Five Things to Know About Teeth Whitening

Brushing and flossing regularly is great for keeping teeth healthy, but it can be difficult to keep them bright and white. Fortunately, there are several tooth whitening options now available to add some sparkle back to that smile. If you have been thinking about undergoing one of these cosmetic treatments, here are five things you should know first.

Why did my teeth change color?

There are several reasons why teeth can have lost their luster.

  • Food and drink: Coffee, red wine, and tea are the top culprits to stain teeth. They contain intense color pigments called chromogens that attach to the enamel of your teeth, deeply staining them.
  • Tobacco: contains tar and nicotine, both of which can create stubborn stains.
  • An injury to the teeth: can cause them to react by laying down more dentin, which is a darker color beneath the enamel.
  • Age: Over time, the outer layer of the teeth, called the enamel, can get worn thinner with brushing, showing more of the yellowish dentin layer.
  • Medications: can produce a side effect of tooth darkening. Chemotherapy, along with head and neck radiation, can also cause teeth to darken.

How does teeth whitening work?

Whitening is a fairly straightforward process, consisting of one of two tooth bleaches (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) being used to break stains into smaller pieces. This makes the color less concentrated, and the teeth appear brighter.

Does whitening work on all teeth?

Unfortunately, teeth whitening is not for everybody. This is why it is important to consult with your dentist before undergoing any whitening procedure. Different types of discoloration will react differently to the procedure. For example, while yellow teeth may bleach well, brown teeth may not, and teeth with gray tones may not bleach at all. Additionally, whitening will not be effective in caps, veneers, crowns, or fillings, or if the discoloration is caused by medications or a tooth injury.

What are my whitening options?

If it is determined that teeth whitening is a good option for you, there are a few ways to do it.

  • Whitening toothpaste: do not change the color of the teeth, only removing stains on the surface, but they can be effective in brightening up a smile. They work by utilizing the action of mild abrasives that scrub the teeth. Whitening toothpaste with the ADA Seal is recommended, as you can be assured of the quality and they may have special chemical or polishing agents to provide additional stain-removing effectiveness.
  • In-office bleaching: also called chairside bleaching, since it takes place at the dentist office. The procedure involves applying the bleach directly to the teeth and leaving it on for a certain amount of time.
  • At-home bleaching: a similar process to in-office bleaching as it involves applying a gel to the teeth. However, these peroxide-containing whiteners have a lower concentration of bleaching agent and bleach the tooth enamel rather than penetrating further. The bleaching agent can either be placed in a tray, which is then worn on the teeth, or on a whitening strip that sticks to the teeth. They are available over the counter or from a dentist office.

Are there any side effects from teeth whitening?

The most common side effect that patients experience is tooth sensitivity, which occurs when the peroxide in the whitener penetrates the enamel to reach the soft layer of dentin beneath. This irritates the nerve of the tooth. Usually, this sensitivity is temporary. Overuse of whiteners can also damage the tooth enamel or gums.