Teeth Whitening: Facts vs Fiction

What is teeth whitening? You may have heard people talk about having their teeth whitened, but what does it entail? Do all people need it, or is it just cosmetic?

History of Teeth Whitening

Whitening your teeth, also known as bleaching them, is a method of altering the shade of your teeth to appear whiter. The practice of teeth whitening is an old one. A Frenchman by the name of Guy de Chauliac devised a method of brightening teeth in the 1300s.

He suggested, “Clean the teeth gently with a mixture of honey and burnt salt to which some vinegar has been added.” The acid in the vinegar breaks up tartar and changes the color of the teeth. Vinegar is still used today as a household cleaner, making porcelain and glass shine.

In 1877, oxalic acid became the prime whitening agent, and in 1884, peroxide set the bar. Today, dentists use hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide.

When To Get Teeth Whitened

For the average person, teeth whitening is not necessary. Contrary to popular belief, teeth are not naturally white. The dentin in teeth is actually an off-white to slightly yellowish shade. However, prolonged time without teeth cleaning damages teeth, turning them more yellow.

Many other factors contribute to discoloration of teeth. Certain medications, drinks, tobacco, and trauma alter the shade of teeth. While teeth whitening is a cosmetic procedure, patients note a huge boost in confidence when they take pride in their smile. So when should you whiten your teeth?

Teeth bleaching only works on the outermost layer of the teeth. As a result, internal staining, known as intrinsic stains, won’t be covered by the bleaching procedure.

  • Age
  • Trauma
  • Caries (cavities)
  • Fluorosis (excessive fluoride ingestion, causing mottled colors in teeth)
  • Hypoplasia (thin enamel)
  • Medication use

On the other hand, external, or extrinsic, stains clear up nicely with teeth bleaching. Some causes of extrinsic stains include:

  • Plaque, tartar (calculus)
  • Tobacco use
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Red wine

You must consult with your Houston dentist before attempting teeth whitening, as not all teeth benefit from the procedure.  Some circumstances prevent the use of bleaching.

Patients with sensitive teeth cannot get bleaching, as the acid sometimes causes hypersensitivity in teeth. Patients with receding gums cannot get the procedure either. The bleaching agents irritate the gums, especially when the tissue recedes. Houston dentists also advise that patients under 16 and pregnant patients not receive dental bleaching treatments.

Teeth Whitening Procedure

There are three ways to whiten your teeth: whitening toothpaste, in-office bleaching, and at-home bleaching.

Whitening Toothpaste

Mild stains clean up easily with a whitening toothpaste. These kinds of toothpaste do not contain bleaching agents, but rather an abrasive that scrapes away the particles that cause stains. They do not actually change the color of your teeth.

In-Office Bleaching

Your Houston dentist protects your gums with a gel or rubber shield before directly applying a bleaching agent. The procedure takes just one visit, though patients may visit again in the future for touch-ups.

At-Home Bleaching

Your dentist provides you with a bleaching agent and a form-fitting tray. Place the bleaching agent in the tray and apply it to your teeth. The peroxides used in at-home treatments do not have the same strength as those used at the dentist office. You can also buy over-the-counter whitening kits but check with your dentist first. Not all teeth respond to whitening yellow teeth respond well, but brown teeth do not. And grey teeth do not respond at all to the treatment.

Consequently, if you decide to go with an at-home over-the-counter kit, look for the ADA seal of acceptance to ensure safe and effective use.