Tooth Whitening – All You Need To Know

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Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid smiling
According to a study by researchers at the University of Leeds, white, evenly spaced teeth are “the human equivalent of a peacock’s tail” denoting good genes and good health to potential mates (or right swipes).  
Whilst those glamorous Hollywood types (or anyone born on the other side of the Atlantic for that matter) have been flashing their pearlies for decades now, us Brits have been a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to teeth whitening although times are a changin and we’re finally starting to catch up in the smiles stakes. (Not that we’d ever want to go quite as day-glo as some of our American cousins).
“We’ve seen a real surge in teeth whitening over the last five years,” says cosmetic dentist to the stars Dr Uchenna Okoye of London Smiling. “It’s become the norm these days and interestingly whilst it used to be  predominately females having the procedure, men are now just as eager to invest in their smiles with whitening.” 
It’s perhaps no surprise that the nation that brought the world on-demand teeth whitening services also has some of the best at-home versions too (savvy Beauty Journos have been stocking up on Crest Whitening Strips for years during New York Fashion Week). But whilst we don’t have anything comparable in strength thanks to strict EU laws (and probably for good reason) the plethora of home-whitening products to hit the market recently are giving us something to smile about. But first let’s get the low-down on tooth whitening and all it entails from the experts in the know;
What makes teeth lose their whiteness?
Teeth are naturally white thanks to their protective layer of porcelain-like enamel. Over time enamel can become damaged with microscopic cracks trapping food and causing staining. Worn enamel also lets the underlying tooth surface (or dentine) show through which is naturally yellow-y in hue causing the teeth to look discoloured. 
How does tooth whitening work?
“Dental Professionals generally perform in-surgery tooth whitening using Peroxide-based gels and utilize the fact that tooth enamel and dentine are porous and semi-permeable materials,” says Dr Peta Leigh, whitening expert at Elleven. “As bleaching gel starts to degrade it reacts with pigment molecules in the tooth, which alter the optical properties of these molecules and thus creates the perception of a whiter tooth.” This usually takes around an hour. “Alternatively, professional trays are fitted by the dentist to take home and use over a period of two weeks using a gel to suit your sensitivity and how many shades lighter you wish to go,” adds Dr Uchenna.
Is it bad for your teeth?
“Tooth Whitening with hydrogen peroxide gels (supervised by your dentist) is completely safe and free from damaging or weakening your tooth enamel,” assures Dr Leigh. However Dr Uchenna warns that before embarking on a course of tooth whitening, make sure you get your teeth and gums checked by a professional first as gum disease, receding gums and abnormalities with the enamel can all cause problems.
How painful is it?
“Whitening should not be painful but sensitivity is a common side-effect experienced during tooth whitening treatments,” says Dr Leigh. “It is usually the result of a temporary dehydration of the tooth in response to the whitening gel breaking down. Not everyone experiences this and tooth sensitivity will return to normal soon after completing the treatment. People with very sensitive teeth should look to have whitening treatments along with a tooth remineralising programme utilising nano-hydroxyapatite serum or high calcium toothpastes to reduce sensitivity.”
How often do you need to top up and is there a danger of over-whitening?
“This really depends on diet and lifestyle, personal preference and now many shades you want to go,” says Dr Uchenna. 
By ‘diet’ we’re talking to you latte-lovers in particular warns Dr Leigh; “Once the initial shade improvement has been achieved, maintenance home whitening a couple of times a year is all that’s needed to keep up the colour improvement but individuals who are smokers, consume a high amount of tea/coffee/red wine etc. require more frequent top-ups.” And for those wary of a Ross from Friends day-glo grimace? Dr Leigh assures us that whilst repeated whitening will not thin enamel over time, each tooth has a natural limit beyond which it won’t whiten any further.
According to the experts, Hydrogen peroxide based products are the safest and most effective way to whiten teeth but what about those of us who can’t afford to spend the time (or money) in a dentist’s surgery? Elaine Tilling who is TePe’s (interdental brushes) Clinical head of Education is a big believer in the power of lipstick to cheat the look of whiter teeth (as are we) as well as…wait for it.. strawberries; “The malic acid present in strawberries are reported to work as an astringent on the tooth surface removing surface stains and whitening the teeth – a pinch of bi-carb is advised to counter the acidity of the strawberries which should be crushed and brushed with a soft tooth brush onto the tooth’s surface – left for 3 mins and then rinsed off – finishing with a brush with your fluoride tooth paste.” And if you prefer your strawberries with cream? Try these at-home whiteners to get your ivories looking sparkly;
BlanX White Shock White & Protect, £7.50 
We’ve seen the light and it’s all about healthier, whiter teeth. Containing a patented anti-bacterial ingredient called Actilux which is activated via the LED light attachment, this paste not only keeps the mouth healthy, it also restores teeth’s natural whiteness by helping to prevent the build-up of stain-causing bacteria.
oral B
Oral-B 3dWhite Whitestrips, £50 
Not quite as potent as their counterparts from across the pond, (but using the same technology) these recently launched strips have nevertheless got us grinning with glee. Available exclusively via your dentist, they use peroxide to reach stains below the enamel surface for noticeably whiter teeth in 14 days with results lasting for up to 12 months. Colgate recommend using them with their Luxe Perfection Toothpaste to boost whiteness and keep teeth healthy and stain-free.  
Arm & Hammer
Arm & Hammer™ Advance White Mouthwash, £3.99
Swoosh your way to a whiter smile from the original purveyors of baking soda. With a cool mint flavour that’s alcohol and peroxide free (so it won’t burn the roof of your mouth off like some mouthwashes do), combine it with the Advance White toothpaste to prevent cavities and for teeth that are up to three shades whiter.
iWhite Tooth Polisher, £39.99 
Think of it as a mini hygienist in your home, this stain-sloughing hero uses the same rotating-disc technology dentists use to physically tackle surface stains and plaque build-up in conjunction with the iWhite polishing paste.
Colgate Max White Toothbrush Plus Whitening Pen, £11.99
Is it a polishing toothbrush? Is it a whitening pen? Well technically it’s both! Containing the professional whitening ingredient hydrogen peroxide (0.1%) approved by our experts, you use the pen one tooth at a time after brushing to whiten teeth up to three shades.
Diamond whites
The Diamond Whites Black Edition Tooth Polish, £14.99
Heard the one about using charcoal to whiten teeth? It may sound counterproductive but this 100% natural tooth polish (it’s a powder texture) made from activated coconut shell charcoal gently whitens teeth whilst removing toxins and bacteria from the mouth.
Pearl Drops
Pearl Drops Lasting Flawless White Toothpaste, £6.99 
It may have slightly retro connotations but the technology behind this whitening paste is anything but. Drawing on their years of expertise, Pearl Drops have gone one better with their patented Stain Prevention Technology and Mineral Complex for teeth that look whiter after five days (now that is something to smile about). Using gentle, low-abrasion cleaning clinically proven to remove 100% more stains and plaque than your regular paste, the liquid calcium also helps to strengthen enamel.
Rapid White
Rapid White Pro Clean & Polish System, £80
Another at-home gadget that would look more at home on the Starship Enterprise, this latest launch from Rapid White claims to remove 68% more stubborn plaque and stains than an electric toothbrush. Designed to be used once or twice a week (think of it as an exfoliator for your teeth) alongside the Dental Polishing Paste, teeth look whiter after just one use.



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