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We all appreciate a good smile – one with perfectly aligned pearly whites that look and function well. Vanity prevails for good reason, so we have put together this one-stop guide to help you understand how teeth whitening can help you achieve that million-dollar smile. 

In this article, we compare the different teeth whitening options available in Singapore according to budget, their respective effectiveness, and when you should consider other cosmetic dentistry options instead.

 

What causes teeth stains?

Tooth discolouration takes place over time due to external and internal factors like our diet, ageing, and tooth injuries. 

We broadly categorise the type of tooth discolouration according to the location of the stain:

Type of stain What it is Caused by 
Extrinsic stain
  • Stains that occur on the outer surface of the tooth, or the enamel 
  • Extrinsic stains are very common as enamel is exposed to everything you consume and inhale 
  • Certain food and drinks that contain staining agents e.g. coffee, tea, red wine
  • Smoking 
Intrinsic stain 
  • Stains that occur in the inner layer of the tooth, or dentin 
  • Discolouration is more severe and can appear brown or greyish 
  • Harder to treat with conventional teeth whitening products as the stain particles are build up within the tooth
  • Certain medication e.g. antihistamines, antibiotics 
  • Injuries to the tooth 
  • Overexposure to fluoride 
  • Genetics 
  • Tooth decay 
  • Root canal treatment 

 

Apart from the above, tooth discolouration can occur as a natural byproduct of ageing. As we age, enamel wears out and exposes dentin, which gets yellower with age. In addition, dentine (which is the yellower, inner part of the tooth) gets denser over time. This makes teeth appear more discoloured. 

 

How does teeth whitening work? 

 

To achieve whiter teeth, bleach agents – namely hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide – are used to lighten the colour of your teeth. Our teeth are semi-permeable, which allows the bleaching agents to penetrate past the surface into the tooth enamel and break down chromogenic molecules that cause stains. Once broken down, the hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide converts into water and oxygen molecules that are harmless to your body. This is how in-office teeth whitening treatments and take-home whitening kits usually work and is especially useful in removing intrinsic and extrinsic stains.

 

Whitening toothpaste, on the other hand, may contain components that gently remove stains on the surface of the teeth, or chemicals that help break down stains. However, its efficacy remains hotly debated – whitening toothpaste can only remove superficial stains and cannot lighten the shade of your teeth[1]. Results are also short-lived. Furthermore, some toothpastes can be abrasive and might damage tooth surface over time.

 

What are the teeth whitening options in Singapore? 

There are three broad categories of teeth whitening options that you can consider. 

 

TreatmentHow it worksProsCons
In-office TreatmentsIn-office treatments use a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening procedures. 


Your dentist may also use light while applying the whitening product in a bid to speed up and enhance  the whitening process; however its clinical efficacy has yet to be proven[2].  

Most effective out of all the teeth whitening options. 

Done safely by professional dentists. 

Quick results that are usually noticeable after one session, hence a great option for those with busier schedules. 

Longer-lasting results.

Aesthetics catered to your skin tone, appearance and overall facial features. 

Tend to be more expensive. 

Requires time spent in the dentist’s office. 

May experience temporary tooth sensitivity after treatment, but this does not indicate underlying tooth damage. 

Take-home KitsA take-home teeth whitening kit requires you to add a gel to a customised tray worn on your teeth for up to an hour a day, or as recommended by your dentist.

Your dentist will first take teeth scans to make a soft gel-holding wearable similar to retainers. These are called teeth whitening trays. At home, you will apply a layer of gel (carbamide peroxide) in the tray and put them on, according to your dentist’s directions. 

The trays are customised to your teeth to ensure it is most comfortable for use.

Gradual results that can be adjusted according to your desired outcome. 

Done at the flexibility of your schedule. 

Can be easily purchased at the dental clinic. 

Aesthetics catered to your skin tone, appearance and overall facial features. 

Great for sensitive teeth as it is a gradual process.

Longer to achieve results (results can only be seen after 14-21 days of consecutive use)

May be less cost-effective in the long run depending on your goals 

Troublesome as you will have to apply them on yourself

Self-application means that you might get the whitening gel on your gums that might cause some discomfort

Over-the-counter ProductsThese include whitening strips, whitening toothpastes and whitening gels that can be easily purchased over-the-counter without a dentist’s supervision. 

Unlike products dispensed by dentists, over-the-counter products contain little to no carbamide peroxide. 

They can remove stains only to a certain degree, and do not work on intrinsic stains.

In selecting your choice of over-the-counter product, you should also check the source of and ingredients in the product. Some products contain chlorine dioxide, the same chemical used to clean swimming pools. 

In Singapore, the Health Sciences Authority[3] cautions against the selling of OTC teeth whitening kits that contain more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide. 

Cheaper, easily accessible. Not an effective solution for those looking for safe, long term teeth whitening 

Cannot treat every form of discolouration 

Improper use can lead to: 

  • Tooth sensitivity and gingival[4] irritation
  • Stripping of tooth enamel 
  • Permanent teeth damage

Regardless of choice, regular visits to the dentist go a long way in maintaining healthy and clean teeth. This is why at Dental Designs, all four of our teeth whitening options under our WHITEN+ program start with a full dental scaling & polishing, followed by airflow prophyjet stain removal. 

This allows us to remove existing surface stains on your teeth and whiten your teeth in a gentle, non-invasive manner. Removing existing surface stains and plaque before whitening is so important in ensuring that your whitening treatment has the most optimal effect.

Is teeth whitening safe?

Regardless of what teeth whitening procedure you opt for, we recommend that you consult a professional dentist who can guide you in making an informed decision.

In-office procedures executed by a qualified dentist are generally safe. Take-home whitening kits prescribed by your dentist would also be a safe option, as long as you follow your dentist’s directions. 

However, you do want to be more cautious with whitening toothpaste, strips, and homemade bleaching agents – essentially OTC products that can be purchased without a dentist’s approval. 

Always exercise caution when purchasing such products, especially those that promise instant results or results that sound too good to be true – those likely contain high levels of hydrogen peroxide, which can permanently damage teeth. 

If you have been using OTC teeth whitening products and experiencing the following adverse reactions, please see a dentist immediately: 

  • A burning sensation in your gums 
  • Burns around your mouth and skin 
  • increased tooth sensitivity 
  • Gum recession 
  • Mouth infections 

Does teeth whitening hurt?

In-office teeth whitening performed by a qualified dentist is safe and painless. It is a minimally invasive procedure with no downtime. You may experience some teeth sensitivity after your first or second treatment, but this will subside over time. To address this temporary sensitivity, your dentist may recommend products with potassium nitrate and sodium fluoride gel. A painkiller might be taken pre-treatment as a precautionary measure. 

Other rare side effects of teeth whitening include; 

  • Gum irritation and burns

Your gums may become irritated if they come in contact with the whitening product. This is more likely to occur with take-home whitening kits or in-office treatments. When they occur, however, they are usually mild and should quickly resolve on their own, after your treatments. 

  • Whitened gums

In addition to gum irritation and burns, another side effect of the teeth whitening procedure is whitened gums. Similarly, this occurs when the gums come into contact with the bleaching agent. The loss in colour is temporary and your gums should revert to its natural pink once the bleaching agent wears off.

  • Gastrointestinal irritation

You may end up with an upset stomach if you accidentally swallow a whitening product. As these are bleaching agents, you may experience a burning sensation in your throat as well.

 

How long does teeth whitening last?

Teeth whitening treatments are designed to reduce stains, not prevent them. Hence, their effects are not permanent. How long effects last would depend on; 

  • The type of teeth whitening treatment you underwent
  • Your lifestyle

Your lifestyle plays a significant role in keeping your teeth bright. Chromogenic food and drinks such as coffee and curry will stain your teeth faster without proper oral hygiene. In addition, smoking also greatly reduces the longevity of your whitening treatment. 

As an average time span, both in-office and take-home treatments teeth whitening can last up to 3 years. However, this depends on a number of factors. To ensure longevity of results (regardless of procedure), it is recommended to undergo teeth whitening treatment every now and then to correct extrinsic and intrinsic discolouration. 

Do’s and don’ts after teeth whitening treatment in Singapore 

For the first few days after treatment, it is important you: 

Most importantly, good oral habits will keep your teeth clean and prolong its pristine colour for a long time. Keeping your teeth clean will also reduce the likelihood of cavities and gingivitis. Some good oral habits to practise include:

  • Brushing your teeth at least twice a day and after meals, especially if you consume foods or drinks that stain

If you have consumed anything acidic, it is advisable to wait at least half an hour before brushing your teeth; and if brushing your teeth is not doable, then drinking or gurgling some water can help to remove some particles that stain.

  • Flossing daily

A water floss has proven to be exceptionally effective in removing pesky particles.

  • Add a mouth rinse or whitening toothpaste to your dental routine

Try to opt for one that has ingredients like alcohol, menthol, or eucalyptol. These ingredients are useful against bacteria in your mouth and on your teeth, but cannot and should not be used in place of brushing or flossing.

Read: Why flossing is not optional but necessary 

Everyday habits play an important role in maintaining healthy and clean teeth. You should also see your dentist every 6 months for routine cleaning.

Also keep in mind that teeth whitening treatments work only for natural teeth. If you have dentures, implants, crowns, or bridges, you will need to speak to your dentist about how to achieve a uniform colour.

How soon can I see results? 

In-office treatmentsImmediate results, as they involve using a strong bleaching agent with whitening content higher than most take-home kits and over-the-counter products. 
Take-home kits About a week, with maximum results achieved in 2 to 4 weeks. The degree of whitening will vary based on the amount of peroxide used and the length of time you wear the custom-made tray.
OTC productsWhitening toothpaste

  • Several months 
  • May develop sensitivities to the ingredients in the toothpaste

Whitening mouthwash

  • Can be used daily to remove small degrees of staining, but results are minimal on its own
  • Best paired with other treatments such as in-office procedures or whitening strips
  • Up to 3 months to see any effect 

Whitening strips 

  • Different brands produce different results

How white should my teeth be?

Teeth whitening treatments can surely help you achieve brighter, white teeth. However, how white your teeth can be is dependent on the current state of your teeth, extent of stain, and most importantly, genetics.

Although teeth whitening solutions can brighten your teeth by up to 8 shades, the natural colour of our teeth is actually inherited. While these solutions brighten the surface of your teeth, you may sometimes notice a yellowish tint remains because the inside of your teeth is naturally darker. Essentially, what teeth whitening treatments do is to help you go back to your natural-coloured teeth as much as possible – whatever that shade may be. 

In terms of the level of whiteness for your teeth, it really depends on your personal preference. However, a good gauge is by comparing the teeth colour to the whites of your eyes. The colour of your teeth should not be brighter than the whites of your eyes. 

 

What happens if I have tried whitening so many times and I still dislike the colour of my teeth?

As mentioned, your teeth can only be whitened so much before it reaches its limit. That limit is defined by the structure of your teeth, its composition and genetic factors. Multiple dental fillings also prevent your teeth from whitening to an optimal level. Blemishes or structural defects on your teeth may also not be removed by whitening agents. 

At that point of time, you may consider having dental veneers done. 

 

Can I whiten a single tooth?

If you have just a single discoloured tooth, that may indicate a condition beyond superficial discolouration that cannot be resolved with teeth whitening.

You may notice that this single discoloured tooth has:

  • Traces of black or brown spots
  • Extra sensitivity 
  • A persistent ache that is aggravated while eating 
  • A hole or pit in the affected tooth

This is likely tooth decay. 

 

In the early stages of tooth decay, when the decay is nearer the surface of the tooth and has not yet affected the tooth pulp or nerves, your dentist will recommend fillings. Once it develops to a more advanced stage and reaches the soft core below the enamel layer, it can inflame or infect the tooth pulp. When this happens, you would need to undergo a root canal procedure to clean out the decay.

Following the root canal procedure, you will follow up with your dentist to make sure the infection has been completely removed. At this point, your dentist would also replace the temporary filling with a more permanent one, but you may opt to fit a permanent dental crown or dental veneer instead.

In selected cases, your dentist might elect to do a single tooth whitening procedure called Internal Bleaching (also known as Walking Bleach Technique) This technique is used to whiten teeth that have had root canal treatments but are not badly damaged. It involves bleaching the tooth from the inside of the tooth. 

Other causes of black or brown spots on your tooth are injury, tartar buildup, and certain medical conditions including celiac disease.

 

Am I able to permanently whiten my teeth?

Unfortunately, no teeth whitening process will give you permanently white teeth. The good news is, however, permanently white teeth are achievable with dental veneers.

Dental veneers are thin, tooth-coloured shells customised to fit over the surface of your teeth.  They are used in extreme cases of discolouration that cannot be lightened through other methods. Apart from discolouration, veneers are also an option for those looking to cover up any other imperfections on their tooth surface. 

Veneers can be applied to one tooth or multiple teeth at the same time, depending on your needs and preference.

Find out the difference between a dental crown and dental veneer. 

Is teeth whitening suitable for everyone? 

Those with active cavities, other dental works in progress, or existing medical conditions may not be eligible for in-office teeth whitening treatments, especially if these treatments involve UV light and bleaching gel. 

Apart from the above groups of persons, please also bear in mind that teeth whitening treatments tend to work better on extrinsic stains. 

Relatedly then, teeth whitening treatment might not be suitable if you have intrinsic stains, cracked or damaged teeth that leave dentin exposed.

It is best that you consult your dentist who would be best-placed to assess if you are a suitable candidate for teeth whitening treatment.

 

How much does teeth whitening cost in Singapore?

TreatmentCost
In-office TreatmentsA single in-office treatment can cost between $800 to $1,300 per session. 
Take-home KitsA take-home kit prescribed by your dentist can cost between $400 to $600. 
Over-the-counter ProductsThere is a wide range of over-the-counter products. 

On the cheaper end of the scale, whitening strips can be purchased for as low as $11.80. Whitening strips are readily available online and in many stores around Singapore. Several other at-home treatments, such as gel with an LED light, are available for $33.90 and in your regular drug stores like Watson’s and Guardian.

 

Is teeth whitening Medisave claimable? 

According to the CPF Board, you will be able to use your Medisave for surgical dental treatments that are carried out for medical reasons. Hence, you will be able to claim for treatments like wisdom tooth removal, dental implants, or surgical removal of damaged teeth. 

As teeth whitening is considered a cosmetic procedure, you will not be able to tap onto your Medisave for this treatment. Other similar cosmetic procedures include dental crowns and bridges, dentures, and braces.

Read: What dental procedures can be claimed with Medisave?

If you have any questions regarding teeth whitening, feel free to reach out to us and we will get back to you! 

 

References

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/whitening-toothpaste/faq-20058411#:~:text=Answer%20From%20Thomas%20J.,deeper%20than%20a%20tooth’s%20surface.
  2. Maran, B. M., Burey, A., de Paris Matos, T., Loguercio, A. D., & Reis, A. (2018). In-office dental bleaching with light vs. without light: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of dentistry, 70, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jdent.2017.11.007
  3. https://www.hsa.gov.sg/consumer-safety/articles/online-diy-teeth-whitening-kit-pain

 

 

 

 

 

 

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