You’re getting older, and you don’t want to be the one with stained teeth. You’ve tried whitening strips, but they aren’t doing it for you. What’s wrong? Maybe your dentist told you that laser teeth whitening is a thing of the future. Are they right?
As we age, our skin changes — some good, others bad. The same can happen in our mouths when stains build up on our teeth. You may need professional dental care if you have yellowed or browned teeth (or want a whiter smile).
Whether that means visiting your family dentist for an exam and cleaning, going to your local specialist for a checkup, or having a full-scale crown work done, there are many ways to keep your smile looking bright. One way is through laser treatment.
This procedure uses lasers to bleach your teeth, so they appear whiter than ever before. It’s fast, painless, and relatively inexpensive compared to other methods used for whitening teeth at home. But what exactly does this mean? How will it make your teeth look? And how safe is this kind of whitening? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Laser Teeth Whitening?
When most people think about their teeth, they probably imagine them as strong little sticks holding everything together, keeping food from falling into places where it shouldn’t go. While that may still fit in terms of structure, white teeth change things dramatically because they reflect light instead of absorbing it.
When teeth absorb too much of the sun’s rays during long hours outside, they become more prone to staining and discoloration. Stained teeth can also result from eating certain foods such as tea and coffee, smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or even drinking wine.
Over time, these substances combine with bacteria to form tartar which attaches itself firmly onto the tooth enamel, eventually leading to decay. Tartar buildup is especially prevalent among those who suffer from gum disease.
A trip to the dentist once every six months should help maintain healthy gums while helping prevent further damage to teeth. Another option is taking daily fluoride supplements to strengthen tooth enamel and fight cavities.
Some steps can prevent further damage for patients whose teeth have been weakened by years of wear and tear. Filling cracks or chips, repairing chipped fillers or veneers, replacing old silver fillings with new ones made of composite materials, bonding broken teeth together, and removing plaque buildup under bridges or around implants may all be necessary to restore functionality.
These treatments typically require several visits to the dentist, each requiring anesthesia. They can range anywhere from $300 to thousands of dollars according to the type of service provided and whether additional procedures are required.
However, another method known as laser teeth whitening could provide similar results without calling upon expensive medical professionals. Instead, dentists use high-intensity lights to remove surface stains from teeth.
High power diode lasers explicitly used for cosmetic purposes can target specific areas within teeth to affect coloration without harming surrounding tissues like bone and nerves.
Lasers were first developed in 1960 by Theodore Maiman, an engineer working for Hughes Research Laboratories. He studied semiconductor applications when he came across argon-ion gas being pumped through tubes filled with plasma.
Bypassing a beam of light through the plasma, Maiman discovered his device produced enough energy to cut hair. As the gas passed through the tube, it ionized electrons separated from atoms, creating positive ions and free radicals. The combination of gases created highly energized particles capable of producing intense heat.
Later, researchers found that adding dye to the mix gave off wavelengths matching visible light, making lasers valuable tools for detecting flaws in glass and plastic products and cutting objects apart. Lasers became vital components in surgical operations, including eye surgery, brain surgeries, heart bypasses, and prostate removal.
Today, lasers are commonly used in medicine to burn holes in the cornea of someone suffering from severe cataracts, to treat tumors and cancers, and to correct vision problems caused by diseases ranging from macular degeneration to diabetes
Now let’s take a closer look at what happens during a typical laser teeth whitening session.
What To Expect During A Laser Teeth Whitening Treatment
Your dentist will likely order X-rays of your mouth to determine where stains reside to get started. Then, he’ll discuss the best course of action with you and review options. For example, perhaps you’d prefer not to undergo general anesthesia since you have children in the house.
Your dentist might suggest a less invasive approach that utilizes topical numbing gels applied directly to the outer surfaces of the teeth. Or, perhaps you’d rather avoid the discomfort associated with deep penetration of sensitive tissue and muscles needed to access hard-to-reach spots between teeth. Afterward, you can expect to return to finish the process.
Typically, you’ll receive two sessions spaced roughly three weeks apart — each lasting approximately 30 minutes per session. Each visit involves a thorough cleaning followed by applying a gel designed to react chemically with pigments in your teeth.
Once the chemical reaction occurs, the body absorbs the pigment molecules and carries them away. At the end of the second appointment, the entire area should be noticeably lighter.
Of course, everyone responds differently to various types of whiteners. Some may experience side effects, so speak up early on. Let’s talk about those next.
The cost varies depending on insurance coverage, location, and the number of appointments. Prices usually start at about $500 per hour plus travel expenses and vary based on the duration of treatment and the extent of services desired.
At-Home Whitening Vs. In-Office Whitening
People interested in undergoing laser teeth whitening often wonder if they may do so at home with online DIY kits. Unfortunately, whitening products sold over the counter at drugstores are dangerous and ineffective.
Although they contain chemicals thought to break down stain molecules called carbonyls, they only mask stains temporarily and can irritate in addition to dryness, sensitivity, and potential infections.
Professional dental practitioners know better. “We recommend against self-medicating,” says Dr. Michael Zervas, assistant professor of prosthodontics and craniofacial sciences at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. “Although manufacturers claim their products are FDA approved, no product has received approval.”
Additionally, he explains that at least one study showed hydrogen peroxide products did nothing but irritate teeth. Also, when left untreated, stains can spread beyond the original affected area. That’s why it’s essential to seek proper dental care and follow directions carefully.
Another reason to consult your dentist is regarding possible complications. Bleeding gums, loose fillings, cracked teeth, and soft tissue injury are common issues due to overexposure to intense beams of light.
Dentists employ protective measures such as specialized equipment, safety glasses, masks, and gloves to minimize risk. Before beginning either procedure, ask questions about the risks involved and what safeguards exist to protect yourself and your health.
While laser teeth whitening doesn’t pose serious risks for most adults, it’s vital to consider special needs. People allergic to latex should inquire beforehand about whether nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or oxygen therapy is part of the treatment plan.
Those with pacemakers should notify their doctors ahead of time and bring recent prescriptions to ensure compatibility. Patients with epilepsy or seizure disorders can opt for alternative therapies involving low radiation levels.
Children younger than 18 must always receive parental consent before starting treatment. Younger kids and babies may benefit from extra precautions such as wearing protective goggles, face shields, and breathing filters during each session.
Next, let’s touch briefly on the topic of side effects.
Side Effects Of Laser Teeth Whitening
Even though laser whitening seems pretty straightforward, it isn’t perfect. Side effects include temporary redness, swelling, mild bruising, minor bleeding, increased salivation, burning sensations, tooth hypersensitivity, and loosened fillings.
Because lasers penetrate deeply, laser teeth whitening requires a higher dosage of active ingredients than other whitening forms. As a result, reactions tend to last longer.
Patients with allergies should tell providers about any medications taken recently or conditions present, such as asthma. Telltale signs of a reaction include difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea, vomiting, flushing, and a rash. Severe cases sometimes require hospitalization. Call 911 immediately if symptoms worsen.
If you’ve had extensive dental work recently, wait four to eight weeks after any extractions before scheduling treatment. Tooth roots remain attached to bones inside the jaw until fully healed.
Any infection below the gum line poses a more significant threat because blood flow to the site would generally be diminished. Talk to your dentist if you haven’t seen him lately.
Ask about anything changed in routine habits, medications, weight gain or loss, smoking cessation efforts, illnesses or accidents. Lastly, remember the importance of regular dental hygiene throughout life. Poor oral health leads to poor overall health.