Teeth whitening ranks as the most popular procedure in the growing field of cosmetic dentistry by both men and women alike. Teeth whitening treatments, sometimes referred to as bleaching, are available to suit every budget, time frame and personality. They are available as one-hour sessions at your San Antonio dentist office, or through your local drugstore with home-use teeth whitening kits. However, due to widespread misinformation on the process, less than 20 percent of the population have even considered it.
Though sometimes criticized, teeth whitening performed by dentists is quite effective, and noticeable improvements are evident with a smile. It is important to note that maintenance is required for a prolonged effect. Useful teeth whitening tips are provided below from our San Antonio dentist, Dr. John Moore, DDS
Bleaching versus Teeth Whitening
The term “bleaching” is regulated by the FDA and is permitted to be used only when the teeth can be whitened beyond their natural color. This applies strictly to products that contain bleach, but hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide typically fall under this category as well.
On the other hand, the restoration of a tooth’s surface or original color by the removal of dirt and debris is referred to as “teeth whitening.” This makes any product that cleans, such as toothpaste, a whitener. Common usage of the term frequently includes products that contain bleach.
Why Teeth Whitening? Examining Enamel
Most of us start life with white teeth, mainly because of the porcelain-like enamel surface. Tooth enamel, composed of microscopic crystalline rods, is made to protect the teeth from the effects of chewing, gnashing, trauma and acid attacks caused by sugar. Over the years, enamel is worn down becoming more transparent. This transparency permits the color of the tooth’s core material, dentin, to be seen.
During normal chewing, dentin stays intact while millions of micro-cracks form in the enamel. These cracks, along with the spaces between the crystalline enamel rods, gradually fill up with stains and debris. Over time, this creates a dull, lackluster appearance in the teeth.
Teeth whitening by our San Antonio cosmetic dentist removes the stains and debris leaving the enamel cracks open and exposed. Saliva quickly re-mineralizes some of the cracks, while organic debris fills in the others.
Tooth Discoloration: The Two Types of Tooth Stains
Teeth are subject to two categories of staining, extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic stains appear on the surface of a tooth and is caused by routine wear and tear, exposure to dark-colored beverages and foods, and tobacco. Superficial extrinsic stains are minor and can be removed by brushing and prophylactic dental cleaning. Stubborn extrinsic stains require tooth whitening and other more involved efforts. Failure to deal with them early, together together with continued exposer will promote penetration into the dentin where it will become ingrained.
On the other hand, intrinsic stains form on the interior of the tooth. Trauma, aging, exposure to minerals during tooth formation and/or excessive ingestion of fluoride are the common causes of intrinsic stains. Historically it was believed that intrinsic stains were too resistant to be corrected by teeth whitening procedures. However, today’s cosmetic dentistry professionals believe that even deep-set intrinsic stains can be removed with a supervised take-home teeth whitening system as long as it is maintained for at least a few months and possibly up to a year.
What Causes Tooth Staining?
The staining of teeth is caused by many factors, including:
Age: There is a direct correlation between tooth color and a person’s age. As a person ages, wear, tear and staining increases causing teeth to darken. The younger the person, the more dramatic the results from teeth cleaning efforts. Therefore, teenagers will likely experience immediate, dramatic results from a cosmetic dentists teeth whitening efforts. A little more attention is required for those in their twenties. At this age, teeth begin to show their age with a yellow cast, and may require more attention than just a regular teeth whitening system. By the time someone reaches their forties, yellowing teeth become a shade of brown and more intensive maintenance may be required to lift stains and discoloration. After a person reaches their fifties, teeth have absorbed a host of stubborn stains from years of use and abuse which can be difficult, although not impossible, to eliminate. The right San Antonio dentist can perform teeth whitening to remove stubborn, built-up stains from years of continual build up.
Starting color: We all come into this world equipped with an innate tooth color that ranges from yellow-brown to green-gray, and intensifies over time. Yellow-brown is generally more responsive to teeth whitening than green-gray.
Translucency and thinness: Some genetic traits will become more pronounced with age. While all teeth show some translucency, opaque and thick teeth will have an advantage. They appear lighter in color, show more sparkle and are more likely to respond to bleaching and teeth whitening. However, teeth that are thinner and more transparent have less of the pigment necessary for teeth whitening. Unfortunately, most of the time it involves the front teeth. According to cosmetic dentists, teeth whitening cannot correct the condition of transparency.
Eating habits: The consumption of red wine, coffee, tea, cola, carrots, oranges and other dark-colored beverages and foods causes considerable staining over the years. Additionally, enamel erosion is enhanced by acidic foods (for example, citrus fruits and vinegar). As the surface becomes more transparent, yellow-colored dentin becomes more apparent.
Smoking habits: Nicotine will create brown deposits which will gradually soak into the tooth structure and cause discoloration.
Drugs/chemicals: Tetracycline, a commonly used antibiotic, creates dark gray or brown ribbon stains during teeth formation. These stains are difficult to remove. Excessive use of fluoride causes fluorosis, the process of tooth discoloration at the surface. Fluorosis causes areas of white mottling, marked with blotches or spots.
Grinding: Stress is the leading cause of teeth grinding, creating small cracks in the teeth leading to darkened biting edges.
Trauma: Falls and other injuries can create sizable cracks in the teeth. Eventually large amounts of stains and debris can collect making it difficult for San Antonio teeth whitening and San Antonio cosmetic dentists to properly remove.
Options for Teeth Whitening
In-Office San Antonio Teeth Whitening
Quicker results for a significant color change is the key benefit of in-office San Antonio teeth whitening. The dentist or trained dental assistant carefully applies a a fairly high-concentration peroxide gel after protecting the gums with a painted-on rubber dam. Usually, the teeth are exposed to the peroxide for several intervals of 15 to 20 minutes each, up to one hour. Particularly stubborn or darker stains may require an additional teeth whitening session in the office or with a take-home teeth whitening system.
Take-Home Teeth Whitening Kits
According to many San Antonio dentists, professionally distributed take-home teeth whitening kits can produce the best long term results. Take-home kits are easy-to-use and utilize a lower-concentration peroxide gel that can stay on the teeth for an hour or longer, even overnight. The lower peroxide percentage makes it safe to use for longer periods of time. Custom made-to-fit teeth whitening trays, similar to mouth guards, are used to apply the gel to the teeth. Consult your San Antonio cosmetic dentist before starting a teeth whitening regimen.
How White Can You Go? A Matter of Aesthetics
Teeth whitening procedures produce vastly different results among individuals, from immediate satisfaction to disappointment over requiring additional work. It depends on the condition and color of the teeth and personal expectations. In order to assure your expectations are in line with reality, speak to your San Antonio cosmetic dentist.
Teeth Whitening Risks
As long as teeth whitening treatments are administered as directed by professionals, they are usually safe. However, as with all procedures, there are always risks involved. Some of the risks associated with teeth bleaching and teeth whitening include:
- Sensitivity: There may be a temporarily increased sensitivity to temperature, pressure, and touch. This is more likely to occur with the use of a higher-concentration of bleach during an in-office teeth whitening session. Some people may also experience spontaneous shooting pains down the middle of their front teeth.
Those with a recessed gum line are at a higher risk for this type of sensitivity. Additionally, faulty restorations can create significant tooth cracks or leakage.
Teeth whitening sensitivity usually doesn’t last longer than one or two days, although there have been cases where it persisted for up to one month. Some dentists recommend using a toothpaste containing potassium nitrate for sensitive teeth for a limited time following whitening procedures.
- Gum irritation: More than half of those using peroxide may experience gum irritation resulting from contact with the bleach concentration or teeth whitening trays. Gum irritation may continue for a few days, diminishing when the procedure ends or the peroxide concentration is decreased.
- Technicolor teeth: Bonding, dental crowns, porcelain veneers and other restorations are not affected by bleach and will keep their default color while the surrounding teeth are whitened. This result is frequently called “technicolor teeth.”
Maintaining Your Whiter Smile
To maintain newly whitened teeth, dentists usually recommend:
- Using at-home follow-up or maintenance whitening solutions. These may be implemented immediately or as infrequently as once a year.
- Avoid dark-colored foods and beverages for at least one week after the initial whitening.
- Sip dark-colored beverages through a straw whenever possible.
- Brush and floss after each meal and at bedtime. Maintain overall good dental hygiene.
A number of caveats should also be considered before undergoing teeth whitening:
- No amount of bleaching will yield unnaturally white teeth.
- It may take approximately two weeks after bleaching to see the results. If you are about to have ceramic restorations, keep this in mind to ensure the color matches your newly bleached teeth.
- To avoid the technicolor effect, tooth-colored restorations will likely need replacement after teeth whitening.
- Recessed gums often reveal their yellowish root surfaces at the gum line. That yellow color has proven difficult to bleach.
- Pregnant or nursing women should avoid teeth whitening procedures. The potential impact of swallowed bleach on the fetus or baby is unknown.
For more information about maintaining a bright white smile – see Teeth Whitening Tips or consider Invisalign. Our San Antonio dentist, Dr. John Moore DDS, can provide industry leading teeth whitening solutions. For more information, contact us.