Whitening procedures have effectively brightened the smiles of millions of people with stained, dull, or discolored teeth. When used as directed at home or when administered by a trained professional in a dental office, whitening is a safe procedure that will not pose harm to your teeth.
The Science Behind Teeth Whitening
Teeth are covered in enamel, a white, marble-like tissue. It is the hardest material in the human body, and comprised of mostly hydroxyapatite mineral (96% crystalline calcium phosphate), some organic proteins (amelogenins and enamelins) and water . Below the enamel is a softer tissue called dentin. If enamel is like marble, dentin is like wood. It is also mineralized, but only about 70% as opped to enamel's 96%. Dentin has more organic protein and water content than enamel.
Dentin Shade & Staining
Due to this increased amount of protein, dentin it is a darker tissue than enamel, and ranges in color from light yellow to medium brown. Since enamel is translucent, the color of the underlying dentin affects the overall shade of an individual's teeth. This is one of the most influential factors in the natural shade of your teeth. It is largely genetically determined and is intrinsic - coming from within the tooth itself.
The second most influential factor in the shade of your teeth is your diet. Food particles are naturally attracted to a tooth's enamel by a certain protein. Products like coffee, tea, berries, red wine, chocolate, soy sauce, and artificial colorings are notorious for staining teeth. Smoking and tobacco products also deposit stains on teeth.
Over time, teeth can actually become more absorbent and vulnerable to staining from food and other substances. These types of stains have the best prognosis for successful removal, however they are also the most likely to return if the diet or other oral habits remain unchanged.
Other Types of Stains
Other types of stain are caused by traumatic injuries to a tooth (blood products are released from the pulp into the dentin and stain the dentin, turning a tooth pink, brown or even black), certain medications (tetracycline, as one example) and fluorosis (when there is too much fluoride in the water of an individual). Brushing, flossing or even professional whitening doesn't help with these other types of stains.
At-Home Whitening Solutions
Some commercially available "whitening toothpastes" can be somewhat effective at removing stains and making teeth a few shades brighter. However, many of these products have abrasive substances that can actually wear away your tooth's enamel, so use caution and moderation as with any product.
Dr. Chapman recommends toothpastes that have the ADA Seal of Approval on their packaging. In order to earn this, a product must be clinically and scientifically proven to be: SAFE and EFFECTIVE (it must actually do what the packaging claims it does).
Professional Teeth Whitening
Professional whitening performed by our office is considered to be the most effective and safest method. When performed properly, tooth whitening can last as long as five years. Over-the-counter whitening systems are somewhat effective. For people who have minimal staining, this may be all that is needed. They are made of a less concentrated peroxide gel, so keep in mind that more product and a higher number of home applications will be needed than with a professional application. Typically, home whitening is done for 15 minutes every night for 2-3 weeks or until the desired whiteness is reached. Over the counter products can also be used as touch-up in between professional whitening sessions every few years.