Everything You Need To Know About Laser Teeth Whitening
Yellow teeth, dark stains, and white spots can put a major dent in your self-confidence. Special occasions and group photos can feel like punishment if you’re not in the right headspace. It’s even harder to shake off the insecurities when the state of your smile feels out of your hands.
Tooth discoloration happens for several reasons, including antibiotic use, physical trauma, and the natural effects of aging. And while many patients aren’t directly at fault, other cases could have been avoided with less smoking, wine, and coffee consumption. The sad part is that most people don’t learn of their self-sabotage until their teeth are two shades darker.
But no worries: your dentist has you covered.
As of 2020, approximately 37 million Americans have invested in tooth whitening products to restore their youthful smile.⁷ Dental stains may not be a new problem, but we’re seeing a rise in innovative products that can solve them. Have you been wanting whiter teeth but don’t know where to begin? In this guide, we’ll give you the full scope of one of the most popular professional teeth whitening options: laser tooth whitening.
Take a look below.
Laser Tooth Whitening
There are two types of stains you could incur throughout your lifetime:
- Intrinsic stains, which form within the tooth enamel and dentin. These require invasive procedures that penetrate your tooth to reduce its shade.
- Extrinsic stains, which form on the outer surface of your teeth. These develop from the buildup of colored compounds over the enamel -- the greater the buildup, the more intense the discoloration.
You could also have both kinds of discoloration or a mixture of dark, white, and translucent spots.
More options are available to brighten extrinsic stains than intrinsic ones, primarily because they’re easier to access. Extrinsic stains are also more manageable through proper oral care and by avoiding highly acidic foods.⁴
Does that mean the onus falls solely on you to preserve the health of your smile? Not at all. Your dental hygienist can help you lighten those stains through a series of laser whitening treatments.
Sounds like an odd combination - we know. Perhaps the real question is, “what does a laser have to do with your teeth anyway?”
What is Laser Tooth Whitening?
Tooth whitening is the process of lightening your teeth’ shade, especially if they have stains and discolorations. Unlike abrasive agents, tooth lighteners improve the whiteness of your teeth without wearing away your enamel.
With laser tooth whitening, your hygienist applies a bleaching gel over your enamel and then uses a hot light to activate the whitening process. It’s one of the few ways to clear up the intrinsic stains effectively.
How Laser Tooth Whitening Works
Laser tooth whitening is a professional procedure at a dental office.
The specialist uses a concentrated solution of carbamide peroxide whitening gel on your teeth. They should place a rubber shield on your tongue and gums to protect your soft tissue from chemical irritations.⁵
You may have read before that dentists use hydrogen peroxide to bleach teeth -- this is still true. Upon laser heating, the carbamide compound secretes small increments of hydrogen peroxide into your dentin.³
From there, the chemicals in the peroxide work to deactivate the colored buildup in your teeth. That deep yellow hue you had when you walked into the office? Consider it gone. Typically, laser whitening has a bleaching effect similar to the one laundry bleach has on your stained clothes.¹
As we hinted earlier, this “power whitening” is an [minimally] invasive procedure² and is best performed by a licensed specialist.
But we have to be realistic: laser whitening is more like a therapy than a one-off treatment. In most cases, it requires multiple appointments to achieve your desired tooth shade. Each visit could take up to an hour to complete.
Your treatment may also require some financial planning. Insurance providers don’t cover cosmetic dentistry procedures, tooth whitening being one of them.
Who Should Have A Laser Teeth Whitening Procedure Done?
Wondering whether you’re a good candidate for this treatment?
For starters, you should note that tooth whitening can only alter the shades of natural teeth. Ergo, it won’t work for patients with full-mouth dentures.
Moreover, laser tooth whitening (or any kind of lightening) doesn’t affect restorations. As a result, dentists recommend that patients try to match their natural tooth colors to that of their;
- Implants; or
Additionally, you should avoid laser tooth whitening if you are;
- Suffering from gastrointestinal diseases.
- Taking photo-sensitive (light-sensitive) medications.
- Expecting a baby.
- Nursing an infant.
- Planning to bond braces in the next two weeks (bleaching may weaken the enamel and prevent brackets from adhering to the tooth).
Side Effects of Laser Teeth Whitening Procedures
In 2020, the American Dental Association listed tooth sensitivity and gum irritation as the most common side effects of treatment.³ The procedure itself is painless; the aftermath is unpredictable.
Some dental patients assume that whitening treatment can make their teeth even whiter. Contrary to popular belief, the procedure can only reduce the intensity of your stains -- if you have white teeth, treatment won’t make your smile brighter. If this sounds like you, your hygienist may advise against laser whitening. You’d be putting yourself at risk of possible tooth sensitivity without cause.
That said, patients who suffer from acid reflux and other gastric ailments should be wary of whitening procedures. It’s typical for stomach acids from G.E. reflux and frequent vomiting to erode the tooth enamel. The effects of peroxide during laser treatment or bleaching could aggravate the situation, increase tooth sensitivity and damage the gums.⁵
Always disclose your medical history with your health provider before starting any treatment.
Alternative Teeth Whitening Products: Do They Actually Work?
Regardless of your preferred procedure, you should know that professional teeth whitening won’t eliminate your stains entirely. There are other whitening products available that you may consider trying, though none are as effective as power whitening.
Here’s a quick comparison:
Laser Teeth Whitening vs. Zoom
Both laser whitening and the Zoom teeth whitening system uses specialized light to stimulate the lightening process. However, the difference between laser and zoom whitening lies in the specificity and precision of the procedure.
Laser whitening applies gel to individual teeth. In this way, you’ll be able to schedule an appointment to lighten just a couple of teeth if you wish. Maybe your crown doesn’t match your incisors, and you want a uniformed smile. Laser whitening makes it possible.
On the other hand, the Zoom whitening kit applies bleaching gel to all your teeth at once.⁸ There’s no customized treatment plan.
Laser Teeth Whitening vs. Bleaching
Power whitening is a form of in-house bleaching. However, the heat-powered oxidation process in laser whitening makes it far more effective in removing stains than typical bleaching products. Think of it as a modern improvement to the original technique.
Laser Tooth Whitening vs. Bleaching Trays
At-home treatment kits may be less costly than in-house procedures, but they could be detrimental to your health.
Carbamide peroxide is a potent whitening agent. In-house kits use up to 40% carbamide concentrations in their gels.⁶ But although at-home kits use less than half of that amount, independent patients are more likely to get injured during use. Here’s why:
- Patients may not know how to position their at-home whitening trays properly. The bleaching gel could ooze over their gum and surrounding tissue, causing chemical irritation.
- Patients may neglect to follow at-home kit instructions and leave the gel over their teeth for extended periods. This could lead to severe dentin damage, tooth sensitivity, and increased risks of cavities from a weakened enamel.
- Hygiene is paramount during health procedures. There’s no telling what conditions patients expose themselves to outside the dental office. Poor cleanliness during treatment could lead to oral infections.
Moreover, the decrease in peroxide concentration from at-home kits means that it’ll take longer for you to see results. Even when your teeth’ color starts improving, it’s unlikely that you’ll achieve the quality of in-house laser treatment.⁶
Can’t I Just Use Baking Soda?
There isn’t enough scientific evidence to support the use of baking soda and other home remedies for discolored teeth. The lack of data makes it hard to tell if baking soda works to remove stains at all.
The baking soda trend stems from its abrasive action against tooth enamel. Wearing away the tooth surface can have some whitening effect. However, it can also cause severe tooth sensitivity if performed regularly.
While we can’t guarantee the benefits of using baking soda, we can vouch for the efficacy and safety of laser teeth whitening.
Restore Your Youthful Smile With Laser Teeth Whitening
A two-toned smile doesn’t have to wear you down. A few appointments with your hygienist could transform your self-esteem and glow.
But remember: oral health requires commitment. Tooth whitening is no different.
Generally, one round of laser tooth whitening lasts patients anywhere between 6 to 12 months. Doctors recommend redoing your treatment at least once a year. Your teeth can still turn yellow after whitening, primarily if you haven’t eliminated those dark fruits and acidic beverages.
It will only work if you put in the work.
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Department of Scientific Information, Evidence Synthesis & Translation Research, ADA Science & Research Institute, LLC. (2020, October 30). Whitening. Retrieved October 14, 2021.
Epple, M., Meyer, F., & Enax, J. (2019, August). A critical review of modern concepts for teeth whitening. Dentistry journal. Retrieved October 14, 2021.
Mennito, A. S. (2012, October). Tooth whitening: Comprehensive review and clinical guidelines. Tooth Whitening: Comprehensive Review and Clinical Guidelines. Retrieved October 14, 2021.
Nagrani, J. (2017, August 8). Why you shouldn't whiten your teeth at home. Hanford Dentist Dr Jack Nagrani DDS Cosmetic Dentist. Retrieved October 14, 2021.
Statista Research Department. (2021, July 2). U.S.: Usage of Tooth Whiteners 2011-2024. Statista. Retrieved October 14, 2021.
Zoom! teeth whitening vs. laser teeth whitening. Marshfield Dental Group. (2021, August 31). Retrieved October 14, 2021.