Medical benefits of tooth whitening

“Dear doctor,

I have some questions about tooth whitening. It is unclear to me whether this procedure has medical benefits or is purely aesthetic in nature. Do your teeth get better after a whitening session? Does the procedure harm the teeth? What if I have cavities or my teeth are broken, can I still get the procedure?



Dear Karen,

These are actually quite a few questions all in one, and I will do my best to answer them. When you mention medical benefits, what do you mean exactly? Do you mean if the procedure repairs teeth? Because it does not. Do you mean does the procedure kill bacteria? Because it does. Do you mean does the procedure heal tissues or nurse them back to health? Because it does not, but can contribute to the healing process.

This process is first and foremost an aesthetic procedure, but it does have some benefits to it. A whitening procedure kills bacteria and removes stains, which are caused by bacterial habitats called biofilms, essentially destroying where the bacteria live, creating an inhospitable environment in the mouth. It does not repair damage though, and does not stop or slow down tooth decay.

Usually, the patient needs to get all cavities filled and undergo an extensive hygiene session before a whitening session is given. This is because the bleach is not particularly good for teeth, and can hurt the nerves and internal structures of the teeth. So after all this is done, the whitening session can begin. Afterwards, you will have a mouth that is essentially free from bacteria, and all the residual plaque and tartar will have been removed and the structures under it will be whitened. This way the teeth look their cleanest, and are taken care of too. As to whether the teeth “get better” after a whitening session, the answer is no, they don’t, they merely look better. 

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