Whitening 101

Sure, we all want bright, shining smiles. But before you go off on a whitening adventure, there are a few things you need to know.

Lady covering her mouth while holding a cup of coffee

There are two types of stains—Extrinsic and Intrinsic.

Extrinsic stains are on the outer surface of your teeth. These are the kinds of stains most people think of when they think of discolored teeth. They can be caused by behaviors like tobacco use, eating highly pigmented foods, or drinking things like red wine, coffee, tea, or pop. But they’re pretty easily treated. You can use mechanical interventions such as brushing with a whitening toothpaste, or visiting your dentist for an in-office dental cleaning.

Intrinsic stains are below the enamel, inside your tooth. Caused by aging, long-term antibiotic use, or certain medical conditions, these stains are often less controllable than extrinsic stains. But they can still be treated through bleaching.

There are always risks to whitening.

A lot of people whiten their teeth, but that doesn’t mean it’s risk-free. According to long-term clinical data, bleaching is best performed under professional supervision following a pre-treatment dental exam. This would include both in and out-of-office treatments. But even bleaching through your dentist has risks:

Lady holding her cheek in pain

Sensitivity has been associated with all forms of bleaching, possibly due to inflammation of the pulp as a result of peroxide exposure. With whitening strips or tray-based treatments, sensitivity may develop within two to three days of the start of the program but will usually resolve itself by the fourth day post-treatment.

Gingival irritation, or gum irritation, can be severe enough to prevent the continuation of treatment. It’s often a result of contact with peroxide-based gels when whitening strips or any other gel-based product is used.

Fillings are often not particularly fond of whitening. Some bleaching materials can affect filling materials, and result in mismatched coloring of your teeth. As with other types of bleaching, having your dentist involved or at least monitoring your bleaching process will help manage any adverse effects.

black colored toothpaste on a toothbrush

Beware of “Natural” Bleaching Remedies.

You know all those at-home “natural” remedies touted on blogs and DIY beauty sites? Not only are many of these methods involving common household goods unproven, but many may actually cause MORE damage by destroying tooth enamel. They can even cause further discoloration by exposing inner dentin which appears yellow. The ADA recommends avoiding these kinds of methods including:

  • Deactivated charcoal pastes haven’t been proven to be either effective or even safe for your teeth.
  • Oil pulling and turmeric pastes, much like charcoal, have no scientific evidence proving they are effective.

Natural acids (including lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, etc.) combined with baking soda is possibly the worst. Why? The baking soda exposes your teeth to the natural acid, which causes an attack on your tooth enamel. This method actually wears away and strips your enamel, leaving your teeth vulnerable to cavities and other issues.

Safe whitening options are out there.

When it comes to whitening or bleaching your smile, not all treatments are created equal. In fact, only four methods have been approved by the American Dental Association.

whitening trays

In-office bleaching,  also known as chairside bleaching, consists of 1-6 visits to your dentist. The dentist will apply either a protective gel or a rubber shield to protect your gums. The bleach (in the form of peroxide gel) will then be applied to your teeth. Sometimes it is used with a light to accelerate and enhance the bleaching process. This is frequently considered the fastest and most effective whitening method.

Out-of-office bleaching has a lot of the same power as in-office bleaching, but in the comfort of your own home. It involves putting a whitening gel into customized trays (made by your dentist) that fit comfortably and minimize contact of the gel with the gums. Treatment times are based primarily on the concentration of the bleach used. It could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to get the desired results.

Stain removal toothpastes may be the easiest form of whitening since you can simply add one to your daily brushing routine. This method relies primarily on abrasives to remove stains, but may also include low levels of polishing agents that are safe for your teeth. Unlike bleaches, whitening toothpastes do not change the color of teeth—they only remove stains on the surface. Before buying, always look for products that have earned the ADA Seal of Acceptance for stain removal.

Over-the-counter (OTC) bleaching products, including whitening strips or kits, have the same bleaching agents your dentist would use in the office—just at a lower level. If you’re considering this route, it’s still important to discuss with your dentist which specific products would be best for your situation. Like toothpaste, always be sure to buy OTC bleaching products that have the ADA Seal of Acceptance on the packaging.

dental trays

Consulting your dentist is a must.

We can’t emphasize this one enough. Your dentist can:

  • Determine the cause of discoloration. Some discoloration is an indication of an underlying abnormality that can be made worse by whitening.
  • Help you decide on the best whitening option for your teeth based on your lifestyle,financial considerations, and general oral health.
  • Prevent you from putting yourself and your smile at risk.

Want to learn more about whitening? Visit your MDA dentist or find one at www.smilemichigan.com.