Ever considered teeth whitening in Singapore, especially after seeing before/after pictures when someone's teeth magically turns whiter in 15 minutes?
Yes, there's science involved behind that -- teeth whitening is not magic!
Let’s leave the heavy science talk for another day though. It's probably more interesting if I address some common teeth whitening myths encountered with patients and friends on a constant basis.
1. “Why bother with professional teeth whitening if I already use whitening toothpaste at home?”
The first myth is a perennial one. You won't be the first patient to ask this, and you certainly won't be the last!
In answer to your question, there are 2 different kinds of teeth discolouration - internal and external discolouration.
- Internal discolouration is the colour that's imparted to your teeth from your inner layer of teeth (yellow dentine). Dark internal stains can also be due to taking certain antibiotics when young.
- External stains could be from smoking or coffee and tea drinking. They can be thought of as stains to your outer layer of teeth (enamel surface).
Whitening toothpastes mainly act as an abrasive mechanical cleaner, and are good at removing external stains. They do not remove internal discolouration.
In simpler terms, your teeth will be clean and shiny, but they may still look yellow. Bummer!
2. "Alright - so teeth whitening toothpaste doesn't work. What about those take-home teeth whitening kits? Surely those must be effective?
Yours, for only $9.98 USD from Aliexpress.
For over-the-counter teeth whitening kits, Ministry of Health (MOH) regulation restricts their concentration to 0.1% or less.
This means that teeth whitening kits may not truly achieve a whitening result as the concentration is too low.
To put things into context, dental clinics carry out teeth whitening with agents ranging in concentration from 10% - 40%. This targets the internal discolouration of the tooth and lightens the tooth as a whole.
I suppose we can both do the math and answer how effective a 0.1% concentration teeth whitening kit is ourselves.
3. “I was told that brushing with baking soda/charcoal will whiten my teeth.”
Baking soda - not just used for cake?
Baking soda and charcoal only serve as mechanical cleansers to remove external surface stains.
They do not change the internal colour of your teeth. In fact, prolonged use of such “home-cooked” teeth whitening regimes may even wear down and thin your enamel layer.
This method will also eventually darken your teeth, as the yellow of the dentine layer shows through the thinned enamel more easily - We wouldn't want that now would we?
4. “My friend rubs orange peels on her teeth religiously and they are so white!”
This one is actually true, but also frightening. Rubbing orange peels (or any citrus fruit) against your teeth for long periods will make them appear whiter, but for all the wrong reasons.
Oranges and other citrus fruit are acidic in nature, and prolonged exposure against the tooth surface results in acid erosion of the enamel layer. If left for long, this damage can be irreversible.
Sure, your enamel will appear whiter -- but over time, there'll be nothing left to erode. Do not do this at home. Please don’t.
5. “I was told I have sensitive teeth and therefore should never consider teeth whitening.”
C'mon, let the poor man whiten his teeth if he wants to!
Teeth whitening does not worsen existing teeth sensitivity. Sensitivity is caused by worn out tooth enamel, resulting in exposed inner teeth. Teeth whitening doesn't wear out your tooth surface, but instead opens temporary "channels" in the surface to cause an oxidation reaction.
Any sensitivity resulting from teeth whitening treatment is transient, lasting no more than 2 - 3 days at most.
Before any teeth whitening treatment, your dentist will also identify and address any causes of teeth sensitivity. This enables him to plan a more comfortable whitening process.
Addressing teeth sensitivity may be as simple as treating preexisting conditions like cavities, using a desensitising toothpaste, or by selecting a more gradual and gentle whitening regimen.
6. “Why go to a dental clinic for teeth whitening when it's much cheaper at a beauty salon/spa?”
Can’t fault us Singaporeans for always wanting to get a good bargain, right? For sure, it's a buyers’ market when it comes to teeth whitening, with such a wide variety of options out there.
I'd just like to highlight however that it's also a buyer-beware market. Caveat Emptor! (My economics tutor would be so proud).
We've already explored how MOH regulates the concentration of whitening agents that can be employed by non-dentists. As with other types of aesthetic treatment in Singapore, it's common for non-medical professionals to offer teeth whitening treatment at a low and virtually ineffective concentration.
Secondly, dealing with complex cases such as teeth sensitivity requires expert management before teeth whitening can be safely done.
Complications that arise from ill-preparation can be very unpleasant - this includes:
- Chemical burns to soft tissue like your gums and lips
- Bleaching of your pulp tissue
Don’t get me wrong now! The most expensive teeth whitening treatment may not always be the best, but it's important to choose wisely and not let cost and/or convenience be your only guiding factors.
This wraps up the top 6 tooth whitening myths I've come across while practicing in Singapore.
If it helps you make a more informed decision the next time you decide on whitening your chompers, it'll have made writing this worthwhile. If nothing else, I hope it made for an interesting read!
Dr Huang Shiming is a dental surgeon at TP Dental. Before joining TP Dental Surgeons as an Associate, he also headed dental clinics in public institutions as Dental Officer-in-charge. Outside of dentistry, Dr Shiming is an avid car enthusiast, unashamed adrenaline junkie and photography hobbyist.