Teeth whitening or bleaching simply refers to any process that will make the teeth appear whiter. The options for teeth whitening run the gamut from over the counter toothpastes, rinses, strips, or gels to professionally supervised in-office and take-home procedures. There are in fact so many products on the market addressing teeth that are stained or discolored, that the choices can be both confusing and overwhelming. This is why it is a good idea to speak with your dentist when considering teeth whitening. The dentist can explain how each product works and if it is safe as well as appropriate for your situation.
How white a tooth looks is determined by how light is reflected and scattered off the enamel, the outermost layer of the tooth. Teeth can appear dark or discolored for any number of reasons. An imperfect appearance can be the result of either surface stains or discolorations inside of the tooth. While external tooth discoloration is typically due to certain foods and tobacco, internal tooth discoloration is mainly the result of genetics, certain medications, tooth decay, restorations, and trauma. Aging also plays a big role in tooth color. This is because over time the outer layer of enamel becomes thinner allowing more influence on tooth appearance by the inner layer of yellowish dentin. In many situations teeth whitening procedures will produce pleasing results. However, not every type of stain or discoloration responds well to teeth whitening. Some cases may require a different approach for cosmetic improvement. A dental exam and cleaning before a whitening procedure is important to determine that your teeth and gums are healthy, to remove any superficial stains and films that have built up on your teeth, as well to determine if you can expect a good result. Teeth whitening only works on natural teeth. The fact that whiteners do not affect the color of dental fillings, crowns and bridges is an important cosmetic consideration in planning treatment. In general, individuals with yellow tones to their teeth respond best to teeth whitening. Brown and grayish tinted teeth bleach respond less well and may require significantly longer dentist supervised tooth whitening regimens or alternative cosmetic treatments. Finally, teeth whitening may not be recommended in the presence of sensitive teeth, worn enamel and significant gum disease.
There are two major groups of teeth whitening products:
• Peroxide containing bleaching agents
• Whitening toothpastes or dentifrices.
These products and procedures can be dispensed, managed, and supervised by your dentist, or independently purchased over the counter products that you self-direct.
Although over the counter teeth whitening systems purchased in stores or online have become popular, there are health concerns and limitations with these products. Teeth whitening products can damage the teeth and soft tissue in the mouth, and without professional monitoring they can be easily be misused or abused. While some over the counter products may work when healthy teeth and gums are present, they can be ineffective or problematic when sensitive teeth, exposed roots, cavities, broken fillings, cracked teeth, or loose dental work are present. As a rule the healthiest and most effective methods of teeth whitening are the ones managed and supervised by your dentist.