How does UV light whiten teeth? Home-kit and in office differences explained

It may seem confusing: how does UV light whiten teeth? If it can whiten teeth, can’t you just sunbathe your teeth? Well, unfortunately, it does not work that way. Teeth whitening using UV light either at home or in a dental office has been growing in popularity as a practice for nearly a decade now. It is proven to be an effective method of teeth whitening. However, it has been both a blessing and a curse for some people.

Of course, you want a whiter and brighter smile. Who doesn’t? But, how should you approach UV light teeth whitening?

In this article, we will go into detail about UV light: how does UV light whiten teeth, how does it affect teeth and oral health in general, and how it should be applied?

It is important to know about the consequences of uncontrolled usage of UV radiation to whiten your teeth. We want you to know all of these because when you smile, we smile.

What is UV light?

UV light, or ultraviolet light, is a form of electromagnetic radiation. You may have heard of UV light, or UV radiation, because it is present in sunlight. And also, it is produced by specialized lights, such as tanning lamps and black lights.

How do UV teeth whitening work?

Now, let’s talk about the main question: how does UV light whiten teeth? Teeth whitening gels, like high-concentration hydrogen peroxide gel or carbamide peroxide gel, are used to remove the teeth stain and whiten the teeth. After the gel is applied, your dentist exposes your teeth to UV light using a teeth whitening machine for approximately 1 hour.

 

UV light cannot whiten teeth all by itself, but it is thought that it speeds up the process. UV light causes a chemical reaction, stimulating the molecules in the whitening gel.

So, the whitening agents in the gel act faster in the process. However, some studies do not agree that the usage of UV light or blue light contributes to teeth whitening so much that teeth whitening alone cannot fulfill the job. This has been proven not to be true in many practices. Of course, the gel alone can do the job, in a very, very long run.

Is home-kit UV light different from dentists’ UV light?

Yes, home-kit UV light is different from dentists’ UV light. Home-kits are largely used by not experts on this matter, so they do not know how to use them and how long should they use the light. You should ask your dentist if they recommend a home kit tray, how to use it, and how often you should use it. Even so, home whitening kits give short-term results. So, you may need to do it every 2-3 weeks.

The kit your dentist recommends will most likely be a UV light that is a less dense one so that you don’t easily harm your teeth. If you buy a home-kit UV that your dentist does not recommend, it may be even denser, or just a scam: just a blue light, that only happens to be blue, or just a black-light flashlight, which does nothing unless exposed to a long period.

Are home-kit teeth whitening tools safe?

Using home-kit teeth whitening tools can do more harm than good. The ingredients they use in the gel can be of poor quality, or harmful to use on your teeth. The “UV light” or “color activate kit” they give with the gel can be just a light that is blue or the “led teeth whitening tool” they sell you could just be a normal light.

You should take extra precautions, and you most definitely should consult with your dentist for reliable home-kit teeth whitening tools and how to use them.

Is UV light safe?

In the hands of a qualified cosmetic dentist, it is an enamel-safe teeth whitening procedure. UV light acts as an activator for the gel to whiten the teeth. In a dental office, your dentist can give you a whiter smile that lasts a long time. Unfortunately, its results are not permanent. Once every 1 or 2 years, you will need to go to your dentist to have your teeth whitened. If it is done more regularly, it can cause serious damage to your oral and even your overall health.

As we mentioned above, UV light is a form of radiation. It damages the living tissue, killing the cells by damaging their DNA. And that is one of the reasons why it is recommended that you wear sunscreen daily. Your teeth are rarely exposed to sunlight. Exposing them to UV light regularly may not be a sensible thing to do, especially if you are doing it with a home kit.

Exposing your teeth and your gum to UV light regularly (more than once every 1-2 years) can cause serious problems. UV light dehydrates the teeth and helps the whitening gels giving them a temporary whiter appearance. That causes teeth to be more vulnerable to stress and damage.

Is UV light safe for enamels?

The safety of UV can differ. Constant exposure to UV light is not safe for enamels. Especially in inexperienced hands. UV light helps fasten the whitening agents in the hydrogen peroxide gel penetrating the enamel. And since it dehydrates the teeth, it can cause enamel abrasion (damage that thins and weakens the enamel). This is one of the reasons dentists do not recommend using sketchy teeth whitening kit tools. It is not a controlled method and can seriously harm your teeth, and even your general health. Dentists recommend whitening your teeth in-office by a certified dentist once every 1 to 2 years. That way, it is safe.

Possible side effects

This procedure usually has short-term side effects, such as burning and bleeding of your gums. As long-term side effects, it may result in enamel abrasion on teeth.

Using UV lights to whiten teeth is four times more harmful than sunbathing. It can also cause mouth infections, toothaches, nerve damage, stomach problems, and life-threatening diseases, such as oral cancer and/or skin cancer. That is why it should be applied in an office setting by a dentist.

For more informations, read our guide on teeth bleaching side effects.

How long does it take to whiten your teeth with UV light?

In a dental office, the UV light teeth whitening process takes 60-90 minutes. It can dramatically change the color of teeth, giving you 2-3 shades lighter teeth right after it, and lasts a long time. After 1-2 years, you can go to your dentist to whiten your teeth again.

Home-kit teeth whitening tools give short-term results. They may require whitening your teeth once every few weeks or months, and that is highly harmful to your teeth and your health. It may take about 15-45 minutes by using these kits. This may differ due to the type and amount of gel (hydrogen peroxide gel or carbamide peroxide) you use.

References:

Lucas J. What Is Ultraviolet Light? Live Science. Published September 15, 2017. https://www.livescience.com/50326-what-is-ultraviolet-light.html

MacLean SA, Rodriguez JD, Basch CH. Information on teeth whitening from employees at establishments in New York City. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community. 2019;47(1):45-53. doi:10.1080/10852352.2018.1547308

Sholom S, Desrosiers M, Chumak V, Luckyanov N, Simon SL, Bouville A. UV EFFECTS IN TOOTH ENAMEL AND THEIR POSSIBLE APPLICATION IN EPR DOSIMETRY WITH FRONT TEETH. Health physics. 2010;98(2):360-368. doi:10.1097/01.HP.0000348002.69740.bd

Sanches Silveira JEP, Myaki Pedroso DM. UV light and skin aging. Reviews on Environmental Health. 2014;29(3). doi:10.1515/reveh-2014-0058

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