When you smile, you show your inner happiness and self-confidence. Unfortunately, many people feel embarrassed about their smile because it is not as white as they would like. That is where teeth whitening treatments come in. This cosmetic treatment is one of the simplest and least expensive dental treatments available from our office, and it is the only one that can provide you with noticeable results in a very short period of time.
What is the difference between bleaching and whitening teeth?
Bleaching differs from whitening in that the teeth can be brightened beyond their original natural color. Professional bleaching treatments usually contain a chemical such as hydrogen peroxide in order to achieve this level of brightness. Professional teeth whitening treatments are used to remove debris, dirt, and stains in order to restore the natural surface brightness of your teeth.
Why whiten your teeth?
When your permanent teeth first erupt through the gums, they are bright white, with tooth enamel that resembles a perfect porcelain coating. Over time the act of eating and drinking, as well as acids in the food we eat and bacteria in the mouth damages the enamel. As it is worn away, it begins to become more translucent, exposing the yellow dentin underneath. In addition, tiny cracks form in the enamel that can become stained and filled with debris. This dulls the naturally bright appearance of your teeth.
Teeth whitening removes these stains and debris, allowing the cracks in your tooth enamel to become remineralized. This helps to restore the natural whiteness of your teeth, making your smile look bright and young once again. If a smile truly is “a face-lift you get for free,” tooth whitening can help to enhance that effect.
Are there different types of tooth discoloration?
It may be surprising, but there are actually two different types of tooth staining: intrinsic (inside the teeth) and extrinsic (on the outside of the teeth).
Intrinsic stains are more difficult to whiten, and are usually the result of dental procedures such as a root canal, or the use of medications such as tetracycline. You may also develop intrinsic staining on your teeth if you ingest too much fluoride, or if you have suffered an oral trauma that has damaged your tooth in some way. In the past, these stains were thought to be untreatable, but advances in cosmetic dentistry now allows for even deeply set intrinsic stains to be removed, usually with the use of take-home professional tooth whitening kits that will be used consistently over a period of several months.
Extrinsic stains are the most common types of stains on the teeth. These are generally caused by drinking beverages such as soda, tea, or coffee on a regular basis. This type of staining also occurs when you smoke tobacco products. Some extrinsic stains are minor and can be easily removed during a normal dental cleaning. For more stubborn stains, cosmetic whitening treatments such as bleaching may be used.
It is important to take care of extrinsic stains before they become too dark or set-in. If left untreated, extrinsic stains can penetrate the enamel into the dentin below. If this happens they will become far more difficult to remove.
What Causes Tooth Staining?
Tooth staining can have a number of causes. One of the main causes of stains on the teeth is your diet. Beverages such as coffee, tea, soda, and red wine are known to cause tooth staining. In addition, when you eat certain acidic fruits and foods that have been pickled in vinegar, as well as deeply colored vegetables such as carrots, you may experience some staining on your teeth as a result. Furthermore, acidic foods can also erode your tooth enamel, causing it to thin and exposing the dentin that lies underneath.
The second main cause of tooth staining is age. As you age, it is natural for your teeth to darken somewhat as they experience wear and tear. Stains also build up over time, making them more difficult to remove as you get older. Teenagers, for example may find that a minimal amount of effort into whitening their teeth is needed, while an adult in their fifties will require more intensive treatments in order to restore their teeth to their natural brightness.
In some cases, the medications you take may be the cause of your tooth staining. Antibiotics such as tetracycline can cause dark gray or brown stains on the teeth if they are used while the teeth are still forming. Likewise, consuming too much fluoride may cause white mottled spots to form on the teeth. This type of tooth staining can be extremely difficult to remove.
Oral trauma may cause the teeth to darken somewhat. This is true whether the trauma is cause by accident, or by a dental treatment such as a root canal. In these cases, bleaching may be ineffective. If this is so, our dentist may recommend other options to bring the effected tooth back to a more natural color. Bruxism (tooth grinding) may also cause the tooth to become damaged with micro-fractures, making it appear darker around the edges.
Finally, everyone starts out with a different tooth color. These colors naturally range from a yellowish-brown to a somewhat greenish-gray. This tooth color will naturally become more intense over time. Teeth that begin with a more yellowish tint will usually respond better to bleaching than those who are more greenish-gray. In addition, some people have tooth enamel that is more translucent than others. If your tooth are more translucent, you may have trouble bleaching the teeth, as they have less of the required pigmentation that is necessary. This condition will require a different treatment to whiten the teeth; translucency cannot be corrected through bleaching or whitening.
What are the different tooth whitening treatments?
There are two types of professional teeth whitening options available in our office: in-office whitening, or professional take-home whitening kits. Both of these options are far superior to what you can buy over-the-counter. While drugstore whitening kits can usually only lighten the teeth by a shade or two, professional treatments can produce noticeable results in only a single treatment.
Our in-office whitening treatments offer the most significant color change in the shortest period of time. This treatment uses a highly concentrated peroxide gel that will be applied to your teeth. Before applying the gel, your gums will be protected with a rubber dam to prevent irritation. This treatment can take between 15 and 60 minutes, depending on how deep the stains on your teeth are. In the case of more stubborn stains, you may also be given one of our take-home kits to use or you may be asked to come back for additional whitening sessions.
Our take-home whitening kits take a bit longer, but ultimately give the best results long-term. The initial results will be a little less noticeable than with the in-office treatments, because the peroxide gel provided in these kits is less concentrated. This kits contain pre-filled mouth guards that you will apply to your teeth when it is convenient, and they will be left on for up to an hour, or in some cases overnight. The lower the concentration of peroxide in the gel, the longer it can be left on the teeth safely.
Hydrogen Peroxide vs. Carbamide Peroxide
In-office and take-home whitening kits use different types of peroxide to remove stains from your teeth. Our in-office treatments use a more powerful gel made with hydrogen peroxide that can be concentrated up to 40 percent in order to provide you with the best results possible in a very short period of time.
Take-home teeth whitening kits can use a more slower acting gel made from carbamide peroxide. This gel only has about the third of the strength of the hydrogen peroxide, but it can be left on the teeth for a longer period of time, allowing it to remove stains just as effectively. Furthermore, you can use these treatments long-term without causing unnecessary damage to your tooth enamel.
How white will my teeth get?
Your results will vary widely based on a number of factors, including the types of stains you have on your teeth, what type of whitening treatment you receive, and the natural color of your teeth. During your consultation, our dentist will be happy to give you an idea of what you might expect from your whitening treatment, as well as and estimate of how many treatments you may need in order to achieve your desired results. It is important that you have realistic expectations of your whitening treatments before you begin, or you may end up disappointed.
Are there any risks to teeth whitening treatments?
Teeth whitening treatments are one of the least risky cosmetic dentistry procedures you can receive in our office. However, there are some things that you may want to consider before opting for a teeth whitening treatment. For example, in some patients, the teeth can temporarily become sensitive to touch, pressure, and temperature after an in-office whitening treatment due to the concentration of peroxide in the gel.
Patients are more likely to experience increased tooth sensitivity if they are suffering from receding gums, or if they have cracked or damaged teeth. If you have any faulty dental restorations in your mouth you will also be likely to experience increased tooth sensitivity. Some studies have shown that patients with red hair may also be more likely to experience this issue.
In most cases, the sensitivity is mild and will last for no more than a day or two. If you already have sensitive teeth, or if you experience increased sensitivity following a regular cleaning, our dentist may recommend that you use a special toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate. This will help reduce any increase in sensitivity that you may experience following your teeth whitening treatment.