Maybe you’ve always wanted dazzling white teeth. Or maybe your teeth have yellowed as you’ve aged. Or perhaps you’re not happy with stubborn teeth stains as a result of drinking coffee, tea, wine or cola. Or maybe you recognize that whiter teeth make you look younger and healthier. Whatever your reason for wanting whiter teeth, you’re not alone.
Just like we all have different hair and skin color, people also have different tooth color. Some teeth are more yellow than others, while others yellow with aging. Your natural tooth color can also be affected by many factors.
Surface stains and internal discoloration can be caused by:
- Using tobacco (smoked or chewed)
- Drinking coffee, tea, colas or red wine
- Eating pigmented foods such as cherries and blueberries
- Accumulation of plaque and tartar deposits
- Ingesting too much fluoride when teeth are forming
- Treatment with the antibiotic tetracycline during childhood
There are several options available over the counter or professionally whitening techniques from your dentist.
The over-the-counter products all have essentially the same whitening ingredient – the bleaching agent peroxide. If you go to your dentist for a professional tooth whitening, we’ll use a more concentrated peroxide product.
With the in-office procedure, you get a lot of whitening very quickly, but it requires expertise. With such a high-powered bleaching agent, the gums must be protected.
The over-the-counter products are weaker. That means less active whitening but also less risk to the gums, should the whitening agent come in contact. All of the products are safe if used as directed. Still, they can increase sensitivity of teeth and they can irritate gum tissue. If you decide to use these do it yourself whitening products, see your dentist if anything doesn’t feel right.
Tooth whitening is best done in a “healthy mouth condition,” Dr. Phillips says. “Have a thorough exam, make sure your teeth are clean and that plaque and tartar have been removed.” Also, be aware that tooth whitening doesn’t work on crowns or most fillings.
Professional whitening, which will be immediate and last for years, might cost more and is not generally covered by dental insurance, but is more effective. Products to use at home usually require multiple applications over a week or two, will have a gradual and lesser whitening effect, and will not last as long.
A quick bit of tooth anatomy: Enamel is the thin hard outer layer of the tooth; dentin is the next layer in and is less dense than enamel. In the middle is the pulp, which is the soft tissue that holds the nerve center.
“Enamel is what you’re bleaching,” Dr. Phillips says. “It’s really thin near the gum line. If you have receding gums, it exposes your root tissues.” Dentists try to avoid applying the concentrated product on or near the dentin.
Dentin comes into play for aesthetics as well, because it’s got a naturally yellowish hue. As people age, their enamel can become thinner, a result of decades of wear and tear. The thinner the enamel, the more likely the yellowish dentin shows through. That’s why older people often have yellowed teeth. Bleaching products won’t help in this situation because they don’t affect the dentin.
There are a few other discolorations that whitening procedures cannot change. If you took tetracycline as a kid, say for an ear infection, you might have antibiotic staining of the teeth. Or if your teeth suffered trauma when you were young and your enamel was still forming, whitening won’t work. Dentists refer to these discolorations as intrinsic stains.
There are things you can do to help prevent your teeth from becoming stained. Avoid substances like red wine, coffee and tobacco. Other foods on the staining list are tea, tomato sauce and balsamic vinegar. If the thought of avoiding any of those makes you want to cry, Dr. Phillips advises rinsing with water after eating. Brushing your teeth is even better.
And, of course, Dr. Phillips advises good oral hygiene: regular brushing, flossing and checkups.
If you are interested in teeth whitening services, call Brit Phillips DDS Fort Worth at 817-361-1999.