Your teeth are made of two layers - enamel and dentin. Enamel is the white protective layer of the tooth. Damage to the enamel can expose your dentin. Dentin is the core of the tooth. It also has a darker, yellow color. In addition to that, cracks in the enamel can fill with staining substances, like dark foods. If left for a long time untreated, stains can be difficult to remove.
Professional teeth whitening has been proven as safe and effective, grounded in simple science. The whitening chemicals, oxidizing agents, react with the foreign substances to break down and remove them more thoroughly than simply brushing your teeth can. Once the stains are removed, saliva will fill some cracks and remineralize but regular teeth whitening is necessary to maintain white teeth.
How Whitening Works
There are many products and techniques available for patients who want to achieve a whiter smile, and with so many options available, it can be difficult to choose the method that is right for you. The best way to begin any teeth whitening regimen is to schedule an appointment and talk to your doctor about the differences between in-office professional whitening and at-home whitening.
With teeth whitening, there are two different active ingredients that you could be using - carbamide peroxide and hydrogen peroxide. If you’re using an at-home treatment, it should be listed on the packaging. Otherwise, ask your dentist.
Both active ingredients actually end with hydrogen peroxide as the whitening chemical, as carbamide peroxide reacts with water to make hydrogen peroxide. The fact that carbamide peroxide has to react first makes it much weaker - about a third of the strength of hydrogen peroxide. That means a 30% carbamide peroxide solution is about the strength of a 10% hydrogen peroxide solution.
Hydrogen peroxide is much more powerful and much more likely to irritate your gums or increase teeth sensitivity. Your dentist can carefully control the negative effects so that they are kept to a minimum and no solution comes in contact with your gums.
Due to the gentler strength carbamide peroxide, it is ideal for at-home whitening kits where a professional is not available, and dentists agree that the key to long-term teeth whitening is regular at-home treatment. Take-home kits are significantly cheaper than in office teeth whitening and significantly more effective than store-bought whitening strips or brush-on whiteners.
In the dental office, before-and-after tooth color is typically measured with shade guides. These are hand-held displays of wide ranges of tooth colors, arranged from light to dark. Dentists also use them in choosing crown and other restoration shades. (To avoid the mismatched color, tooth-colored restorations will probably need replacement after whitening. If cosmetic restorations are part of your treatment plan, they should not be placed for at least two weeks after your whitening to ensure proper bonding, function and shade matching.)
Teeth Whitening Results
While whitening can occasionally lighten tooth color by nine or more shades, most of those who bleach their teeth are likely to see a change of two to seven shades. The results are not fully seen until approximately two weeks after bleaching. This is an important consideration if you are about to have ceramic restorations and want to be sure the color matches that of your newly bleached teeth.
Teeth whitening results vary from person to person. Before any whitening treatment, ask your dentist for an idea of the results you are likely to achieve and how long it should take to get there.
Some factors that can affect the color of your teeth include the following:
The color your teeth started. Natural tooth colors can range from yellow-brownish to greenish-grey. Yellow-brown is usually easier to whiten than green-grey.
Your age. Tooth color is lighter in younger people, such as teenagers, because they simply haven’t had enough time to acquire more than surface or “extrinsic” stains. In such cases, the desired results of teeth whitening are usually easy to achieve. The older you are, the more likely it is that stubborn (intrinsic) stains have sunk deep into your teeth. This does not mean whitening is impossible, just harder.
What you eat. Consuming dark-colored, sugary, or acidic foods and liquids are a common cause of stains. Smoking tobacco products is another common cause, as nicotine leaves brownish deposits which slowly soak into the tooth structure and cause intrinsic discoloration.
Teeth grinding or trauma caused by falls or injuries can cause many cracks that will fill and stain over time.
Some teeth are thinner and more translucent, and therefore appear less white. According to cosmetic dentists, transparency is the only condition that cannot be corrected by any form of teeth whitening.
In-Office Teeth Whitening
The first professional option is commonly referred to as “in-office” whitening. This procedure is performed in a dental office. An in-office whitening treatment may include the use of a whitening lamp or laser to enhance the effectiveness of the whitening gel by accelerating the peroxide.
During an office visit, your dental professional will apply the whitening gel and, depending on the system being used, will shine a light source directly onto the teeth. The entire office visit generally takes about 90 minutes with immediate results. The dentist generally cleans your teeth and places some sort of protective barrier on your gums before the whitening begins. The gel sits on your teeth for several minutes before the dentist washes it off. It is usually reapplied several times before the procedure is over. Many people report increase sensitivity in their teeth during this process, but new gels contain sodium fluoride, which reduces this side effect significantly.
Free New Patient Consultation
The first step in any procedure is to do a full examination of your teeth and mouth and then review with you the different options to give you a beautiful smile. Many cosmetic procedures can be done without cutting or with minimal preparation — and affordably, and yet make a tremendous difference to your smile.
Mount Vernon Dental Smiles offers a special New Patient Consultation to evaluate your teeth and gums and show you different ways you can improve your smile. We can take pictures of your teeth and — using cosmetic imaging software — manipulate them to show you how your smile would look using different procedures.
To make an appointment, call (703) 382-1307 or request an appointment online.