Teeth whitening is a method of cosmetic dentistry designed to whiten, lighten, or restore natural color to teeth. Causes of discoloration often dictate how well the teeth take to different teeth whitening processes, so consultation with a dentist is recommended.
Teeth can become discolored from a number of factors, which include:
- Poor Dental Hygiene – failure to regularly brush, floss, and receive professional cleanings from a dentist will allow plaque and stain-producing elements to stay on the teeth.
- Tobacco – either smoking or chewing tobacco can stain teeth.
- Foods and Beverages – coffee, colas, wines and some types of fruits and vegetables can stain tooth enamel.
- Disease – various illnesses can affect the intrinsic color of your teeth. Additionally, some infections in pregnant women can discolor their infant’s developing enamel.
- Medications and Treatments – the teeth of children under the age of 8 can become discolored by the antibiotics tetracycline and doxycycline. Staining can also occur from mouth rinses containing chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium chloride. Certain radiation treatments for cancers can discolor teeth enamel, as can antihistamines, antipsychotics, and antihypertensives.
- Trauma – injury to teeth from a fall or a strike can interrupt enamel formation in young children and adults.
- Dental Materials – amalgam restorations, used to fill cavities, can contain materials made of silver sulfide which can cast a gray-black color to your teeth.
- Genetics – some teeth are naturally brighter or have thicker enamel than others.
- Age – over time, the outer enamel on your teeth wears away, revealing the natural yellow color of dentin (the hard tissue beneath the enamel that forms the bulk of the actual tooth).
- Environment – too much fluoride in water supplies or fluoride used excessively in toothpastes, rinses, or supplements can cause teeth discoloration.
Consultation with your dentist will help you decide the proper teeth whitening and cosmetic dentistry course for your type and cause of discoloration. Teeth whitening and cosmetic dentistry options include bondings and veneers, in-office and at-home bleaching, and whitening toothpastes.
Bondings and Veneers
Veneers and bondings are cosmetic dentistry applications that cover the existing tooth with a resin composite or porcelain covering to improve the appearance – or sometimes function – of the teeth. A dentist takes molds of the teeth for a dental lab to custom manufacture veneers. Resin bondings are created and applied in the dentist’s office with no need for outsourcing.
- In-office bleaching
In-office bleaching involves a dentist-administered teeth whitening agent. Protecting the gums with a gel or rubber shield, the teeth whitening agent is applied and activated by a special light or laser. Over the course of several short visits this procedure whitens the enamel of the teeth.
- At-home bleaching
At-home bleaching utilizes either dentist-obtained or over-the-counter teeth whitening products, usually containing peroxides, administered with a dental tray worn over the teeth. When received from your dentist, the tray is molded specifically to your mouth for an effective fit. This method can require a one to two week regimen to complete, with twice-daily or overnight applications.
- Whitening toothpastes
Whitening toothpastes go a step further than standard toothpastes in that they contain special chemical or polishing agents to aid in the removal of surface staining of the tooth enamel. They do not alter the deeper, intrinsic color of the tooth.
Side effects from teeth whitening applications can include:
- Teeth sensitivity while using teeth whitening solutions – this is usually a temporary condition which will go away at the conclusion of treatment.
- Irritation to the soft tissues of the mouth – generally this can be caused by an ill-fitting mouthguard/tray or from tissue contact with the whitening solution. Your dentist can address these issues directly.
Although teeth whitening and cosmetic dentistry are effective methods of improving the brightness of one’s smile, they are not a substitute for daily cleaning and regular dental visits.