Are you looking to have your pearly whites look a little whiter? Teeth whitening comes in many forms and processes, offering many treatment options.
Knowing how teeth whitening works, the advantages of each option and what to know helps consumers make the right choice for their lifestyle and budget. Here’s a closer look at five important issues about teeth whitening.
1- Why Did My Teeth Change Color?
As we get older, we may notice discoloration in our teeth. The reasons for this change are varied and can be due to some important factors. The outsides of your teeth are coated with enamel, a hard, bright white substance. Directly underneath the enamel is dentin, which is normally yellow. Over time, enamel wears off, exposing more dentin.
There are causes other than age that contribute to the color of your teeth, including:
- What You Eat and Drink. What we ingest plays an important role in the color of our teeth. The outer layer of our teeth is porous, meaning foods and drinks can be absorbed and change the color of our teeth. Certain drinks, in particular, coffee, tea, and red wine can stain teeth, due to the high levels of pigments known as chromogens that are present in those beverages. Other foods that can discolor teeth are colas, cranberry juice, tomato-based products, slushies, popsicles, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, blueberries, beets, curries, strawberries, raspberries, and cherries.
- Tobacco. Nicotine is only colorless until it’s mixed with oxygen and tar is naturally dark. Both can cause yellowing of teeth.
- Medication. There are many common medications for high blood pressure, antipsychotics, and antihistamines that can color teeth. Children dosed with antibiotics doxycycline and tetracycline can have discolored adult teeth. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy to the head and neck can also be culprits/
- Trauma. If you’ve been hit in the mouth, your body may produce more dentin under the enamel, adding yellowing.
2- How Does Teeth Whitening Work?
Teeth whitening follows the same basic concepts whether it’s done using in-home treatments or in your dental care provider’s office. Regardless of the treatment used, the techniques are designed to remove staining, if possible, and to brighten the teeth using certain mild bleaching agents.
Regular brushing and in-office teeth cleanings use mild abrasives in toothpaste and gels that will remove some stains from the teeth. Whitening toothpaste is formulated to include additional abrasive elements that remove stains caused by foods, drinks and tobacco use.
Whether it’s at home or in the dentist’s office, whitening involves applying one of two bleaching substances — hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. In each case, the peroxides break down the stains, making them less noticeable and less concentrated.
3- Does Whitening Work on All Teeth?
Whitening will not work on all types of teeth or on teeth that have already had certain dental procedures.
Whitening treatments are most successful on yellow teeth. Brown teeth often do not respond to treatment. Teeth with gray tints may not show any changes after whitening. It’s always prudent to discuss the color of your teeth and the likely outcomes before beginning a whitening treatment.
When you’ve had work done on your teeth, whitening may have no effect. The color of crowns, veneers, fillings and caps is unchanged by whitening treatments.
The cause of your discolorations also plays an important role. Staining due to food, drinks and tobacco products will show the best results from whitening treatments. Teeth that have changed color due to injury or medication will likely not respond as well.
4- What Are My Whitening Options?
If you’re interested in having whiter teeth, you have several good options to choose from, ranging from the basic use of cleaning products to more formal in-office or at-home treatments.
- Toothpastes. Your toothpaste has abrasives that help, in tandem with your toothbrush, remove stains. Specially formulated whitening toothpaste have more powerful ingredients that are more effective at stain removal. If you’re considering whitening toothpaste, look for one with the American Dental Association (ADA)’s seal, which ensures you’re using a product certified to have polishing agents and other chemicals that safely remove stains. Please note that these ADA-approved products will not change the color of your teeth as they are formulated to work on stain removal.
- Commercial Whitening Products. Other in-home products include teeth whitening strips and gels that adhere to your teeth. Users should follow the instructions of these products closely. Whitening strips are nearly invisible and remain on the teeth usually for about 30 minutes. Preliminary results are evident in a matter of days while final results may take as long as four months. New whitening rinses act much like mouthwashes. Users swish a solution, which may contain peroxides, for about a minute twice a day after brushing. Results are usually evident within three months. Rinses have other benefits as they, like mouthwashes, freshen breath and reduce plaque.
- In-Home Bleaching. Often referred to as “tray whitening” this process uses a gel containing either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. The home user places the gel in a tray that fits over your teeth and is worn for a certain amount of time, anywhere from a couple of days to overnight. The concentration of peroxides in in-home products is much lower than that used in a dentist’s office. These products can take up to 4 months to show results.Tray whitening is available both over the counter and through your dentist. A dentist will take an impression of your teeth and create a customized mouthpiece that maximizes the contact of gel with your tooth surfaces. This process also minimizes contact with your gums. Commercial products use a one-size-fits-all approach and can irritate gums that come in contact with the bleaching agent.
- In-Office Bleaching. Usually, a chair-side bleaching can be completed in one 30- to 60-minute office appointment. The dentist will make sure your teeth are cleaned and healthy before proceeding. Then a protective gel or rubber shield is applied to the gums. The bleaching agents are then applied. Often the in-office treatments use heat, ultraviolet light or laser to activate the gel. Results are usually immediate and most dramatic.
Whitening toothpaste usually will lighten a tooth’s color by about one shade. Whitening done in an office can result in whitening changes of 3 to 8 shades.
Teeth whitening is not a permanent solution. Continued use of the products that discolor or stain will cause the teeth to lose their whiteness over time. If those foods and drinks are avoided, patients may be able to go as long as a year between treatments or touch-ups.
As noted, the strength of bleaching agents also varies depending on the treatment. Carbamide peroxide content in over-the-counter products is usually 10 percent to 22 percent, compared to 15 percent to 43 percent for prescription-based products used in a dentist’s office.
5- Are There Any Side Effects from Teeth Whitening?
The risks of teeth whitening are low, but there are certain people for whom teeth whitening may not be the best option.
Some people experience tooth sensitivity when the whitening agents get underneath the enamel and can irritate the softer dentin layer or tooth’s nerve.
Whitening is not recommended for children 16 and younger. That’s because children have an enlarged pulp chamber, where the nerve sits and could cause the pulp to become irritated and more sensitive. It is also not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing.
People with sensitive teeth or gums, receding gums, gum disease, worn enamel or exposed roots, or who have allergies to peroxide, should not have teeth whitening procedures. A patient with cavities will need those issues treated before undergoing a whitening procedure. Otherwise, the whitening solution is likely to penetrate into the inner layers of a tooth, causing irritation and sensitivity.
The most common complaints associated with whitening are irritation and tooth sensitivity. Usually, these issues go away after a short period. A dentist can adjust the treatment, recommend a different toothpaste, change the tray type or shape, or recommend shorter treatment durations.
Tooth whitening can add confidence and help dramatically with a person’s self-esteem. Whitening helps you feel less self-conscious about the color of your teeth and let you enjoy a hearty laugh without fear of embarrassment. With a keen understanding of the various options, the risks, and opportunities, your teeth can have a whole new look in no time.