Everybody loves a bright, white smile. It boosts your confidence and makes you feel younger. Unfortunately, as we age, our teeth tend to darken and as the enamel wears off it reveals the yellow color of the tooth’s core material. Normal wear and tear also produces tiny cracks in the enamel that gradually fill up with stain and debris. Food, tobacco, coffee and tea as well as certain types of drugs can also discolor the teeth.
Tooth whitening products can lighten most stains caused by age tobacco, coffee and tea. Based on clinical studies, 96 percent of patients with these kinds of stains experience some lightening effect, according to the American Dental Hygienists Association. Other types of stains, such as those produced by tetracycline, respond less reliably. And if you have any tooth colored dental restorations, they won’t respond to bleaching either. So your new, whiter teeth won’t match the dental work anymore. “Whitening can be a very good service,” says Dr. McHenry “Mac” Lee, a third-generation dentist in Edna,Texas. However, he stated, “it works on some (people) and not on others. The only way to find out is to try it.”
You can take several approaches to whiten your smile. There are a number of products designed for use at home that can either be dispensed by your dentist or purchased over-the-counter. All contain varying concentrations of peroxide. Peroxide whiteners typically come in a gel and are placed in a mouth guard. Regimens vary — some are to be used twice a day for two weeks, and others are for overnight use for one to two weeks. If you get the bleaching solution from your dentist, they can make a custom-fitted mouth guard for you that will fit your teeth precisely.
If you are a candidate for bleaching, your dentist may also suggest a procedure, called ‘chair-side bleaching,’ that can be done in his or her office. It requires one or more visits that take from 30 minutes to one hour. During bleaching, the dentist will apply either a protective gel to your gums or a rubber shield to protect the oral soft tissues. A bleaching agent is then applied to the teeth, and a special light may be used to enhance the action of the agent. Some dentists use lasers to enhance the action of the whitening agent.
Some people experience unpleasant side effects to whitening procedures. Your teeth can become sensitive during the period when you are using the bleaching solution. And some people experience soft tissue irritation, either from a tray that doesn’t fit properly or from a solution that may come in contact with the tissues. Dr. Lee says that if over the counter material works, the dental office way will be faster and more efficient and more expensive. But he says laser whitening “has never been proven to be more effective” than other methods.
With all the options out there, it is comforting to know that there are so many teeth whitening options out there.