If you want to whiten your teeth you may have already discovered that there are loads of products and options that claim to give great outcomes. The challenge is to sort fact from the fiction and to make the correct choice for your situation.
Why Are My Teeth Discoloured?
Before you consider teeth whitening, it is important to understand the cause, as this will impact your options. Some teeth are naturally discoloured as they are forming under the gums which can range from mild to severe changes to the tooth surface. For the majority of people, tooth discolouration occurs as a consequence of what we eat or drink. So, if you want to whiten teeth and have longer lasting results, you need to be prepared to reduce those items that are causing discolouration in the first place.
Coffee, black tea ( both with or without milk) , green tea and red wine are the usual perpetrators of tooth discolouration, as the pigmented products and tannins adhere to the tooth surface, and also penetrate deeper into the tooth to change the internal colour. Smoking and chewing tobacco are also products that will stain and discolour teeth.
Teeth that are stained due to genetic factors or medication when very young can often not respond, or respond very, very slowly to professional whitening products. In these cases, the only option may be to cover over the discoloured tooth with porcelain or composite filling material.
Another more serious cause for teeth to become darker is the thinning of the outer enamel layer of the tooth. This protective outer shell is the whitest part of the tooth and is less than 2mm thick in most areas. If this is dissolved due to acidic drinks, or thinned due to excessively hard brushing or tooth wear, the inner layer of tooth called dentine begins to show through. Dentine is darker, and typically more yellow/brown in colour which often leads to a less than ideal appearance. More concerning about this situation is that once the enamel is thinned, the teeth can wear down rapidly requiring extensive dental work to rebuild them. This is why getting a dental professional to assess your concerns is important before choosing a suitable whitening product.
How Can I Prevent Tooth Discolouration?
You can take simple steps to minimise the consumption of darkly coloured foods and drinks, and avoid smoking. Having 1 coffee per day is obviously better than having 5 plus a dozen cigarettes.
Drinking through a straw also helps, as does rinsing or drinking water after you indulge. Reducing acid levels in your diet also helps avoid enamel thinning.
How Do Dentists Recommend Whitening Teeth?
Dentists and oral health professionals know that the scientific research supports using a carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide gel for the most effective outcomes. These are the 2 most common ingredients found in professional whitening products dispensed at dental surgeries. The strength or concentration of the bleach is important. Too weak, and results will be poor, or take a long time to get there, too strong and there is a risk of acute sensitivity and gum irritation. If your teeth whitening product does not contain a peroxide, it is not likely to be effective.
Peroxide is important because it penetrates into the surface of the tooth to lighten it from within. It actually changes the colour by breaking down the pigmented molecules and makes the tooth whiter.
The most proven and safest method is the use of custom made trays, worn for about 1hr per day for at least 7 days filled with a moderate strength peroxide formulation. Having custom made trays reduces excess bleach spilling into the mouth, and keeps the product in close contact with the surface of the tooth.
High concentration, “instant “ or “1hr” whitening is effective, but often painful and carries a higher risk of chemical burning or irritation to the gums. What is also important to understand is that your teeth will eventually discolour again, meaning you will have to repeat the process, or find an alternative. With custom trays, you can easily maintain teeth whitening into the future.
Many over the counter, online, or alternative products do not contain peroxide. It is likely these will be ineffective, or in some cases may be harmful if they are acidic. Surface staining is the presence of particles attached to the surface of the tooth. In many cases, regular brushing with a soft brush is sufficient to remove this build up. For some people, a clean by a dental professional is the only way to get rid of staining.
Fancy Lights To Help With Teeth Whitening?
There is little evidence to support that lights used in at-home or professional settings make any difference to the overall result. Kits with lights are often more cumbersome to use and don’t have close fitting trays that keep the bleach in the correct location.
What About Products At The Supermarket Or Chemist?
Modern whitening toothpastes from reputable brands are generally safe and not as abrasive as previous products generations. Most products only claim to whiten teeth by removing surface staining. So in other words, they polish and cut back things stuck to the surface and do not actually change the colour of the tooth.
Whitening strips that contain peroxide are usually your best chance to get results, but it is likely to be less effective than ones dentists can offer due to being a weaker formulation.
Charcoal is only effective at removing surface stain, and is mostly abrasive and therefore likely harmful to the surface of the tooth. Your enamel is precious, so it is best to avoid products that will scrub it away.