The Truth About Teeth Whitening

If you are self-conscious about the color of your smile, teeth whitening can make you appear whiter and more vibrant. This cosmetic treatment uses a bleaching agent to reduce or remove surface stains, such as coffee, tea, red wine and soda, from the tooth enamel. A brighter smile can boost your confidence and improve your appearance. However, teeth whitening is not permanent and you will need to periodically touch up your teeth with over-the-counter or in-office whitening products.

The most effective way to whiten your teeth is to visit a dental professional and have a professional in-office whitening done. The dental professional will evaluate whether you are a good candidate for the treatment and supervise it if you are. This procedure involves placing a protective barrier over your gum tissues and then applying the whitening product, which is usually a peroxide chemical such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. The chemical breaks down the chromogens which cause the staining and lightens the tooth color.

Some whitening products have detergents and/or abrasives to help physically remove chromogens from the tooth surfaces; others have bleaches to directly react with the chromogens and lighten the stains. Most whitening products target extrinsic stains  those caused by food, beverages and smoking  and some have a combined approach to treat both extrinsic and intrinsic stains.

Most whitening treatments have some side effects, which are often minor and resolve with time. The most common side effect is sensitivity in the teeth, which can be relieved by using toothpaste that contains fluoride or by seeing your dentist for a desensitizing gel. Some people may also experience nausea, headache or irritation to the gums.

There is some evidence that whitening may temporarily weaken the enamel of the tooth, resulting in surface demineralization and a reduction in the crystallinity of the enamel. This is often relieved by reducing the application of the whitening product or using a lower concentration. However, this effect usually only lasts for a few hours after the whitening has been completed.

A new type of whitening treatment is called cold-light whitening, which claims to lighten the teeth without damaging the enamel and with little or no side effects. The American Dental Association has not endorsed this system because of concerns that the cold-light can dehydrate the enamel and expose the dentin, which is more sensitive to acidic foods and beverages.

While it is important to be aware of the side effects, it is still a popular and safe option for enhancing your smile. You will want to avoid consuming any foods or beverages that will stain the teeth for several days following the whitening treatment. A whitening treatment will last longer if you follow the directions on the product and see your dentist for regular touch-ups.