Understanding Dentistry: Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening continues to be the number one cosmetic procedure requested by patients of all ages. Americans are spending over 1.4 billion annually on OTC tooth whitening products. Professional tooth whitening is safe, effective.

This procedure is desired by our patients at Medic8 clinics and is an essential component to our conservative esthetic approaches to dentistry. Prior to initiating any form of tooth bleaching or whitening, a proper examination should be performed to render a proper diagnosis of the cause of discolouration.

This diagnosis guides the treatment times, techniques and materials so that our patients are satisfied with their results, and have realistic expectations for what bleaching can do as well as whether other treatments are needed in addition to or instead of bleaching to achieve the smile they desire.

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Why did your teeth change colour?

Over time, your teeth can go from white to not-so-bright for a number of reasons:

  • Food and Drink
    Coffee, tea and red wine are some major staining culprits. What do they have in common? Intense colour pigments called chromogens that attach to the white, outer part of your tooth (enamel).
  • Tobacco Use
    Two chemicals found in tobacco creates stubborn stains: Tar and nicotine. Tar is naturally dark. Nicotine is colourless until it’s mixed with oxygen. Then, it turns into a yellowish, surface-staining substance.
  • Age
    Below the hard, white outer shell of your teeth (enamel) is a softer area called dentin. Over time, the outer enamel layer gets thinner with brushing and more of the yellowish dentin shows through.
  • Trauma
    If you’ve been hit in the mouth, your tooth may change colour because it reacts to an injury by laying down more dentin, which is a darker layer under the enamel.
  • Medications
    Tooth darkening can be a side effect of certain antihistamines, antipsychotics and high blood pressure medications. Young children who are exposed to antibiotics like tetracycline and doxycycline when their teeth are forming (either in the womb or as a baby) may have discolouration of their adult teeth later in life. Chemotherapy and head and neck radiation can also darken teeth.

How does teeth whitening work?

Teeth whitening is a simple process. Whitening products contain one of two tooth bleaches (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide). These bleaches break stains into smaller pieces, which makes the colour less concentrated and your teeth brighter.

Are you a teeth whitening candidate?

Not all smiles respond equally well to bleaching treatments, making tooth-whitening procedures unsuccessful in some cases. As the American Dental Association explains, yellow-hued teeth typically bleach well, but whitening products may not improve the appearance of teeth tinged with brown or grey tones.

In addition, whitening chemicals cannot change the colour of crowns, veneers, bonding materials or tooth-coloured fillings. If these materials appear on visible sections of your smile, tooth-whitening procedures may cause them to stand out against your natural teeth, creating a displeasing appearance.

Tooth stains resulting from certain drugs — such as tetracyclines—may also be unresponsive to bleaching treatments.

What are your whitening options?

Talk to your dentist before starting. If you are a candidate, there are two ways to put the shine back in your smile:

In-Office Bleaching: 

This procedure is called chairside bleaching and usually requires only one office visit. The dentist will apply either a protective gel to your gums or a rubber shield to protect your gums. Bleach is then applied to the teeth.

At-Home Bleaching from Your Dentist:

At Medic8 clinics, we provide our patients with a custom-made tray for at-home whitening and give you instructions on how to place the bleaching solution in the tray and for what length of time.

This may be a preferred option if you feel more comfortable whitening in your own home at a slower pace, but still with the guidance of a dentist. Out-of-office bleaching can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. 

A professional dental cleaning is recommended prior to professional tooth whitening.

How long does the tooth-whitening last?

Tooth-whitening procedures are not permanent, and you may require multiple treatments over the years to maintain a bright smile. Whitening treatments typically last between one and three years before teeth regain a darker, stained appearance.

If you smoke, chew tobacco, drink coffee or consume other staining foods and beverages, the whiteness of your teeth may start declining in as little as one month after treatment.

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Are there any side effects from teeth whitening?

Although tooth-whitening treatments are generally safe, the procedure can result in several uncomfortable side effects. Bleaching may increase the sensitivity of your teeth for several days after treatment, leading to pain while eating or drinking. In most cases the sensitivity is temporary.

You may be at particular risk for sensitivity if you have gum recession, faulty dental restorations or cracked teeth. In some cases, people also feel sharp, spontaneous pains in their front teeth shortly after a tooth-whitening session, and many people using peroxide-based whiteners experience gum irritation.

Consequently, overuse of whiteners can also damage the tooth enamel or gums. Therefore make sure to follow directions and talk to your dentist.

This article was prepared in cooperation with the dental clinic – Medic8 located in Lebanon.

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