Teeth whitening or bleaching products brighten teeth that have been stained or darkened by food, tobacco use, age or injury. Teeth whitening agents have the ability to restore deep stains ranging from 3 to 8 shades darker than the original white tooth color. There are a variety of in-office and take-home teeth whitening products to reduce or eliminate such stains.
What is Teeth Whitening?
Teeth whitening targets stains in the enamel of our teeth. When you eat a strawberry, the deep red penetrates your enamel as you chew. Most of the color disappears as saliva continues to break down most of the molecules. However, over time, more staining foods and drinks continue to penetrate your enamel, causing tooth discoloration.
Teeth whitening uses a bleaching agent, hydrogen peroxide, to penetrate the enamel. This bleaching agent works very similarly to common detergent in how it loosens and removes the stains from clothing. The bleaching agent enters the enamel just as the stain did, breaks it down, and washes it away. Once your treatment with Dr. Smith or Dr. Hiebert is complete, you are left with your original natural, bright, white color.
How Does Teeth Whitening Whiten Teeth?
Professional teeth whitening applies a peroxide to surface enamel. Peroxide is a mild bleaching agent that seeps into the pores in the enamel where stains exist. Here, the oxygen molecules in the peroxide break apart the particles of debris that have affixed themselves to the tooth. These particles gradually disintegrate with repeat treatments, leading to a more radiant smile. With an in-office whitening procedure, the process is repeated in a single visit. With home whitening kits, repeat sessions occur daily or every few days for more gradual lightening.
Why Do Teeth Stain?
Some people are more prone to teeth staining in comparison to others. This can be due to the fact that everyone has slightly different shades of enamel as well as some may have more porous enamel. Aside from these natural phenomenons, there are many other factors that could lead to teeth staining. This includes the following:
- Food — Common fruits include blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Natural pigments in dark chocolate can also stain the enamel of your teeth.
- Drink — Common stain causing drinks include coffee, tea, red wine, cranberry, and other dark juices. Even cola soft drinks all can stain teeth.
- Smoking — Nicotine leaves yellow stains on your teeth.
- Fluorosis — If a child has too much fluoride, it can cause this condition, which stains the teeth. This staining is in the dentin.
- Drugs — A heavily used antibiotic in the 60s and 70s named tetracycline is known for its permanent teeth discoloration.
- Genes — The enamel on some people’s teeth is darker than others. Also, some people have enamel that is more porous and stains easier.
In-Office Teeth Whitening
In-office teeth whitening, also called chairside bleaching, takes place during a series of appointments at a dentist’s office. Advantages of in-office teeth whitening in our Portland, OR office over take-home whitening include:
- Professional supervision
- Fast treatment
- Safe and simple
- No sensitivity
Take-Home Teeth Whitening Kit
Take-home bleaching solutions can help improve the color and overall brightness of teeth. These kits are simpler and less expensive than, and can be just as effective as, in-office treatments. Dentists provide patients with customized impression trays, whitening powder and whitening gel, the use of which improves the appearance of teeth over just a few days.
Why Shouldn’t I Just Use Over-The-Counter Whitening Products?
Some over-the-counter whitening products also work by applying peroxide to the surface of teeth. However, the strength of the bleaching agent is much less than what is available with professional whitening. This is the case because over-the-counter products are used with no oversight from a dentist. Without professional care to coincide with whitening, unexpected side effects could occur. For this reason, the bleaching gel bought at your local retailer is the least effective you will find. Can commercial whiteners work? Yes. They may be good for very light stains but cannot be expected to achieve dramatic results.
Over-The-Counter Teeth Whitening Products
Various over-the-counter products, such as whitening toothpaste and bleaching strips, are advertised as being effective teeth-whiteners. However, although based on the same science as professional bleaching, the concentration of effective ingredients tends to be much lower, lengthening treatment time and often not providing the level of whitening desired.
Whitening procedures are effective but not permanent. Depending on the procedure used, whitening may fade over time. Patients are advised to avoid food and drinks that may stain or darken teeth.
Intrinsic Vs. Extrinsic Teeth Stains
The stains that result from food, beverages, and smoking are called extrinsic stains because they develop from the outside in. Intrinsic stains are usually spots that develop beneath the outer layer of enamel. This type of stain may be caused by an injury to the tooth or by certain medications. Tetracycline use during the developmental years is a common cause of intrinsic staining.
Does Teeth Whitening Make My Teeth Sensitive?
Some people do experience temporary tooth sensitivity while undergoing whitening treatment. In our Portland office, we administer in-office whitening that has been formulated to prevent this side effect. Utilizing a home whitening kit, patients may manage sensitivity by using a special toothpaste for sensitive teeth. An over-the-counter pain reliever can also be taken to minimize the minor discomfort that may occur due to the absorption of the bleaching agent.
The reason that teeth can become sensitive as a result of teeth whitening treatment is that the protective film on enamel is penetrated temporarily. This reduces the buffer between stimuli and the nerves of teeth. Once teeth whitening treatment has ended and this protective film is naturally restored, sensitivity goes away.
How Can I Keep My Teeth White Longer?
One of the best ways to prolong the results of professional teeth whitening is to avoid the factors that lead to discoloration. If you drink coffee, tea, or red wine, rinse your mouth with water after enjoying your beverage. If you drink soda, do so through a straw. Avoid tobacco and brush your teeth morning and night. Also, see your dentist for cleanings twice a year. This service polishes the surface of teeth and can remove superficial discoloration before stains become noticeable. Ultimately, teeth will become discolored again at some point. However, when this happens is somewhat up to you.