Smile Whitening Secrets

Tooth whitening is a very popular cosmetic dental process today. An estimated 10 million Americans spend over $1.5 billion dollars each year on tooth-whitening products. And it’s not surprising why. Whiter teeth can give you more confidence, more sex appeal, more “Hollywood glam” – heck, it can even translate into a better career and take years off your face.

A healthy, white smile can add a great boost to your self-esteem while providing extra benefits to overall health.

Plus, removing unsightly coffee, wine and soda stains from your teeth is so easy, there’s really no reason not too – unless you’re a glutton for punishment.

People Have Been Whitening Their Teeth Since the 1800s!

You may be surprised to learn that tooth-whitening techniques have been around for over 150 years. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), oxalic acid (the compound in spinach that might make you feel like you have a film on your teeth after you eat it) was used as a tooth-whitening agent back in 1877, and in 1884, tooth bleaching was performed using hydrogen peroxide. It was 1918 when dental professionals began using a high-intensity light source to speed up the bleaching process itself, and the very first bleaching tray for consumers was introduced in the 1960s.

The dental profession did not see a widespread interest in bleaching techniques until the late 1980s, when a publication in the Haywood-Haymann paper titled “Night-Guard Vital Bleaching” introduced readers to the use of carbamide peroxide as an active bleaching ingredient. Not long afterward, home bleaching kits became all the rage, and they are still very popular to this day.

From that point, the cosmetic dentistry field blossomed and by the mid-1990s, people could easily obtain commercial bleaching products from their local stores. The dental hygiene market is expected to reach over $2 billion by 2017, fueled in large part by teeth whitening products.

Today people want to see their teeth whiter and their smiles brighter. Fortunately, the process has never been simpler …

How Whitening Works

Your teeth get discolored for many different reasons. Surface stains can be the result of aging, taking certain medications (antihistamines, high blood pressure medications, tetracycline, etc.), eating foods that can stain enamel, drinking dark-colored beverages or smoking tobacco products. Intrinsic stains are caused by internal situations such as tooth development, fluoride in drinking water or taking medications containing tetracycline.

The process of whitening teeth allows the carbamide peroxide to act as an oxidizing agent. The peroxide makes its way into the pores of the enamel and dentin, producing a chemical reaction with the discolored particles within your tooth structure. The result of this chemical action is a lighter color of your tooth surface itself.

Several factors can affect the speed of the whitening process. The cleanliness of the tooth surface is an important factor to start. Due to the need of direct contact between the whitening agent and your tooth surface, all of the debris and surface film must be removed from teeth prior to whitening. Failure to clean properly will prevent the whitening agent from obtaining contact with the tooth surface and hinder whitening – so conducting whitening immediately after receiving a professional dental cleaning may be ideal.

Another factor affecting whitening is the concentration of peroxide contained in the whitening agent. The higher the peroxide concentration, the more rapid the whitening effect will be. However, a higher concentration of peroxide will likely result in more tooth sensitivity post-whitening, which must be taken into account.

Finally, the speed of whitening is affected by how long the whitening agent is allowed to remain in direct contact with your teeth. Naturally, the longer that the peroxide is allowed to remain on the tooth surface, the more whitening is achieved. As with the high peroxide concentration, allowing long periods of contact between the peroxide and tooth surface can also cause increased sensitivity, so talk with your dentist about what the ideal concentration and time of exposure will be.

3 Main Methods of Whitening

Many different techniques and products are now available for consumers who are looking to whiten and brighten their smiles.

There are now many different methods available for tooth whitening. These include tray bleaching, dental office treatment and application, whitening strips, paint-on gels, whitening toothpaste and mouthwash. While the directions and procedures of each are unique to the product, they all rely on the placement of a peroxide solution on the tooth surface for a period of time. So with the advancements in cosmetic dentistry and the tooth whitening process, what products are available today?

1. Toothpaste and Mouthwash Whitening Products

Whitening toothpaste and mouthwash have each become extremely popular products. They are sold over-the-counter and are economical options for people looking to obtain a slightly whiter smile, but they probably won’t produce a drastically whiter result. Unlike the bleaching formula found in professional whitening products, toothpaste and mouthwash formulas are not able to change the actual shade of your tooth color. Instead, these products simply remove surface stains. Whitening toothpastes usually contain mild abrasives, which scrub the tooth surface during the brushing process, removing surface stains. Many products also include ingredients like sodium tripolyphosphate – a suspected neurotoxin — to help dissolve surface stains.

Whitening mouthwashes generally utilize these types of ingredients as well, but are unable to deliver a high concentration of whitening agent since the mouthwash is exposed to all the delicate tissues of the mouth, making their true whitening value questionable.

2. At-Home Whitening Products

There are dozens of at-home options for whitening that fit every budget, but there are some pros and cons to be aware of. Some of these whitening products are pre-mixed and ready to use out of the box; others require some mixing before use. Some universal advantages of at-home whitening products are:

  • Ability to maintain long-term results: Dental professionals agree that at-home whitening products are a good way to maintain results of bleaching.
  • Variety of products: You can choose from bleaching trays, bleaching strips, and paint-on gels, depending on your preferences.
  • Convenience of use: At-home whitening can be done any time of day, for any length of time. You can whiten your teeth whenever you choose, and even take them with you when traveling.
  • Cost efficient: Over-the-counter whitening products have a cost range from $4 to $100. Dentist-dispensed products generally start at $100 and can go up to a cost of $500 and more. This is in stark contrast to professional in-office whitening products, which can cost an average of over $500 per session.

There are some downsides to at-home whitening, and it is a buyer beware market. For instance, some over-the-counter options may contain dangerously high levels of bleach, according to the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Some home tooth-whitening kits have been found to contain twice the government limit of bleaching agents, at amounts that could burn your mouth or cause your gums to blister. Some even contain acids that can erode your teeth leading to more stains than you had to begin with!

Another risk is poorly fitting trays, which may allow bleaching chemicals to leak into your mouth, increasing tooth sensitivity. This is also the case with stick-on whitening strips, as saliva that finds its way beneath the strips allows the chemicals to leak, and dilutes the potency of whitening gel.

3. In-Office Teeth Whitening

Whitening done in a dental office is the preferred method due to the improved results and the protection a professional treatment offers. Professional products also offer built-in buffer gels that protect enamel from damage and decrease sensitivity.

Plus, whitening in a dental office can transform tooth color in one single treatment, lightening up to 10 shades within one hour! Treatment is generally done for only the front eight teeth and you’ll often be provided with a take-home whitening kit to sustain the results. In-office whitening can last more years, depending on home care maintenance and follow-up dental appointments.

The most common complication of in-office whitening is tooth sensitivity, but this can be managed best by in-office treatments. For some of the top in-office whitening products please ask at your next dental appointment.

Protecting Your Whitening Investment With Proper Oral Health Habits

No matter which method of whitening is used, the amount of whitening agent needed can be reduced by staying away from substances known for staining enamel in the first place. To prevent future stains and avoid losing your bright smile, avoid using tobacco products and highly staining beverages like coffee, dark tea or soda as much as possible. When you do drink them, using a straw may help to keep the fluids off of your teeth.

It is also important to practice good oral hygiene habits and visit a dental professional two times a year to maintain a top-notch smile that stays whiter and healthier for years to come.


Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry

Inside Dentistry, Volume 7, Issue 3

SDI: Tooth Whitening

Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry

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