your teeth bright, white and healthy. Still, if
you might feel like your smile is lacking some
sparkle or is more yellow than it used to be,
you’re not alone. When the American
Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry asked people
what they’d most like to improve
about their smile, the most common response
was whiter teeth. The American Association
of Orthodontists also found that nearly 90%
of patients requested tooth whitening
Thinking about teeth whitening? Get the facts
first. Here are five of the most commonly
asked questions about the process.
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 color pigments called chromogens that
attach to the white, outer part of your
Two chemicals found in tobacco create
stubborn stains: Tar and nicotine. Tar is
naturally dark. Nicotine is colorless until it’s
mixed with oxygen. Then, it turns into a
yellowish, surface-staining substance.
Below the hard, white outer shell of your
teeth (enamel) is a softer area calleddentin.
Over time, the outer enamel layer gets
thinner with brushing and more of the
yellowish dentin shows through.
If you’ve been hit in the mouth, your tooth
may change color because it reacts to an injury
by laying down more dentin, which is a darker
layer under the enamel.
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
discoloration 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 color less concentrated and
your teeth brighter.
Does Whitening Work on All Teeth?
No, which is why it’s important to talk to your
dentist before deciding to whiten your teeth, as
whiteners may not correct all types of
discoloration. For example, yellow teeth will
probably bleach well, brown teeth may not
respond as well and teeth with gray on caps,
tones may not bleach at all. Whitening will not
work veneers, crowns or fillings. It also won’t
be effective if your tooth discoloration is caused
by medications or a tooth injury.
What Are My Whitening Options?
Talk to your dentist before starting. If you are
a candidate, there are three ways to put the
shine back in your smile:
All toothpastes help remove surface stain through
the action of mild abrasives that scrub the teeth.
Look for the ADA Seal for safe whitening toothpastes
that have special chemical or polishing agents to
provide additional stain removal effectiveness.
Unlike bleaches,these types of ADA Accepted
products do not change the color of teeth because
they can only remove stains on the surface.
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. A special light or laser
might be used to enhance the action of the
Peroxide-containing whiteners actually bleach the
tooth enamel. They typically come in a gel and
are placed in a tray that fits on your teeth. You
may also use a whitening strip that sticks to your
teeth. The concentration of the bleaching agent
is lower than what your dentist would use in the
office Read the ADA's Statement on the
Safety and Effectiveness of Tooth Whitening Products.
Are There Any Side Effects from Teeth Whitening?
Some people who use teeth whiteners may
experience tooth sensitivity. That happens when
the peroxide in the whitener gets through the
enamel to the soft layer of dentin and irritates
the nerve of your tooth. In most cases the
sensitivity is temporary.
You can delay treatment, then try again. Overuse
of whiteners can also damage the tooth enamel
or gums, so be sure to follow directions and talk
to your dentist