By Anna M Avola DMD, MS
More and more Americans are keeping their natural teeth as they get older. But over time those teeth yellow with age.
Years of consuming tea, coffee, red wine and tomato products all take a toll of the outer surface of the tooth, casting a yellow hue to a once bright smile! Effects of smoking and tobacco products are not only bad for your health but play a major role in tooth discoloration as well. A simple process of whitening your teeth can actually make you look years younger.
Tooth whitening is a process of bleaching your teeth to lighten stains and discoloration. Most whitening products contain a form of hydrogen peroxide in varying concentrations to accomplish this. But to understand how the process works, let’s review the basic tooth anatomy first. Teeth are made up of two hard layers, enamel and dentin, which surround the pulp chamber that houses the nerves and blood vessels of the tooth. The thin outermost layer, the enamel, is almost translucent and covers the inner layer of dentin which is less dense and provides the color of teeth. Most bleaching products only effect the enamel of the tooth.
Another important issue to consider is how deep the stains penetrate the tooth surface. If the stains are contained in the enamel only, they are called extrinsic stains. However, if stains penetrate or come from within dentin, for example tetracycline staining, the stains are called intrinsic and are very difficult to lighten.
Bleaching your teeth can be done at your dentist’s office or you can buy bleaching products for home use. The bleaching products you can get from a dentist are much stronger than over-the-counter brands. Whiteners used by dentists may have as much as 35% – 45% of peroxide while store bought whitening kits such as strips or trays have just 7% peroxide.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that before you have your teeth whitened, consult a dentist first. The dentist can present different whitening options and supervise a treatment which will avoid complications. The whitening procedure at a dental office takes about an hour. Because the concentration of peroxide is greater, a protective barrier is used to keep your lips, gums and tongue away from the whitening gel. In addition, custom mouth trays will be constructed and additional gel supplements will added to the regimen for home use. Bleaching is not a one time procedure. It requires several days or weeks to achieve that bright white smile.
Whitening at home with kits, rinses, toothpastes or strips are popular because they can be inexpensive and easy to use. But because there is a lower amount of peroxide than products used by dentists, the results will take much longer to accomplish. However, the ADA still recommends a dentist supervised whitening program for being the safest for your tooth enamel.
Tooth sensitivity is the greatest issue when bleaching your teeth. It is important to know that any type of bleaching dehydrates the surface of the tooth enamel which add to the sensitivity. Although the enamel will rehydrate over time, fluoride treatments after bleaching are very helpful in desensitizing teeth.
There are many factors to consider such as the time and cost you want to invest, before deciding on getting whiter teeth. Also consider how many shades lighter you want your teeth. Dentists with in-office procedures can lighten your teeth several shades lighter, while whitening toothpaste will vary depending on the age of the tooth. Older teeth will require a stronger concentration of peroxide than younger teeth.
Other factors to consider before whitening are the number of fillings, crowns or veneers you may have. None of these restorations will whiten with any peroxide products. Cracked or broken teeth or fillings can become even more sensitive with bleaching products. Yellow teeth have been shown to have the best success, while gray or brown teeth usually caused by medication will not be as successful.
Thanks to all the new products and options, getting a dazzling bright smile is within everyone’s reach! Knowing the pros and cons will help you determine if whitening your teeth is a good fit for you.
But before you choose, see a dentist and be sure your teeth have been cleaned by a professional hygienist and that the dentist has performed an exam to be sure you have no cavities or other conditions that should be treated first. This is the best way to ensure that you will be happy with the results!
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