After the long dark winter, it is rejuvenating to see the brightness of Spring days. We naturally feel renewed energy and new zest for life in the light of the warming sun as we gravitate toward healthier lifestyle and more youthful appearance that it brings, right down to our smile. After all, it is our smile that is the first thing people see. It is no wonder that we like to take care of it and even improve it.
Tooth whitening is the most popular elective dental procedure and the art of whitening dates back centuries. Today, there is a plethora of whitening products on the market warranting a summary. Teeth can be discolored by extrinsic factors, such as foods, drinks and smoking. Calculus or tartar, plaque and old restorations also influence the coloration of teeth. Then there is dental decay and the natural shades of the tooth to consider, the intrinsic factors. When considering whitening, it is imperative to have the teeth examined and professionally cleaned as the first step. This allows for the removal of all extrinsic factors as well as an evaluation of the appropriateness of tooth whitening. Not only does this help determine if whitening or other treatment is necessary. Also, if whitening is to be used, removing all the extrinsic factors first allows for the product to penetrate the natural tooth structure and to be effective. Whitening toothpastes are mainly designed to remove extrinsic stains. They contain abrasives (usually containing alumina, dicalcium phosphate dehydrate, calcium carbonate or silica), intended to remove tougher surface stains from the tooth surface. Excessive or long term use of abrasive toothpastes may cause abrasion of enamel and thinning the enamel layer. Whitening strips are small pieces of a flexible plastic which are coated with a whitening gel that contains hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. The strips are pressed against the front of the teeth. The strips only cover the front of the teeth and not the sides or back and may result in an uneven shading. Also, if some of the gel gets in contact with the gum, resulting damage may occur. Ideally, the strips should be trimmed to avoid prolonged contact with the soft tissues. Professional tooth whitening systems dispensed by the dentist all work the same. The procedure can be done in-office or at home with a take-home kit. All professional whitening products are based on hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which bleaches the tooth enamel to change its color. This is a proven effective method of tooth whitening and will permanently change the color of the teeth. It works best on teeth with yellow shade and is less effective for gray-shaded teeth. Close monitoring of the process by a professional team is recommended. Hopefully this summary answers some misconceptions about tooth whitening and helps in making informed choices.