Tooth Whitening FAQ’s
All dental whiteners clean teeth with peroxide
Whether you purchase strips over the counter in a pharmacy, answer an ad on late-night TV or have treatment in your dentist’s office, all the whitening agents are based on a peroxide solution. The solution cleans teeth with a bubbling action that removes stains trapped in your teeth’s enamel. Whitener types differ by strength of the peroxide solution and by delivery method.
Your dentist can help you choose the appropriate whitener
Inexpensive over-the-counter products, such as whitening strips, have about a 4 percent peroxide solution and can whiten teeth by two or three shades. In the tray-and-gel solution, the dentist prepares a mouthpiece filled with gel for the patient to wear a few hours every night for about two weeks. This method has between 10 percent and 15 percent peroxide, and can get teeth whiter by about eight shades. Powerful whitening systems administered in the dentist’s office have a concentrated peroxide solution of about 35 percent. Over the course of a single hour-and-a-half treatment, teeth can be whitened by 12 to 14 shades.
Someone who has quit smoking after 20 years and wants to whiten his teeth may need a more powerful solution than a young person with good dental hygiene who just wants her teeth a little brighter for a special occasion.
Whiteners do not wear down your enamel, nor do they actually color or bleach your teeth
Tooth enamel is a crystal, like a diamond with many facets. Over time, stains collect between the facets and discolor the teeth. The peroxide cleans out the stains; it’s not an acid that disintegrates the enamel. You can get as many treatments as you like (though beware of the blinding-smile effect, as described next).
Excessive treatment leads to an unnatural appearance
Don’t go overboard with whitening. Your dentist can help determine what level and type of treatment is appropriate for you. The color resulting from too many treatments is unnatural. Let your pearly whites be pearly white, not Clorox white. When they say your teeth should have a healthy glow, they don’t mean glow in the dark.
Teeth become discolored not only from smoking but from what you eat and drink
Coffee and tea are among the most common causes of tooth discoloration. The rule of thumb is that anything that ruins your tablecloth can stain your teeth: Think tomato sauce, blueberry pie, red wine.
If your teeth are discolored from the inside out, whitening may not be effective. Tetracycline is one culprit in discoloration. The antibiotic is often administered in children to fight ear infections, but repeated use can eventually change the shade of your teeth.
Patients with periodontal disease may be disappointed by the results of whitening
Gum disease or periodontal disease can cause gums to recede, exposing the root surface and making the tooth look longer. The root surface does not whiten. Whitener will leave the tooth two-toned: It cleans the lower portion, but the area along the gum line remains dark.
Whitening products are generally safe
The few known side effects include gum irritation, which is usually a result of an ill-fitting mold in the tray-and-gel solution, and cold sensitivity, which primarily affects people with gum disease. Occasionally, patients have cited allergic reactions to the peroxide agent or the preservatives in over-the-counter whiteners.
As with any oral treatment you’re considering, consult your dentist. She may tell you that you just need to brush more anyway.