Tooth Whitening FAQ

Tooth Whitening FAQ

Who doesn’t want a white, bright smile?  Since tooth whitening has become so popular, I wanted to share some important information on who should bleach, how and when to do it, what to expect, and different products that can be incorporated into your whitening protocol

Contraindications to Whitening

  • Being too young.  “Young” teeth have larger nerve canals and can become irritated from whitening.  Therefore, bleaching should be avoided for those under 16 years old.
  • Being pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Sensitive teeth.  However, I will discuss ways to decrease sensitivity during whitening below.
  • Having cavities or periodontal disease.  The whitening gel will irritate diseased teeth and gums, causing pain.
  • Having large dental restorations.  These materials will not whiten, so they may become pronounced after bleaching.

Northstar Family Dental’s Whitening Protocol:

  • Prior to treatment:  Brush and floss.  Make sure tray is clean and dry, as moisture will decrease the efficiency of the bleaching gel.
  • Apply gel to trays.  Place a SMALL drop of gel on the inner front surface of the tray.  This small amount is all you need!  Any more will be waste, and if it seeps out of the tray, it will cause sensitivity!
  • Insert trays.  Seat firmly and wipe excess gel with a q-tip or your finger.
  • Wearing time.  If you are bleaching for the first time, wear your tray for half the recommended time, increasing the time if little to no sensitivity is experienced.
  • After whitening.  Remove trays and rinse teeth.  Rinse trays and remove excess bleach  with a q-tip or toothbrush (not the one you brush with!)bleach trays2

It is very common for people to use too much bleach in their tray.  I used a blue marker for effect, but those small dots are exactly where the bleach should be placed, and how small those blobs of whitening gel should be!

Should I Avoid Certain Foods and Drinks While Bleaching?It is best to avoid eating or drinking anything that can stain your teeth during bleaching, and for about 3 days after your are done.  When you are actively whitening your teeth, they become dehydrated and more permeable to these staining substances.  Unfortunately, this list of things you should avoid happen to be some of the things we most enjoy!  But think of how white your teeth will be!!

  • Dark beverages.  Coffee, tea, soda, etc.
  • Red wine
  • Juice, smoothies, slushies, popsicles
  • Sauces or marinades that contain balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, beets
  • Dark chocolate
  • Dark soups, stews
  • Smoking, and tobacco of any kind!  (Always!)
  • Very hot or very cold foods and drinks.  They will cause sensitivity!

If you just HAVE to have that cup of coffee, use a straw, and make sure it is not hot!  Rinse your mouth out with water after drinking or eating anything that you think just might cause staining.  And if you slip up, do not worry… You just may have to buy some extra bleach!

What if I Have Sensitive Teeth?


Use a sensitivity toothpaste for 2 weeks prior to bleaching (Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief, Sensodoyne, or Prevident, which you can purchase in-office from us!) Use the toothpaste every time you brush! Purchase Topex White Care Post-Whitening Desensitizer from us, and use as directed. If you experience sensitivity when whitening, skip a day, and when you start again, leave your trays in for half the time. Ease back in to the directed time if you can… If not, you will just have more whitening sessions!

Color Stabilization and White Spots

Bleaching dehydrates your teeth. When you remove your trays, you may notice that some areas appear whiter, and some appear…well… more yellow. This color discrepancy will slowly stabilize. It may take hours to days. After your final bleaching session, your teeth will slightly rebound, then stabilize after 1-2 weeks. If you have white spots before bleaching that become more pronounced after, even, the rebound period, please let us know. There are other in-office treatments that we can use to correct this discrepancy. And always, feel free to call us or stop by if you have any questions!

What is a Root Canal?

It’s always difficult for me to tell a patient they need a root canal, because I always anticipate them to cringe.  For whatever reason, root canals have a bad reputation, but they are truly a comfortable procedure.  In addition, they  have little to no recovery time, and they save a tooth!!

Why may your tooth need a root canal?

Basically, “root canals” are performed to save a tooth that is badly decayed, broken, or a tooth whose nerve is “insulted” from a crack, or an existing filling that is large or deep.  These situations can cause damage to the nerve tissue or pulp, resulting in bacterial breakdown and multiplication within the pulp chamber, or central “core,” of the tooth.

Signs or symptoms that you may need a root canal can include:

  • A severe toothache when chewing
  • Prolonged sensitivity to hot or cold, especially if this sensitivity lingers
  • A darkening of the tooth
  • Swelling or tenderness
  • A “pimple” on the gums (this may be a sign of an abscess!)

Sometimes NO SYMPTOMS are present.  Radiographic examination may also determine a need for this procedure.

So, what IS a root canal?

First off, a “root canal” is an endodontic procedure.  The term “Endodontics” is derived from the Greek words endo, meaning “inside,” and odons, meaning “tooth.”

The structure of a tooth looks like this:

Root Canal

Inside the harder outer structures of your tooth  is the inner core of the tooth — the pulp.  Inside the pulp are blood vessels and connective tissue, which provide nourishment to the tooth, and also the nerve, which signals your tooth when it is insulted.

When that inner core of your tooth is insulted and/or infected, it must be removed.  And when it is removed, although your tooth is void of sensory feedback, it can still function as a viable part of your dentition.

First, we numb the tooth so that the procedure is painless.  Thea area is protected from contamination by use of a “rubber dam,”  which isolates the tooth and allows us to work in an aseptic field.  Here’s a picture so that you know what to expect.

rubber damIt looks strange, but it does make it comfortable for both the patient (who can swallow on his/her own and doesn’t have to worry about water spray, etc. from the procedure) and for us!

The next step is to remove the pulp of the tooth, and clean and flush the chamber.  The “root canal” is then filled.

After a tooth has had a root canal, it is more brittle, since it no longer is vital and the living tissue has been replaced with, basically, a type of filling material. Therefore, most teeth need a crown or “cap” after a root canal procedure has been performed to provide adequate protection and strength for function.

How long does it take, and what can I expect?

The procedure itself can take an hour or so, especially if the tooth is prepared for the crown at the same appointment.  After the numbness wears off, some soreness may be felt, which will gradually disappear over a couple days.

But smile, because your tooth has been saved!!

For more information, the ADA has provided the following video:  Mouth Healthy – Root Canals

Or check out our page on Root Canals:  Northstar Family Dental – Root Canals

tiger rct


And since I love animals… I have to share the fact that this tiger did, in fact, have a root canal!

(If you’re ever around Indy, please visit the Exotic Feline Rescue Center… it’s truly amazing.)


So, at the end of the day, do not despair if you need a root canal!  At Northstar, we will do everything we can to ensure that the procedure is comfortable and painless… We will even provide you with a neck pillow, a warm blanket, and your favorite TV channel!!  And, best of all, in a short time your tooth will be as good as new!

Zoo Trip & My (Failed) Photography Mission

Zoo Trip & My (Failed) Photography Mission

I spent yesterday at the zoo, and of course, one of my main objectives was to get an amazing picture of an animal’s teeth to share on my new Blog.

I spent 10 minutes with my camera up to a window, trying to get a pic of this beaver’s teeth.  In addition to about 10 pictures of brown blurs, what I got was this… Needless to say, he (or she?) would not cooperate. Also, I am definitely far from a master photographer! But I did learn some interesting facts about the teeth of these interesting animals…

Did You Know…

  • Beavers’ teeth never stop growing!
  • Their teeth are self-sharpening.  They have hard (and orange!) enamel on the front of their teeth, and softer dentin on the back… the back wears faster, creating a sharp (and strong) cutting surface.
  • Beavers’ lips are BEHIND their teeth.  This way, they can carry branches without drowning.
  • Beavers can chew through a six inch tree in 15 minutes!!
Fun Dental Facts

Fun Dental Facts

We are so excited to launch the Northstar Family Dental blog!

To start, I wanted to share some fun, interesting, and strange dental facts with you.  At Northstar, we are all self-proclaimed “dental nerds”… I hope to invoke a love of dentistry in all of you, at least for the next couple minutes!!

  • A lot of people would love to be at the dentist right now!  According to a recent Time Magazine survey, 59% of Americans would rather have a dental appointment than be sitting next to someone talking on a cell phone.
  • Over 5000 years ago, ancient Egyptians used a “toothpaste” made of salt, mint, and pepper.
  • Over a lifetime, ONE cavity will cost you over $2000!  We love to see you, but would rather you save your money…
  • A toothpick is the object most choked on by Americans.  Use floss instead!
  • Like fingerprints, each tongue print is different!  Wonder if that fact was ever used on CSI…
  • There is someone whose job includes squeezing Prince Charles’ toothpaste onto his toothbrush!  The job belongs to Michael Fawcett, his personal valet.
  • People who drink 3 or more sugary drinks daily have 62% more dental decay, fillings, and tooth loss!
  • A snail’s mouth is no longer than the head of a pin, but can contain over 25,000 teeth.
  • George Washington’s dentures were NOT made from wood.  They were actually crafted from gold, ivory, lead (eek!), and a mixture of human, donkey, and hippopotamus teeth!

Stay tuned for future blogs posts… I will cover issues such as the importance of sealants, the truth about fluoride and dental radiation, implants, bad habits, Invisalign, canker sores, implants, and tooth whitening.

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