Dental Tips and Advice

Teeth Whitening

September 23, 2009

As the summer passes in Wilmington, NC our sun-drenched faces will begin to lighten. Unfortunately, our teeth don’t. In fact, over time our teeth seem to just get darker and darker. Coffee, tea, tobacco, and the natural effects of aging on teeth all combine to gradually darken our smiles.

What can we do to whiten our smiles?

There are many products that are intended to reverse this effect. Store-bought varieties range from a White Out-like paste to something akin to bleach-laden band-aids. To help decipher the myriad options one must understand that there are two basic types of tooth stain – extrinsic and intrinsic.

An extrinsic stain is a surface stain. This type of stain is generally removed by the hygienist during a regular cleaning appointment. Extrinsic stains are also the target of popular whitening toothpaste on the market. While these products do have the American Dental Association seal of approval, they are generally approved for the “removal of surface stains” only (one must always read the fine print carefully). Unfortunately, this sort of over-the-counter whitening toothpaste has very little effect on the internally darkened portion of the tooth.

An intrinsic stain is a stain within the tooth. This is the type of stain that responds well to bleaching. If this is the first you’ve read about bleaching your teeth, it may sound harsh. It is actually quite a simple and generally harmless process involving peroxide – not household bleach – as the active ingredient. Peroxide enriched gels prescribed by your dentist can be applied directly to the tooth to remove both superficial (extrinsic) and deep (intrinsic) stains.

Can anyone whiten his or her teeth?

The simple answer is no, But this may be the wrong question. The more important questions, however, are whether to bleach at all and how to do it. First, ask your dentist if you are a candidate for bleaching. There are many things to consider: crowns, veneers, and fillings do not lighten with bleach; any two healthy teeth can respond differently, and naturally occurring white spots and ridges may become more noticeable.

Without the proper professional guidance from a dentist, you may risk any of these possible consequences. Your dentist can measure the current shade of your teeth and develop a personally tailored program for your smile only.

The ADA seal of approval of a particular bleaching method and product is also important when considering a potentially permanent treatment involving something as important as your smile. This approval is only given to those materials shown to be effective and, more importantly, safe in a series of clinical trials.

The first step is a thorough dental exam to help find a plan to help brighten your smile!