Whiter pearly whites

The image of dentistry used to be all about pulling, drilling and cavity-filling. But today perhaps the fastest growing part of dental services is giving patients a set of perfect pearly whites.

Karen Olsonawski undergoes a teeth whitening procedure
Karen Olsonawski undergoes a teeth whitening procedure at Dakota Dental Associates in Grand Forks recently. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The image of dentistry used to be all about pulling, drilling and cavity-filling. But today perhaps the fastest growing part of dental services is giving patients a set of perfect pearly whites.

Professional teeth whitening has become one of the most requested dental services at Dakota Dental Associates of Grand Forks, staff dentist Amanda Vesterso said.

"In the past, it was more a 'take care of the cavities and eliminate the pain' kind of dentistry," Vesterso said during an interview. "But today, people want more."

"People are more aesthetically minded," Vesterso said.

Karen Olsonawski, a dental hygienist at Dakota Dental, recently had her teeth professionally whitened there. Olsonawski said she wanted to have the procedure, so she would be better equipped to advise her patients who asked about it. But that's not the only reason had the procedure done.


"I'm getting married in June," Olsonawski said. "My fiancé had it done about a month earlier."

The procedure

Olsonawski was reclining in a padded chair during the whitening while, dental assistant Shannon Johnson used a low-speed handheld device with a polishing attachment to get started. Her patient had a magazine in her lap and occasionally took out her smartphone to check messages.

First, Johnson pumiced her teeth to get them nice and clean. Then, she applied a protective barrier to her patient's gums and lips to protect them from the bleaching solution, which would later be applied every 15 minutes. Then a special light was put on the teeth. When the whitening was done, Olsonawski received a fluoride treatment and trays and bleach to take home for occasional touch-ups.

Before her professional whitening, Olsonawski had used home whitening kits on her teeth with bleaches that had to be applied every day for longer periods.

"My problem is compliance," Olsonawski said. "I liked having my teeth white with one treatment."

The cost

There are some things to keep in mind about professional whitening, according to the Consumer Guide to Dentistry website.


In-office bleaching is more expensive than take-home alternatives. Its cost, on average, is $650, compared to $400 for take-home trays and less than $100 for over-the-counter bleaching trays or whitening strips. (Prices vary from office to office, and some offices give patient considerations, the Dakota Dental staff said.)

Results can be unpredictable, depending on factors such as age, heredity and the type of staining that is present.

In-office bleaching is not a permanent solution. After treatment, the teeth will resume accumulating stains. Many dentists recommend home maintenance follow-up with a lower-percentage bleach that can be kept on the teeth for longer periods of time.

Best candidates

The best candidates for teeth whitening are those who already visit a dentist regularly, who have a healthy mouth, free of periodontal disease and not a lot of tooth decay, Vesterso said. Also, the procedure is not recommended for pregnant women or children younger than 18. (Teenagers are more sensitive because they have more inner nerve chamber in their teeth, she said.)

Most people's teeth will darken over time from the food and beverages they consume, such as coffee, tea and soda. Other things that can discolor teeth include childhood medications or illnesses, tobacco use or improper oral hygiene. Still, whitening isn't right for everyone. Some patients may need veneers, which are thin, semi-translucent "shells" typically attached to the front teeth or other procedures, Vesterso said.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to .


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