Tooth Whitening

Tooth Whitening

“Want a whiter, brighter smile?” Countless advertisements begin with this question and wanting lighter and whiter teeth is a common patient request. To really understand the process of tooth whitening, we will discuss how teeth become discolored and traditional treatments for tooth discoloration. 

Causes of Tooth Discoloration 

There are a myriad of ways teeth can become discolored. Staining can either be intrinsic (caused by discoloration within the tooth itself) or extrinsic (caused by substances we ingest). Do you have a hard time beginning your day without a cup of coffee? Drinks like red wine, coffee, tea, and sodas, and pigmented foods like tomato sauce and balsamic vinegar are some of the biggest culprits for external tooth staining. Tobacco is another source of difficult to remove stains. 

Age, trauma, and medications can stain your teeth from the inside out. All three of these things involve the more yellow part of your tooth below the whiter enamel and can lead to a change in color. 

It’s important to note that not all stains are created equal! Tooth whitening tends to be more effective for brown staining, but as teeth become lighter, white stains from orthodontic brackets or fluorosis tend to become less noticeable too. 

Options for Tooth Whitening

Over the Counter Tooth Whitening Products. If you walk into any pharmacy, the variety of dental whitening products ranging from toothpastes to strips can be overwhelming. Toothpastes primarily work to whiten teeth by incorporating an abrasive substance to help remove stains. Whitening strips and gels on the other hand use mainly peroxide in order to whiten teeth. 

Professional Whitening. Dentist supervised whitening can be done either at home with custom bleaching trays or in office. Both of these procedures involve a higher concentration of peroxide than what is available over the counter. 

At home bleaching begins with an impression that is used to make custom trays that keep the gel in intimate contact with your teeth and away from your gums. Depending on the concentration of the peroxide gel, treatment times can be variable and are determined by your dentist. 

In-office bleaching is the most efficient option, involving 1-2 visits. During this visit, a protective gel or rubber shield is placed on your gums as protection and peroxide gel is applied to your teeth. Sometimes, a light is used to speed up the bleaching process. 

Veneers. Sometimes, stains are so stubborn that traditional whitening techniques are not able to produce the desired result. In these cases, laminates or veneers may be recommended as a treatment option. These are thin shells of custom created porcelain that are specially designed to blend into your smile. 

Are there any risks of whitening? 

While most patients are able to undergo tooth whitening procedures with minimal discomfort, some people experience varying degrees of sensitivity during the process. This occurs when the peroxide penetrates into the tooth and irritates the nerve. This sensitivity is usually temporary and can be treated by simply stopping treatment, and beginning again. 

Talking with your dentist about whitening and the type of tooth stains you have can help determine which treatment is best. Whitening works best when your mouth is healthy! By having regular exams and cleanings with your dentist, whitening will be safer and more effective. Additionally, different tips and tricks from your dentist can help prevent staining, while still allowing you to enjoy all of the foods and drinks you love. 

Dr. Lauren Liebman

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