Whiter Teeth! (Part 1)

“I don’t like the color of my teeth. There are lots of options for making teeth whiter.  What’s right for me?  How do I make sense of it all?”

Scientific studies have shown that American adults feel an attractive smile is an important social asset, makes a person more appealing to members of the opposite sex, and contributes to career success.  Many people feel that their smile is not as appealing as it should be.  Often they are self-conscious about the color of their teeth.  

Teeth can become discolored from drinking dark beverages (like coffee, tea, red wine), stained from using tobacco products, or just dimmed with the aging process.  Teeth whitening procedures offer one possibility for smile enhancement by reversing these effects.  

There are many options available for tooth whitening.  Unfortunately, advertising claims and misinformation have caused a lot of confusion about how to lighten teeth.  At Snow Dental Care, our patients frequently ask us what procedure is “best”. This is the first in a series of articles with some scientific facts and common sense to help our patients sort through possibilities in considering their alternatives.  

You may have heard phrases “tooth whitening” and “tooth bleaching” used interchangeably.  The FDA, however, makes a distinction between the two, and so should you.  

“Tooth whitening” describes any process for improving the color of a tooth removing surface dirt and debris. Products that cleans the surface of teeth (like a toothpaste, for example) would fall in this category.  

The term “tooth bleaching” is technically reserved for procedures that are intended to lighten teeth “beyond their natural color” using products that contain a bleaching agent—typically hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide.  

Since these products make teeth appear whiter, most patients refer to all applications as “tooth whitening”  rather than “bleaching”.  We certainly don’t want to add to the confusion, but we elected to list the bleaching procedures we offer under the title of “tooth whitening”—since our patients usually enter that phrase in the search field when exploring their options for a whiter smile.  

All dental peroxide formulations are designed to be applied directly to the surface of the teeth to achieve the whitening effect.  When it is placed on teeth, the peroxide chemical enters the surface of tooth enamel and breaks down the dark pigmented substances that have stained the teeth—without changing the tooth structure itself.  The process leaves teeth looking whiter.

In the next post, “Whiter Teeth! (Part 2)”, we will explain about different strategies for bleaching your teeth: in-office power bleaching, at-home dentist-supervised bleaching, and over-the-counter do-it-yourself bleaching.

Copyright © 2013  Stephen R. Snow, DDS