Everybody wants a sparkling, white smile but there’s more to teeth whitening than what’s on the surface. Before we get started, there’s something important we want you to understand. Perfectly healthy teeth can look yellow.
In fact, a number of factors can influence the shade of your teeth and we’ll explain those here. Secondly, if you have noticed a tooth that has changed color suddenly, especially to shades of brown, grey or black, this could be a sign of something serious, so don’t wait to call your dentist if this is the case.
Teeth can be stained by a number of factors, but they mostly fall into two categories: extrinsic stains and intrinsic stains. Extrinsic stains are what most people struggle with, and are caused by coffee, wine, soda and other foods, as well as smoking. These stains cause discoloration on the surface of the tooth.
Intrinsic stains are caused when the inner structure of the tooth, called dentin, begins to darken or take on a yellow tint. Too much fluoride as a child or dental trauma can cause these kinds of stains under the surface of your enamel. Also, disease treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can cause intrinsic discoloration.
Although not a stain, the thinning of enamel can also leave your teeth appearing not-so-white as they once were. Enamel is the outermost layer of your tooth and it thins naturally with age, revealing more of the yellow-hued dentin underneath. Even completely healthy teeth can have a yellowish hue. It’s natural, but if it’s something that you’d rather change, whitening methods could still help.
Regular Care is the Simplest Whitening Solution
First and foremost, brushing your teeth twice daily for two minutes at a time, and flossing once a day helps keep your teeth healthy and clean. Also, the bulk of surface stains can be cleaned away during your dental cleaning every six months without whitening treatments.
Combined with your twice-yearly cleanings, daily maintenance will go a long way in keeping your smile brighter. Avoiding teeth-staining foods and beverages will also work, but rinsing with water after indulging helps, too.
If daily maintenance and regular cleanings aren’t giving you the brightening results you’re looking for, whitening treatments may be worth considering.
What about Whitening?
Teeth whitening is a common cosmetic procedure in dentistry that uses either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide to bleach the teeth, making them appear whiter and brighter. The key word here is appear. It is important to understand that whitening your teeth does not make them healthier and can even have possible side effects.
One side effect is sensitivity. Peroxides used in bleaching can cause sensitivity for a few days after treatment and gum irritation can occur (although usually, this irritation is from poor-fitting bleaching trays). Additionally, if the bleaching agents are too strong, it can cause a burning sensation in the gums or throat, and may even cause an upset stomach!
Lastly, when you’re deciding to bleach or not to bleach, consider your existing smile. Do you have fillings, crowns or bridges that are visible when you smile? Whitening agents won’t change the color of these artificial surfaces, so they’ll remain the same shade that they have always been.
Know Your Options.
There are many different whitening products on the market, available both over the counter and in the office, but the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that if you decide to whiten your teeth, you should consult your dentist first to make sure you’re a good candidate for it.
When selecting a product, be it toothpaste, trays, strips or gels, always look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Most over the counter products with this seal contain 10% carbamide peroxide (which includes 3.5% hydrogen peroxide). And you’ll want to plan ahead if whitening for special events, as over the counter whitening works over a longer period of time.
Professional whitening can be done with a higher concentration (typically between 25-40%) of hydrogen peroxide, sometimes in combination with a light or laser. In the office, special protection can be placed over the gums so they aren’t damaged by the additional peroxide exposure.
No matter which process you chose, remember that whitening only lasts a few months to a year, so plan for reapplications when necessary.
Ready to learn more about whitening and discover which option is best for you? Give us a call! Our dentists can help you find the best whitening treatment for your needs. We also offer take-home custom whitening trays, available for $299, and in-office bleaching is available for $399. Looking for a budget-friendly option? Try our prefilled take-home trays for $50!