Got crowns? Caps? You may want to rethink that whitening job

Published on: October 25, 2012

Dental hygienist Laura French checks out the condition of Jeannie Gatke’s mouth. Photo Penny Fletcher

Dental hygienist Laura French checks out the condition of Jeannie Gatke’s mouth. Photo Penny Fletcher


SUN CITY CENTER- We’ve all heard the television commercials for various products that whiten teeth.

Take 10 years off your age with a brighter smile!

Lighten your teeth five to six shades in one application!

Yes, we’ve heard the claims, and some may be true, yet could backfire by calling attention to dark spots in your mouth. Whitening agents, when used improperly, can also increase sensitivity.

So what’s the secret to having white, bright teeth without doing any damage?

According to Dr. Michelle Halcomb at Zamikoff, Klement & Jungman, D.D.S., P.A, it’s knowing exactly which teeth have crowns, caps and fillings patients may have forgotten about, and understanding the general health of your mouth before you choose a method or product.

Dr. Halcomb says crowns and caps and fillings won’t change color, so if they’ve been matched to your teeth, and you later use a whitening agent, the crowns and caps and fillings will stay the same color and look like dark spots in your mouth.

“Even the products we use in the dental office won’t change the color of porcelain,” she said. “Many patients have forgotten where their fillings are too. And these don’t change color either.”

The dentist said she has seen patients who have whitened at home, and then realized they had “white” permanent fillings right in the front of their mouths that stayed the same darker color.

“It’s always good to go into a dental office and have an exam because we can find these things before there are problems,” she said.

Home whitening products don’t damage the enamel, as many think, she said. But you can increase sensitivity by trying to lighten too much.

“Years ago, some of the products did (damage the enamel) but they’ve been improved. Still, there’s a danger of the strips moving around in the mouth and whitening unevenly,” she said.     

Laura French has worked in dental offices as both a dental assistant and hygienist for 15 years.

“There are many cases where people absolutely should not try and whiten their teeth,” French said. “Maybe they have sensitive teeth to begin with, or root exposure.”

Chances of being able to whiten improve if done in a dental office, she said.

There are several processes patients can choose from that basically use two formulas.

One is an “in-house” whitening, using a laser. A gel is put on teeth and a light source applied. This costs around $500 to $600 and gives instant results, she said.

French likes a different method better though, and it is cheaper but won’t be as quick.

“I like the one we use so the patients can do it at home after their exam,” French said. “It can range anywhere from $199 to $400 and gradually, much more gently, whitens.”

This is gradual, so that if sensitivity occurs at some level, or a crown, cap or filling begins to show against the newly whitened area, the patient can stop after each level and decide whether to go further.

Dr. Halcomb explained the second process which begins with dental professionals taking impressions of your mouth, just like they would if they were making partial plates. Then the laboratory makes trays that fit your mouth exactly, that you can keep at home. The trays made this way can be reused as many times as the patient desires, and a generous amount of whitening solution is given when the trays are purchased. More solution can be bought at any dental office when that runs out if and when further whitening is desired.

“People that have sensitive teeth can get fluoride treatments to lessen sensitivity,” she continued. “Citrus and other acidic foods often make the teeth sensitive and remineralization is necessary. A lot of this is genetics. What you have to begin with.”

Whether done in a dental office or with a home product, most teeth only lighten three shades no matter what claims are made, Halcomb said.