As is the case with anything health and beauty related, when it comes to the colour of our teeth, everyone's approach is different. Some of us have accepted that our chompers will never be optic white, contenting ourselves with regular check-ups and flossing. Others believe they're called pearly whites for a reason, and have integrated teeth whitening into their beauty routine as though it were waxing or a manicure.
Whatever camp you find yourself in, I'm sure we can all agree that when it comes to the teeth whitening procedure, we have a lot of unanswered questions. What's the difference between cosmetic and dental teeth whitening? And are cleaning and bleaching the same thing? To help clear up some of the confusion, we spoke to Alison Egan and Maria Lucas, both experts on the matter.
Egan is the founder of Sparkling White Smile, while Lucas is a dental professional and oral health therapist with 16 years experience based in Double Bay. Coming from opposite sides of the industry, "we were enemies" Lucas jokes, Egan and Lucas decided to join forces in order to establish the Institute of Aesthetic Teeth Whitening – an organisation with a goal to standardise training and bring an element of credibility to cosmetic teeth whitening, or what they see as a "mostly unregulated industry".
When we spoke, around 250 students had sought out training at the Institute of Aesthetic Teeth Whitening so far, with a portion of training fees being donated back to medical aid organisation, Interplast. Below, the duo demystify the teeth whitening process and speak on the state of the industry today.
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What do people get wrong about teeth whitening? What’s the most common misconception you come up against?
Alison: Because of how unregulated the cosmetic teeth whitening industry is, there's a lot of uncertainty around what the procedure actually involves. People wonder if they're going to get results? What about burns? Are they going to have someone who is educated doing the teeth, that knows what teeth whitening is? I think they're mostly around misconceptions of what teeth whitening actually is.
Maria: The problem is that it's regulated in the dental space, but it is unregulated in the cosmetic space. There's nothing stopping anyone from going out, ordering product and marketing themselves as a teeth whitening expert. They're allowed to do that. And again, there are rules around it. Because of this, it makes it difficult to determine who the experts actually are.
What we're here to do is actually educate people around what is legal from a practitioner perspective. You don't have to have a dental degree, but at the same time if you don't, we want to inform people on how they should be treating clients so that people doing cosmetic teeth whitening don't overstep their margin. We want to ensure operators are exposed to enough knowledge to know when a case is potentially too difficult or challenging so that they can refer them instead to a dentist. Because right now, they're allowed to do whatever they want, as long as they stay within the legal level of bleach concentration assigned to cosmetic teeth whitening operators.
How does cosmetic teeth whitening differ to dental teeth whitening?
Alison: How the service differs is that cosmetic practitioners are legally only allowed to use up to 6% hydrogen peroxide or 18% carbamide peroxide in their treatments, whether that's take-home kits or in-person consultations. Whereas dental practitioners can use and prescribe products containing a stronger dose of peroxide, meaning more than 6% hydrogen peroxide or 18% carbamide peroxide.
What's the difference between teeth cleaning and teeth whitening?
Maria: Teeth cleaning is the removal of debris – so gum scraping, removing tartar. Teeth whitening is chemically changing the tooth's natural colour with peroxide.
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How often should you be getting your teeth whitened?
Maria: If you're getting cosmetic whitening, every three months. If it's with a dentist, I'd say once a year because the concentration of bleach a dentist can use is four times the strength of a cosmetic practitioner.
What should we be looking out for in a practitioner to get our teeth whitened?
Maria: Let's start by separating teeth whitening into dental and non-dental categories. If you go with the dental route, they will know what they're doing. As for the non-dental, I'd be asking the question, "have you had any formal training", or I'd check where or who they trained with.
What knowledge do you hope to impart at the Institute for Aesthetic Teeth Whitening?
Maria: Our goal is to provide people with the most up-to-date information and practices so that they can confidently go out there and do these procedures with the client as the number one priority. The training is actually not that hard. It's just that students need to be exposed to it. Some people have never seen a photo of what a dead tooth looks like, or what a cavity or infected gum looks like. So how do you know if there's a problem if you don't know what to look for?
For example, if someone's going through cancer treatment, is it really ethical as a cosmetic teeth whitener to put bleach all over their teeth when they go through chemo? Of course not. We want to inform people on the potential things a practitioner needs to consider in order to make an educated decision as to whether a client should get the procedure in the first place, and what type of results they will most likely receive.
Alison: At the end of the day teeth whitening is not going away, right? So why don't we make it better. To be completely honest with you, dentists don't want to do teeth whitening. They're busy treating disease and helping people with pain. Unlike dentists who can only see one person at a time, we're trained to see six or seven. They don't have time to be doing it. So if we're trained properly, we can take on that market.
Do you think this area could be better legislated?
Alison: Maria and I really want to close the gap and make it a guarantee that people have to have a qualification to white teeth professionally.
Maria: And that is still a long time off. But we'd like to see one day that even if you want to do whiten teeth without a dental degree, you still need to go to a TAFE or study at the Institute for Aesthetic Teeth Whitening to get a basic teeth whitening certificate.
For more on the subject of teeth, here is a selection of the natural toothpaste brands we're loving, along with a reminder that Y2K beauty is in full swing, with the return of the glittering tooth gem.