Is tooth-whitening dentistry? Is it beauty therapy? Is it neither, or both? How much training do you really need to put a bit of gel on someone's teeth? If you've looked into tooth whitening in the past 5 years or so, you'll know that there's lots of ways to go about it. So what's the difference between whitening done by a dentist and whitening done at a beauty salon?
Nearly every dentistry lecture I've ever attended has started with the importance of diagnosis. Whitening is no different, getting the right diagnosis can mean the difference between stunning white teeth and a complete waste of time and money. A beautician is not qualified to identify the cause of the patient's tooth discolouration, and so can't recommend the right treatment or give an accurate idea of what the final result might be. Whitening might even be completely inappropriate if the patient is hoping to improve the colour of existing crowns or fillings, as the gel will only whiten natural tooth structure, not filling materials. The average beautician is not trained to identify the difference between completely natural teeth and restored teeth, and any good dentist works really hard to make it difficult to tell them apart!
Still on diagnosis, it's really important that only a healthy mouth undergo whitening treatment. Applying whitening gel to decayed teeth can be extremely painful, and the all-clear on the decay front can only be given by a dentist.
Whitening gel comes in lots of different concentrations and formulations. Dentists are legally permitted to apply much stronger peroxide gel to the teeth of a patient than a non-dentally trained person such as a beautician. This means the patient will usually get a faster result than when using a lower concentration gel. The reason for the restriction is that high concentration gels can irritate and burn the gums if applied incorrectly.
So with all this in mind, why would you visit anyone but a dentist for tooth-whitening? It generally costs less money to have your teeth whitened at a beauty salon and it can also be a lot more convenient to pop in to a booth in a shopping centre than to book in with a dentist, particularly if you don't have a dentist you regularly see.
There are some people who tooth whitening will work well for regardless of who supplies and applies the gel. The trouble is, it takes a trained eye to figure out if that's you or not. If you want to give whitening your teeth the best shot, talk to your dentist. If may mean more dollars initially, but you're far more likely to get the bright smile you're after in the safest possible way.