Dental bleaching terminology. - The correct terms to use when talking to your dentist about teeth whitening.
Which is the right term: tray teeth bleaching, tray teeth whitening, at-home whitening, nightguard bleaching, or vital bleaching?
Each of the terms above can be used to refer to the type of whitening system described here on the pages of our topic, but not universally so. As a way of helping you to effectively communicate with your dentist, here is a brief description of some of the different tooth bleaching methods that currently exist in the field of dentistry.
What is the difference between the "in-office" and "at-home" teeth bleaching techniques.
In-office (professional) teeth whitening.
Prior to the 1990's essentially the only teeth whitening option that was available to dental patients was "in-office" teeth bleaching treatments performed by their dentist. The term "in-office" simply refers to the fact that the actual bleaching process is performed by the dentist while the patient is in their dental chair.
When in-office bleaching treatments are performed the dentist applies a potent peroxide bleaching agent to the patient's teeth. This whitener is then left on for some minutes (sometimes while being exposed to a bleaching light or laser) before it is rinsed off. Due to the powerful nature of the whitener, the effects of in-office bleaching treatments are immediate. It can, however, require several appointments before the desired level of whitening has been achieved.
At-home teeth whitening.
The availability of at-home tray-based teeth bleaching, the process we discuss on the pages of this topic, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Tray whitening became popular in the 1990's and is now the most common dentist assisted method by which teeth are whitened. (Many dentists still do however offer the option of in-office bleaching to their patients.) Another name for the tray-based teeth bleaching is "nightguard bleaching."
At-home tray-based teeth whitening systems have some advantages over in-office bleaching. The whitener that is typically used with tray whitening contains a much lower concentration of peroxide, thus making the potential for side effects less of an issue. Since this technique is an outpatient process (the patient performs the whitening treatments at home on their own time), a dentist will usually charge less for this procedure than for in-office bleaching because the bleaching treatments do not require the use of their dental office or their presence.
What is the difference between the vital vs. non-vital teeth bleaching techniques.
The term "vital bleaching" simply means that the teeth undergoing the bleaching process have live nerves in them. "Non-vital bleaching" refers to whitening those teeth that have had root canal treatment. Both a tray-based system and most in-office bleaching techniques can be used with both vital and non-vital teeth.
What is the difference between whitening and bleaching teeth?
In the most specific of terms, the word "bleaching" is used to refer to those processes used to whiten teeth beyond their natural color. With these techniques a true "intrinsic" color change is made, typically by way of using some type of peroxide compound (such as the carbamide peroxide whitener we discuss on our pages).
In comparison, "whitening" most specifically refers to producing a lightening effect for teeth by way of removing stain and debris that has accumulated on their surface. The color change is only one of restoring the tooth to its original, natural shade. This is the type of action that whitening toothpaste can provide. However for all practical purposes, in dentistry and advertising alike, both terms are used interchangeably.
Terms to use when talking with your dentist about teeth whitening.
So to help you communicate accurately with your dentist regarding the type of teeth bleaching described on the pages of this topic, we suggest that you use one of the following terms:
- at-home tray-based (vital) teeth bleaching (or whitening)
- nightguard (vital) teeth bleaching (or whitening)
Even if you do have a tooth or two which is non-vital (has had root canal treatment) the term "vital bleaching" still applies when utilizing a tray bleaching system because at least some of the teeth that will be whitened (the neighboring teeth) do have live nerve tissue in them.