Have you ever watched an older TV show or movie and noticed how yellow the actors’ teeth are? With all the whitening products on the market these days, we’ve turned into a nation obsessed with the perfect smile. But, should we be concerned about all these whitening products? Do they really work?
To help answer these burning questions, I spoke with Dr. Chad Park, DDS of South Texas Dental who helped answer these and more!
1. Why do our teeth get yellow?
As we age, tiny micro fractures develop on the coating (enamel) of our teeth. Dark foods like coffee, tea, and wine seep through those fractures and stain our teeth. I suppose we could just stop eating and drinking certain foods, but they’re just too tasty to pass up.
2. What whitening options are available and what’s the cost?
According to the ADA, "’Whitening’ is any process that will make teeth appear whiter. This can be achieved in two ways. A product can bleach the tooth, which means that it actually changes the natural tooth color. Bleaching products contain peroxide(s) that help remove deep (intrinsic) and surface (extrinsic) stains. By contrast, non-bleaching whitening products contain agents that work by physical or chemical action to help remove surface stains only.”
For non-bleaching whitening, you can opt for over-the-counter solutions like Crest White Strips or Aquafresh White Trays. These don’t contain a bleaching agent to alter the color of your teeth, but they do have abrasion or scrubbing materials to help with the superficial extrinsic stains. You won’t see a drastic difference overnight, but whitening will happen over time. This option is less expensive than bleaching - typically under $50.
Bleaching gets at deep down staining. For that, you’d visit a dentist’s office where you could be offered 2 options…
a) The dentist takes a mold of your teeth and gums in order to get a custom tray that fits perfectly in your mouth. Then you receive a high-intensity substance (gel-like) called carbamide peroxide. It’s basically a take-home bleaching kit. You leave the trays in your mouth for 4 hours or so – some people leave them in overnight. If you’re a long sleeper, don’t worry! As Dr. Park says, “Because this is a take-home solution, the bleaching agent is less intense and becomes inactive after about 4 hours.” So, you can get your 8 hours of sleep and trust that your teeth will still be there in the morning – and they won’t be glowing. Again, with this option, you won’t see a drastic difference overnight, but it will happen over a few days. This option can be a few hundred dollars.
b) For a more immediate pearly white smile, you can opt for an in-office solution with hydrogen peroxide. In this case, the dentist inserts an apparatus in your mouth to isolate your teeth. Then, they paint your gums with a solution that hardens to stop the bleaching agent from getting on your gums and insides of cheeks. You’ll sit there with the bleaching agent on your teeth for 15-20 minutes. Depending on the level of staining and the whiteness you want, you might do a few treatments during your visit. Basically, within an hour or so, you’ll walk out with a whiter brighter smile. This can be repeated yearly or however often you need to keep up the level of whiteness you desire, and the cost is $600+.
3. How does bleaching work?
Your enamel is protecting your teeth, but it’s porous and permeable with microscopic cracks. The peroxide in bleaching agents permeates the same cracks that allow staining food to seep in. Instead of creating stains, the oxygen in the peroxide cleans the stains that get into those nooks and crannies. No matter how much you brush, you won’t get at these stains, but bleaching can.
4. Does it work for everyone?
Just about everyone can benefit from whitening and bleaching, but there are a few exceptions.
Some people might have active decay, gum disease or cracked tooth, so they could experience more pain. It’s not that you can’t do it, but it would be better in the office. Your dentist will want to do a quick consult to ensure all is fine in your mouth before moving ahead with treatment.
For people who’ve experienced teeth staining due to tetracycline, it’s very difficult to whiten because of the internal staining of the enamel. Some people have Fluorosis from ingesting too much fluoride (possibly from drinking well water over time), which causes teeth to be stained gray.
Dr. Park also cautions, “Don’t be misled by Hollywood. Many celebrities have veneers – especially older actors. The face may be 60 years old, but the teeth are only 20 years old.” In other words, your teeth will be whiter, but they may not look like the perfect celeb smile!
Finally, bleaching isn’t a good idea for kids under 14. The inside of the tooth is a hollow chamber where the nerves are held. When we’re young, that chamber is large and there is more sensitivity to pain - as we age, that chamber gets smaller. The bleaching agents used in whitening can be painful for kids.
5. Anything I should watch out for?
Be careful if you have veneers or crowns on your front teeth! Bleaching and whitening products only work on real teeth, so you could end up with a mismatched smile.
Laser bleaching was a big fad and the companies claimed the lamps accelerated or activated the whitening process. However, most studies have reported no additional long-term benefit with light-activated systems, so it’s best to steer clear of that option!
Some people are more sensitive to the bleaching agents and experience some minor pain. To help, you can brush with pure fluoride prior to treatment or use ibuprofen.
On a cosmetic note, be sure to consider your hair color and skin tone to ensure you get the right tooth color. People don’t notice the actual color of your teeth, but we do notice the contrast with your hair and skin color. As a result, fair-skinned people might have to go lighter on their tooth color, while darker-skinned people don’t need as much whitening.
Finally, while the dental visit can be a bit pricey, there are ways to save. Consider a dental savings program (like freshbenies). For a few dollars a month, your family can save on everything from whitening and braces to exams, fillings and root canals.
6. Will whitening or bleaching damage my teeth?
The short answer is “NO.” Whitening and bleaching do not damage teeth. However, no matter what your situation, always check with a reputable dentist to see how they can help.
Now it’s your turn! Have you had an office visit to whiten your teeth? How did it go? Any tips you’d give? Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!