The teeth whitening checklist: Your need-to-know on how to whiten teeth

Alice Watt

Dr Peta Leigh talks us through her top ten tips for those looking for a brighter smile...


It’s no secret that we all want white teeth, but with an abundance of products on the market all promising a dazzling smile, it can be hard to tell which to go for and work out how to whiten teeth. Aside from the risk of wasting money on products which don’t work, it is even more imperative to make the right decision as many unlicensed treatments or products can actually cause more harm than good.

Dr Peta Leigh, from London’s award-winning dental practice elleven, offers her advice on what to look out for if you are thinking of getting a brighter smile…

1. Where To Go

When considering teeth whitening, it’s crucial that you visit a qualified and registered dentist. The UK General Dental Council has deemed that tooth whitening is the “practice of dentistry” and therefore it should only be carried out by appropriately trained and registered dental professionals. It is fine to use at-home treatments that are supervised by a dentist if the appropriate whitening gel is used; these can be very effective and convenient but beware of gels bought on the internet - at best they do nothing to improve the whiteness of your teeth, and at worst can be extremely acidic and harmful to your teeth.

2. Be Safe  

In 2012, a change in EU regulations made sure that the maximum concentration of Hydrogen Peroxide allowed in whitening gel is 6%. If you are offered anything above this concentration, then it is illegal and you must not use it. PrevDent, which is used at elleven, achieves great results with a less aggressive ingredient which results in far less sensitivity.

3. The Power of Powders

Powders often known as “smokers’ toothpaste powders” contain granular particles that aid in removing superficial stains on the surfaces of teeth. The more abrasive the particle, the more effective it is for stain removal, but in the wrong situation it may be harmful to acid weakened enamel or exposed dentine. Used carefully with the right brushing technique, at least30 min after eating and ideally 30 min after a fluoride mouthwash, these powders can have some positive effects.

4. Toothpaste  

All toothpastes have a detergent-like effect on the surface of the teeth, and when combined with brushing will remove superficial stains, making the teeth feel and look cleaner. Whitening toothpastes are basically for stain removal so they may be useful if you drink lots of tea, coffee and other stain-producing liquids and foods, but they do not whiten teeth.

Whitening kits sold in supermarkets do not contain enough (if at all) hydrogen peroxide to be effective. Those that do not contain hydrogen peroxide often use other ingredients such as Phosphoric acid which, if used incorrectly, can cause damage. Hydrogen peroxide based products are the safest and most effective way to whiten teeth.

5. Regularity  

Since dentists first introduced tooth whitening with hydrogen peroxide, millions of people have had this treatment, and studies have proven it is safe and does not weaken teeth. Repeated whitening is safe,however each tooth has a maximum whiteness beyond which it will not lighten.

6. Dietary Requirements

There is no hard evidence that you need to avoid consuming coloured foods when teeth are whitened, however it is best to steer clear of foods that would stain a white ceramic bowl when left to sit in it for a few hours. Generally the biggest culprits for staining teeth that you should avoid straight after whitening are tobacco, black tea or coffee and red wine.

7. Fillings

It is important to remember that when undertaking tooth whitening, only the tooth structure itself will change. Any pre-existing tooth coloured restorations, such as fillings, will likely no longer match the surrounding tooth and will need replacing. Ideally, you should whiten the teeth to your desired colour and then change the fillings to match.

8. Veneers

Porcelain veneers themselves rarely stain, but individuals with a highly chromogenic diet are likely to see some superficial staining appear around the margins of their veneers over time. This can be unsightly and often encourages the owner to brush extra hard and cause traumatic gum recession which makes it all look worse. The key here is careful cleaning,regularly rinsing with water after eating and drinking, and good fitting veneers.

9. Which Shade?

This is often related to the skin tone and personal preference of the individual. Using the shade of your sclera (white of your eyes) is a good guide.

10. Mellow Yellow

If your tooth colour under the enamel is very yellow, then you will definitely benefit from teeth whitening. Yellow and brown based teeth generally whiten very well, if they start very dark it make take longer, but very few teeth will not lighten enough to produce a dazzling result. Difficult but not impossible!

11. Pick your lipstick

Slick on some red lipstick. Pick a blue-based formula because blue and orange/yellow sit across from each other on the colour wheel, so blue tones tend to cancel out orange or yellow tones when juxtaposed together, and vice versa.

Find the perfect red lipstick to make your pearly white glow and match your skin tone here!

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Tuesday 23 August