Oral health is one of the many things that adults will need to take care of as they age. Aside from issues that cause discomfort in day-to-day life – like tooth loss – some teeth conditions are purely cosmetic in nature.
Teeth discoloration is one such condition.
If you have become conscious about how your smile looks, you may be considering teeth whitening. To help you prepare for your procedure and set the right expectations, let’s talk about a few important things to know about teeth whitening for seniors.
Can Seniors Whiten Their Teeth?
People aged over 16 can whiten their teeth, but seniors should probably talk to a dentist before using any teeth whitening products. Seniors may have accompanying dental issues like root decay, dry mouth, or gum disease, which need to be taken into account before whitening.
Gum irritation and teeth sensitivity sometimes occur after whitening too, and some people may be more prone to these side effects than others. But these side effects usually only last 1-3 days.
What Causes Tooth Discoloration?
For optimal long-term oral health, it’s important to understand what causes tooth discoloration in seniors. Identifying underlying causes allows your dentist to come up with an effective solution and recommend appropriate tooth care procedures for your specific case.
According to WebMD, darkened teeth in seniors are partly caused by changes in dentin (the bone-like tissue under the tooth enamel) and by lifetime consumption of staining foods and drinks .
More generally, Healthline explains that there are two types of tooth discoloration :
- Extrinsic. This form of discoloration is caused by foods, beverages, and smoking habits. Extrinsic discoloration affects the outside surface of the teeth and may be treated with whitening toothpaste.
- Intrinsic. Intrinsic discoloration develops from within the tooth and may be caused by aging, infection, medications, or tooth trauma. This form of discoloration may need professional bleaching.
Types Of Teeth Whitening Products & Services Available
There are several teeth whitening systems available on the market, each with varying effectiveness, costs, and safety. Let’s have a look at the most popular systems below .
All toothpastes can remove surface stains since they contain mild abrasives. Some toothpastes are better than others though – more effective whitening toothpastes contain chemical or polishing agents.
Whitening toothpastes don’t contain bleach – unlike other whitening systems – and can only remove surface stains. Unlike over-the-counter or professional whitening products, they also don’t contain carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide.
Because whitening toothpastes are milder than professional solutions, they can lighten the tooth’s color by about one shade, while in-office whitening can lighten the teeth by 3 to 8 shades.
Over-the-counter whitening gels and strips
Whitening gels contain peroxide and are applied to the teeth with a small brush. Typically, improvements are seen within a few days and are retained for around 4 months.
Whitening strips are coated with a peroxide-based whitening gel and are intended to be applied to the surface of your teeth. Some strips need removal after the peroxide does its job. Like gels, whitening strips show improvement in a few days and deliver sustained results for about 4 months.
Whitening rinses are a fairly recent addition to the arsenal of teeth whitening products. They freshen breath, help with gum disease and dental plaque, and they also contain hydrogen peroxide to whiten teeth.
Whitening rinses are less effective than gels or strips because they are in contact with the teeth much shorter – just about 2 minutes a day versus 30 minutes for many whitening strips. It may take 12 weeks for you to see improvement with whitening rinses.
Tray-based tooth whiteners
Whitening trays are filled with a gel whitening solution that contains a peroxide-based bleaching agent and worn for a few hours a day. Depending on the degree of discoloration, whitening trays may need to be worn every day during the night for 4 weeks or longer.
In-office whitening is the quickest way of teeth whitening. The whitening product is applied directly to the teeth, and improvements are seen after a single 30- to 60-minute session. But usually, more than one teeth whitening session is performed to achieve the desired results.
How Much Does Teeth Whitening Cost?
The average cost of in-office teeth whitening is $650 in the U.S., according to Bankrate , though it may sometimes climb to over $1,000 depending on the dentist and type of product used. Other countries may have similar costs, or in some cases lower.
Over-the-counter products cost much less – whitening strips tend to be $20 to $40 per box in the U.S., while whitening trays cost under $100. Dentists can provide you with custom whitening trays as well, but these may cost up to $400.
Besides, also don’t forget that teeth whitening takes time. In this sense, in-office whitening is best because it is the fastest.
By the way, some dental offices might offer their services for seniors at a discount. Insurance or dental discount plans may cover your costs too, though dental insurance typically does not cover cosmetic procedures like teeth whitening (unless it is medically necessary).
Are The Results Of Teeth Whitening Permanent?
Teeth whitening effects are temporary, and their duration depends on how you take care of your teeth after the procedure. Avoiding staining foods and beverages may allow you to enjoy the improvements for over a year before you need a touch-up or another procedure.
Smoking and careless consumption of food and drinks may cause your teeth to fade in less than a month. So be sure to follow your dentist’s recommendations on tooth care.
Do You Need To Visit A Dentist To Whiten Your Teeth?
You don’t necessarily need to have your teeth whitened by a dentist, but at least consulting a dentist is a must. Seniors often have oral issues other than discoloration, and these all need to be taken into account when figuring out an optimal solution.
After an initial consultation, it’s up to you whether to use over-the-counter solutions or choose in-office whitening.
Although in-office whitening is costly, it is more effective since professionally-applied teeth whitening products contain 15% to 43% hydrogen peroxide, while over-the-counter products usually contain an equivalent of about 3% hydrogen peroxide .
Custom teeth whitening trays manufactured based on an impression of your teeth taken by a dentist can also be worth the investment. Such trays ensure maximum contact between the gel and your teeth.
In the office, the dentist will also employ measures to protect your mouth from the effects of bleaching. Over-the-counter products don’t have any protection, not to mention that you probably don’t have a dentist-level skill of applying teeth whitening solutions.
Consulting A Dentist Is A Must Before Teeth Whitening For Older Adults
No matter what you decide to do, make sure to talk to your dentist before using any treatments. Your overall oral health needs to be assessed so that the dentist can come up with a personalized solution for your needs.
“Dental Care for Seniors”, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/dental-care-seniors.
“Teeth Whitening Options and Safety”, Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/is-teeth-whitening-safe.
“How much does it cost to have your teeth whitened?”, Bankrate, https://www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/smart-money/how-much-does-teeth-whitening-cost/.
“Teeth Whitening”, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/teeth-whitening.