a qualified dentist to know if bleaching is safe for you, as well as giving you access to safe and quality treatment options.
How are teeth whitened?
According to healthdirect, teeth whitening involves applying a bleach solution, which soaks through the top layer of enamel on your teeth (their tough outer shell) and into the dentine (the main supporting bony structure of your teeth). The solution reacts to the coloured molecules that have been causing the discolouration of your teeth. The dentine then becomes lighter, causing your teeth to look whiter.
When it comes to the options offered by dentists, there are two main methods: in-chair and tray (take home) whitening:
In-chair power bleaching
Power bleaching, also known as laser whitening, is done at the dental surgery. The dentist will apply a bleaching agent to your teeth, then shine a laser light into your mouth to activate the whitening process. According to healthdirect, the treatment may take 60 minutes, and you may only need one treatment.
Your dentist will create moulds of your teeth to make trays that fit over your teeth like a mouthguard. Bleaching gel is put into the trays, which you wear in your mouth for 15 to 30 minutes – something that can be done at home. Healthdirect says you’ll notice results in 2 to 4 weeks.
How much does teeth whitening cost?
The cost of professional teeth whitening can vary and may depend on your dentist, your location and the condition of your teeth. As a guide, healthdirect says bleaching at the dentist’s clinic with home follow-up costs $500 to $1500 for each of your top and bottom arches. Bleaching at home with trays supplied by the dentist costs $250 to $450 an arch.
Medicare does not cover teeth whitening as it is a cosmetic procedure. However, your private health insurer might. The best way to know for sure is to get in touch with your provider.
Compare Health Insurance with Canstar
The table below displays some of our referral partners’ extras policies for a 30-year-old single female seeking cover in NSW without pregnancy cover. The table is sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest) followed by provider name (alphabetical). Use Canstar’s health insurance comparison selector to view a wider range of products. Canstar may earn a fee for referrals.
Is taking a ‘dental holiday’ to whiten your teeth a good idea?
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘dental tourism’ was gaining popularity among Australians looking for cheaper teeth whitening services overseas. According to online dental resource Dental Guide Australia, up to 10,000 Australians were jetting off each year for dental procedures, with potential savings of up to 75% on the cost of domestic treatment.
Right now, the option to enjoy sun, sand and shiny white teeth by heading internationally is off the table. But if you’re saving for a post-pandemic overseas trip for dental treatment, the decision could come back to bite you.
The ADA warns that dentists practising overseas may not have the same high level of training as Australian dentists. In addition, the ADA says that antibiotic resistant ‘superbugs’ were being seen more and more pre-pandemic, as people returned from overseas clinics that didn’t have to follow the same high standards of infection control as Australian dental practices.
What’s the difference between professional and over-the-counter whitening?
Overseas travel may not be possible during the pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped plenty of us shopping internationally for teeth whitening products. According to the ADA, one in two consumers who whiten their teeth are buying whitening do-it-yourself (DIY) products/kits available over-the-counter in pharmacies, and whitening kits sold online.
These kits may be more affordable. But the ADA says professional whitening systems have a much stronger concentration of the whitening agent, and dentists have the light systems needed for greater activation of the whitening agent.
A key risk of over-the-counter teeth whitening products can lie in the way we use them. Information provided to the ADA by state poisons centres suggests that some people are leaving whitening gel on their teeth for longer than instructed. Advertising claims by non-dentist services may also be misleading around the change in tooth colour that can be expected. In some cases, tooth whitening products purchased from overseas websites can have concentrations of whitening agents that exceed legal limits in Australia.
All this points to the need to take care if you’re going to take a DIY approach to teeth whitening. As Brite Dental notes, over-the-counter products take longer to reveal a result and at worst they have the potential to damage your teeth or cause injury. Platinum Dental points out that whitening toothpaste rarely whitens teeth, unless it contains hydrogen peroxide – which it says many don’t.
How long does professional teeth whitening last?
Professional whitening is not a permanent fix and will need to be maintained, possibly with touch-up treatments needed at 6-12 monthly intervals, according to Aperture Dental. That said, it’s likely to last longer than a DIY solution. Over-the-counter teeth whiteners may only last a couple of months, whereas the results of professional teeth whitening are estimated to last up to several years.
The length of time a whitening treatment lasts may be affected by the same factors that caused the discoloration in the first place, including:
- Drinking alcohol, soft drinks, coffee, tea and other dark liquids
- Not taking general care of your teeth.
Pure Smile advises that sticking to a ‘white’ diet and avoiding colourful foods and drinks will help your teeth stay whiter and brighter. This is especially true immediately after professional tooth whitening as the pores in the enamel are still open, making them more susceptible to staining.
Are there any risks involved in teeth whitening?
Like with any medical or dental procedure, big or small, healthdirect explains that there can be side effects of teeth whitening, such as sensitivity and mild gum irritation. In addition, it is also not recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have sensitive teeth, gum disease, cracks or exposed dentine.
If you’re not sure about tooth whitening, healthdirect suggests possible alternatives including having your teeth cleaned by the dentist or dental restoration, such as veneers or crowns.
Sub edited by Milan Cuk.
Cover image source: Billion Photos/Shutterstock.com