Today many people are interested in whitening their teeth. And why not? The advertisers would have us believe that the solution is right at our fingertips, and for very little cost. Do those whitening products we see in stores really work? Bleaching of the teeth is much like bleaching of any other material. It is the use of peroxide at an ideal concentration for a set amount of time in intimate contact with the tooth. There are many strengths and means of delivery, but basically the peroxide penetrates the enamel and breaks down pigmented particles that are usually the result of aging and environment (our teeth yellow as we get older due to diet, habits, etc). Natural pigment that a person is born with can be broken down and bleached as well.
What is the best way to bleach? Any bleaching material that is painted on and left to do its job is not effective. Saliva breaks it down and it doesn’t have enough time to work. Whitening toothpastes can sometimes work if used often enough, but it is a very slow process and the change is not dramatic. Also, these toothpastes often cause sensitivity before any real color change is noticeable. A lot of people try Crest Whitestrips. These can work if a person has straight teeth and uses them religiously. The problem is that the bleach concentration is very low, therefore one has to increase the time and frequency of bleaching. It will take several boxes to bleach the teeth to an appreciable difference. Any teeth that are not in alignment will not get the effect of the bleach.
The best way to whiten teeth is to have a tray custom made to the teeth so the material intimately contacts each tooth. Then the bleaching material should be of a concentration that is not available over-the-counter for effective bleaching. Most dental offices offer this service to their patients, but many don’t advertise it. If you are curious, ask your dentist if he or she offers tooth whitening. A person can have a noticeable difference of two shades or so in just two weeks of professional whitening.
If you want quick results some offices offer Zoom whitening (or similar). This is a gel that is painted on and is activated with a UV light.
A word of caution about bleaching: some people can develop sensitivity due to the whitening process. It is not irreversible however. If sensitivity develops, just stop bleaching until it subsides and resume at a slower pace. People with staining of the teeth due to medicines such as Tetracycline don’t usually respond well to whitening. These people may consider porcelain veneers to cover the stain. Pregnant and lactating women should not bleach, as studies have not been done about the effects of the material on this population. And lastly, any cosmetic dental work a person has had (white fillings, crowns, bonding, and veneers) will not change color with the bleaching process. Those restorations should be replaced if the teeth are bleached to a different color. If you are considering any cosmetic work, bleach beforehand.
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