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How Does UV (Ultraviolet) Light Help Whiten Your Teeth And What Are The Risks?

How Does UV Light Whiten Your Teeth?

UV light has been used for many years to aid teeth whitening, but how does it actually help the tooth whitening process? If you are considering a tooth whitening procedure, you should be aware of the associated health concerns of UV light and that there are safer alternatives available.

Your smile is one of your first noticeable features and can instantly brighten another person’s day. No wonder celebrities like Ciara, Khloe Kardashian, and even some of the Victoria’s Secrets Angels turn to UV light-assisted tooth bleaching.

The use of UV light as an enhancer in the cosmetic bleaching of teeth is one of the most popular dental procedures requested by patients who desire that Hollywood smile to give them an almost celebrity-like glow. It involves the exposing of the teeth to the ultraviolet (UV) light which results in an increase in tooth temperature. According to dental offices that offer this kind of procedure, this can speed up the breakdown process of the hydrogen molecule and whiten the teeth.

People continue to do so for many reasons but mainly to combat the ugly effects of cigarettes, red wine, coffee, and even certain medications like tetracycline. Others simply want to maintain and enhance their dazzling smile even at old age.

Just as no two lifestyles are the same, everyone’s teeth are different, which means that they will get different responses to whitening procedures. It may work very well for one person and be barely noticeable on another. However, if you have taken good care of your teeth generally, you are more likely to see good results.

Causes Of Tooth Discoloration

The pearly white shine diminishes with age, like with arrival of grey hairs as one nears the senior citizen years. Tooth discoloration is a natural and unfortunately unavoidable circumstance. However, some causes are preventable.

There are two types of tooth discoloration. Intrinsic color is associated with the natural aging process, while extrinsic color is due to lifestyle habits which affect the teeth.

There are many causes of tooth discoloration. While you cannot do much to prevent intrinsic color, these are some of the causes of extrinsic color:

  • Regular consumption of coffee, tea, red wine, and certain foods like blueberries
  • Use of medications, such as tetracycline, during tooth development
  • Exposure of the permanent teeth to medications like minocycline
  • Childhood tooth trauma or infection
  • Dentin staining due to systemic conditions such as metabolic disease
  • Smoking

Discolored Teeth From Smoking

How UV Teeth Whitening Procedures Work

Tooth discoloration among patients led to the rise in popularity of UV light-assisted tooth bleaching in many dental offices. The use of UV light is claimed to accelerate the action and effectiveness of the bleaching treatment and/or system.

Jennifer Jablow, D.D.S., a graduate of NYU’s dental school, says the UV light alone does nothing to improve the whiteness of the teeth. Without a photo-catalytic additive, the light is useless.

How UV Whitening Works

A photo-catalyst is an essential ingredient found in professional dental treatments and commercially-bought teeth stain removing products. Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and ferrous gluconate are a few of the photo-catalyst ingredients that should be added to the UV light-assisted tooth bleaching procedure to achieve effectiveness.

When the teeth are exposed to UV light, it is believed that it makes peroxide decompose faster that can result in the formation of free radicals that lighten the teeth.

Scientific Claims Now Refute UV Light Teeth Whitening Procedure?

The lure of obtaining glittering pearly-whites like celebrities has made the use of UV light for teeth whitening – which claims to improve bleaching and efficiency – a highly requested cosmetic dental treatment among young and old.

A study made by the Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences on the so-called enhancement of oxidizing effect to the teeth by the UV light, however, is proved to be false. In fact, it only results in the heightened exposure risks of the eyes and skin to radiation.

UV light for teeth whitening is four times more dangerous than sunbathing, as stated by Doctor Ellen Bruzell of the Nordic Institute of Dental Materials.

The research made by Doctor Bruzell’s team involved the examination of 10-20 extracted human premolars and molars to commercial teeth-bleaching products and procedures. They discovered that exposure to UV light created more exposed grooves which made the enamel surface of the teeth more vulnerable to stress and other related damage.

Researchers have proven that the use of UV light for teeth whitening puts patients at risk of high levels of radiation to sensitive areas. Bleeding gums, sunburn, and severely burnt gums are among the common complaints, not to mention the possibility of getting cataracts, cancer, and other life-threatening illnesses.

Read on, to find out effective, safer alternatives to UV light.

The Risks Of UV Light Teeth Whitening Procedures

In some Norwegian offices, dentists offer UV light tooth bleaching procedures to give their patients whiter teeth. However, research done at the Nordic Institute of Dental Materials (NIOM) in 2006 proved that UV light, even when combined with bleaching agents for teeth whitening, was ineffective and possibly dangerous.

During the tests made by NIOM, teeth were subjected to various bleaching systems with and without the use of UV light. They found out that the teeth which were not exposed to UV light still lightened just as the teeth which were exposed to UV light did.

The experiment resulted in researchers confirming that the use of UV light for tooth bleaching can injure mucous membranes around the lips and inside the mouth and can also cause serious photo-allergic reactions, while not benefitting the whitening process.

UV Light Risks

Still, Norwegian dentists continue to offer this service to their patients because they trust the manufacturers’ claim that UV light enhances the effectiveness of the bleaching systems.

Short-Term Adverse Effects

  • Burnt gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Inflammation of the mucous membranes of the oral cavity
  • Facial sunburn
  • Increased tooth sensitivity

Long-Term Adverse Effects

  • Oral soft tissue lesions
  • Reduced color stability
  • Premature wear-and-tear of enamel
  • Abnormal growths in and around the eyes
  • Increased risk of skin or oral cancer

Safer Alternative To UV Teeth Whitening

Clinical studies prove that the use of UV light for tooth bleaching can do more harm than good in the long run. As the teeth are exposed to optical radiation, this may result to an increased – but temporary – dehydration of the enamel, which may give the impression of a lightened façade, according to Craig Gimbel, D.D.S., clinical director of Lantis Laser and former president of the Academy of Laser Dentistry.

While UV light may speed up the tooth whitening procedure, it does not come without associated risks. If safety precautions are not observed during the procedure, like putting on UV-blocking safety glasses among other things, light-assisted tooth bleaching can hasten the adverse effects of irradiation to the eyes, skin, and oral soft tissue.

A similar and safer method of teeth whitening is LED light whitening.

Blue LED Light Teeth Whitening Kit Method

The tooth bleaching treatment utilising the LED light or what is called as the ‘blue light technology’ is considered a clinically safe and effective alternative than the UV light-assisted teeth whitening procedure. Find out how LED Light Teeth Whitening works here.

The treatment uses the same principle as UV teeth whitening, but instead of ultraviolet light, blue Light-Emitting Diodes (LED) are used. It involves the application of hydrogen peroxide gel to the teeth before exposure to the LED. When the LED hits the hydrogen peroxide, it hastens the breakdown process of free radicals that removes plaques and deep stains, which leads to the whitening of the teeth.

It is important to ensure that blue light is emitted from the LED and that the wavelength is set at 465 nanometres. The patient undergoing the treatment must have two 15-minute sessions to obtain satisfactory results.

Blue LED Light Teeth Whitening Kit

Take a look at our review of 8 leading blue LED light teeth whitening kits below:

Our Conclusion 

After years of clinical experiments and scientific studies, it has been confirmed that the UV light teeth whitening procedure can be harmful to health and should be used with caution.

Blue light technology or LED teeth whitening treatment is a safer, as effective way to whiten your teeth, especially if you want noticeable results that can last for many years to come. We compared the leading LED teeth whitening kits and gave our review.

Most importantly, oral hygiene is still essential to great looking teeth. While whiter teeth are more aesthetically pleasing and provide a person the confidence boost he or she needs, oral health care should not be ignored.

Before pursuing teeth whitening treatments, always research its origin as well as its pros and cons. Any tooth decay, gum problems, and mouth issues must take precedence before teeth whitening procedures to prevent aggravating of existing oral problems. Also, always seek personal advice from a licensed dentist on your oral health care, who can help you achieve not only whiter teeth but overall healthier gums and mouth.

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