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5 Common Misconceptions about Tooth Whitening


If you ask your patients if they want whiter teeth, you’ll probably hear a resounding, “Yes!” But if you ask them if they’re willing to get their teeth whitened under your supervision, as opposed to using an over-the-counter product, they’re likely going to have questions about the process before they commit. You might actually find that these questions reveal some common misconceptions about tooth whitening.

It’s important to be able to have an open discussion with patients who are considering their whitening options. Below are 5 common misconceptions about tooth whitening and patient-friendly answers, with help from the cosmetic dentistry professionals at Ultradent, makers of the award-winning Opalescence Whitening Systems.  

1. Patient misconception: Tooth whitening occurs by removing stains from the tooth.

Fact: Tooth whitening occurs when peroxide changes the way stain molecules reflect or absorb light.

Most tooth stains that appear inside the tooth are made of organic molecules that are held together by conjugated double bonds, which are made of electrons that oppose each other. These bonds selectively absorb some wavelengths of light and don’t absorb other wavelengths, making the tooth appear darker. When the whitening agent peroxide, O3, enters a tooth, it attaches to an electron in order to stabilize and return to O2. Essentially, peroxide breaks up the double bond into single bonds and smaller molecules, making the molecules more translucent, and the stain appears to go away.

2. Patient misconception: Tooth whitening chemicals are toxic.

Fact: Tooth whitening chemicals are safe, provided the manufacturer has committed to safe ingredients and the dentist is using the proper procedure.  

This is where not all whitening systems are created equal. For instance, Opalescence whitening products are made from materials commonly found in or readily disposed of by the body, such as hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide, a combination of hydrogen peroxide and urea, which stabilizes the peroxide to allow for a slower release and longer wear time.

3. Patient misconception: I run the risk of damaging my teeth if I have them professionally whitened.

Fact: As long as the whitening agents have a close-to-neutral pH level, the teeth will not be harmed in the process.  

Whitening agents that have a pH lower than 5 have been shown to cause demineralization. Ideally, you want to have a pH of about 6, or maybe closer to 7. When peroxide is in a near-neutral formulation, it will not decalcify the tooth. For instance, Opalescence whitening products feature a nearly neutral pH that closely matches the pH of a patient’s mouth.

4. Patient misconception: My teeth will reach shade [x] and my results will last for [x] amount of time.

Fact: Everyone is different, so shade results can’t be promised.

However, the patient will most likely achieve a significant level of whitening and be pleased with their results. It’s important to keep in mind that the frequency of consumption of staining foods like tomato sauces, as well as smoking, hygiene, and genetics, can come into play when it comes to the ultimate shade of white each individual patient can achieve. These same factors can influence the longevity of results and how often the patient needs a ?touch up.

Some products also offer different results based on specific needs. For instance, Opalescence Boost is a 40% power whitening gel intended for medical in-office use only. It is applied by the dentist for whitening one or more teeth, parts of a tooth, and/or for accelerated chairside whitening techniques. While some patients may see whiter teeth after two 20-minute applications, patients who opt for a take-home Opalescence kit might see different results.  

5. Patient misconception: I can’t whiten my teeth if I have braces.

Fact: Patients can whiten their teeth while their brackets are on. As supported by research, peroxide in whitening

gel penetrates beneath the brackets and spreads throughout the tooth to whiten and brighten the entire tooth.

Again, this is where not all systems are created equal. Ultradent’s Opalescence Go prefilled, disposable whitening trays are designed to mold to the tooth, so they fit directly over braces easily and comfortably, ensuring good penetration under dental appliances.

As a parting thought: Have you ever asked your patients how they feel about their smiles? A number of them would probably tell you that a brighter, whiter smile is life-changing. Ultradent wants dentists and their patients to celebrate the power of a smile through the “My Smile is Powerful” campaign. Visit to learn more about special promotions on the Opalescence product line and download the free Opalescence Whitening Reference Guide.

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