Teeth whitening has become a hit with Gen-Xers, Baby Boomers, and teens. It can draw attention to your smile, make you feel better about yourself, and even give you a more youthful appearance. If you are skeptical about whitening treatments or have tried and been disappointed with over-the-counter products, this information may be helpful to you if you’d still like to have whiter teeth.
Why Can’t I Get My Teeth White?
For starters, not everyone’s teeth were the same shade at birth. This is important to know if you’re comparing your results to someone else’s results. You probably also know that foods we eat, things we drink, or smoking can cause our teeth to darken over time. But other factors – illness, medications, the environment – can also cause discoloration. If your mother used certain types of antibiotics during pregnancy or while nursing, your teeth might have become discolored as a result. If children take certain antibiotics – such as ones in the tetracycline family – during the time permanent teeth are developing, a similar discoloration can occur.
What At-Home Teeth-Whitening Options Exist?
At-home options include over-the-counter products as well as products that can be dispensed by your dentist. One of the simplest and easiest teeth-whitening approaches can be to try whitening toothpastes. However, while they have special chemical or polishing agents that help to remove stains from tooth enamel, they aren’t going to change the natural color of your teeth. Be sure to look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance in making your toothpaste selection. The ADA website provides a lookup tool that can help you identify approved products for whitening. Many people are not satisfied with the results they achieve with whitening toothpaste and want still whiter teeth.
Other at-home methods use bleaching solutions that are peroxide-based compounds of varying strengths. The bleaching agent either comes on strips that you apply to your teeth or is applied using trays that fit over your teeth. Going to a dentist for an at-home whitening treatment program allows the dentist to provide a custom-fitted mouthguard/tray that fits your mouth and teeth better. At-home teeth-whitening products are generally used for intervals of 1-2 weeks – sometimes once or twice a day, sometimes overnight. Some people experience tooth sensitivity or irritation of oral tissue (especially gums) when using these products. A properly fitted tray/mouthguard from a dentist can diminish the likelihood of oral tissue irritation.
The Academy of General Dentistry offers some informative pointers with respect to the use of bleaching agents at home on their website. One of the most important is to not use whitening products if you have decay, periodontal disease, or hypersensitivity. A regular dental exam can help you determine that. Proper use of these products is important. Some people leave the teeth-whitening agents on the teeth too long and find that their teeth have a white, but very unnatural look. Others use the over-the-counter products and are unsatisfied with the degree of whitening, or that only the front teeth are being whitened.
What About In-Office Whitening Treatments?
Two fundamental reasons that many people choose in-office teeth whitening are 1) whiter teeth and 2) faster results. Dentists can use bleaching solutions that are stronger than safe, at-home options. Just as the outcomes of teeth-whitening solutions for home use can be influenced by the user’s diligence in following directions, outcomes of in-office whitening can be affected by the dentist delivering the treatment. No matter how skilled and attentive the dentist is, there are times when tooth whitening alone won’t provide the results you’re hoping for. For some teeth, veneers or cosmetic dentistry approaches need to be used in conjunction with whitening. In fact, whitening surrounding teeth can actually call attention to problematic teeth – another reason to consult your dentist before you decide on in-home, over-the-counter teeth whitening systems.
Choosing a dentist based on the teeth-whitening products he or she uses is not the wisest approach. Many dentists offer more than one product and approach to teeth whitening. The best dental care providers will carefully devise a teeth-whitening plan that takes into account your overall dental health, your timeline, and the realities of how your personal habits can affect both short-term and long-term results.
In selecting a dentist, you should be aware that some dentists are simply more careful about what they do. This extra care can mean fewer short-term and long-term oral health issues. Applying products with care can result in a reduced likelihood of gum irritation and tooth sensitivity in the short term. However, some patients are simply more sensitive than others. With respect to long-term oral health, there are certain products that should be used very cautiously. An example is Ultraviolet (UV) light, which can be used to activate, speed up, or enhance the bleaching process. For decades, we’ve been aware of UV light and its short-term and long-term effects on skin health. In spite of that, some dentists liberally apply UV light to both teeth and gum areas during teeth-whitening treatments. Can you imagine what would happen if you held down your lower lip to expose your gums to the summer sunshine for a couple of hours? Think of the tissue damage and long-term cancer risks – especially since your gums have no sunscreen applied. UV light can be used effectively and safely. However, UV use for whitening should include procedures and equipment that protect gum tissue and direct the light only on appropriate areas.