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Teeth Whitening

Reasons to Have One, What to Expect, Associated Risks & More

6 Reasons You Would Need Teeth Whitening

1. Remove Smoking Stains

People who smoke tobacco products tend to develop stains on their teeth. These stains may be yellow, brown, or black in color, depending on the length of time and the frequency at which the person smokes.[1] Teeth whitening treatments can help smokers remove stains caused by nicotine and tobacco products.[2]

2. Remove Wine Stains

Drinking red and white wines can lead to darker, stained teeth. Red wine contains a strongly pigmented substance called chromogen that is often used in dyes and that can stain white teeth.[3] The acids in all types of wine can create grooves in teeth that allow chemicals from beverages like coffee, tea, and soda to penetrate teeth more easily and cause stains. Teeth whitening products and treatments can often help remove stains caused by wine.[2]

3. Remove Food Stains

Berries, beets, soy sauce, and tomato sauce are examples of highly pigmented foods that may stain teeth.[4] Foods with high acidity levels like citrus fruits, sugar, coffee, and soda can also wear away enamel to make teeth more susceptible to stains.[5] Teeth whitening can help brighten teeth that have been stained by various foods.

4. Remove Age-Related Yellowing

A person’s teeth will often turn yellow or gray as part of the natural aging process. This happens due to changes that occur in enamel and dentin as a person becomes older.[6] Dentin is darker in color than enamel, which means that as the enamel wears away, teeth gradually become yellow or gray. Teeth whitening treatments can help teeth look whiter and reduce discoloration.

5. Improve the Appearance of Fluorosis

Fluorosis is a dental condition in which the color and appearance of teeth change due to consuming high amounts of fluoride. Young children up to the age of 8 who are still developing their permanent teeth are the only ones at risk for fluorosis.[7] It can range from mild to severe and cause discoloration, white spots, frosty edges, and chalk-like lines on teeth. Children and adults who have fluorosis may be able to improve the appearance of their teeth using whitening treatments.

6. Remove Amalgam Stains

Amalgam is a mixture of metals including mercury, silver, and copper that are used in dentistry to fill cavities. Amalgam fillings can stain the teeth and lead to gray discoloration.[2] Those who have amalgam cavity fillings can receive whitening treatments to achieve brighter teeth.

Understanding Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening is one of the most frequently requested dental procedures by people who want more attractive smiles.[2] Teeth whitening is shown to have a positive impact on a person’s confidence, self-esteem, and the way other people perceive them.[9] This treatment is normally used to brighten and whiten teeth that have been discolored due to factors such as smoking, aging, amalgam fillings, fluorosis, and certain foods and beverages.

Professional teeth whitening treatments are normally performed in-office by a dentist, though some dentists offer at-home whitening treatments. Many in-office treatments involve the use of a whitening agent called carbamide peroxide that bleaches teeth. The whitening formulas used by dentists usually contain more than 15% peroxide and are much stronger and faster than most at-home formulas.[8]

During an in-office whitening treatment, a peroxide gel formula is applied to the teeth. This gel is then activated with a laser light that penetrates the enamel and color pigments to brighten and whiten the teeth. Teeth whitening usually requires at least 3 treatment sessions that last between 1 and 2 hours each.

Those who choose at-home whitening treatments are provided with custom-made trays that hold the whitening formula. These trays can be comfortably worn while sleeping or awake for between 2 and 4 hours per day, for about 3 to 6 weeks.[5] Some at-home treatments involve wearing the tray only while sleeping at night for about 10 to 14 days.[5]

Risks of Teeth Whitening

The most common side effects of teeth whitening treatments are mild tooth sensitivity and gingival irritation.[2] Tooth sensitivity usually only lasts for a few days, while gingival irritation may last for several days.[8] The excess whitening solution may also irritate the gums if it is not wiped away immediately after treatment sessions.[8]

The most serious risks associated with teeth whitening treatments include tooth erosion, mineral degradation, higher susceptibility to demineralization, and damage to the tooth pulp.[2] Patients are normally advised to have their teeth cleaned prior to teeth whitening since this reduces the risk for uneven results due to surface stains and deposits.[10]

What to Expect with Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening treatments are most beneficial for those whose teeth are discolored or stained on behalf of factors such as aging, use of certain medications, fluorosis, smoking, and consuming certain foods and beverages.[5] Teeth whitening is also highly effective on those who have teeth with healthy enamel. Teeth whitening is not recommended for those who have overly sensitive teeth, worn enamel, tooth decay, gum disease, or oral cancer.[5]

The effects of teeth whitening treatments normally only last for up to 3 years, at which point discoloration may slowly return. However, patients can receive normal touch-ups from their dentists when they start to notice discoloration after previous whitening treatments.[9]

Questions to Ask Your Dentist About Teeth Whitening

  • What are all my available whitening options?
  • Will teeth whitening damage my teeth or enamel in any way?
  • Will I experience tooth sensitivity?
  • How many sessions will I need before I get white teeth?
  • How long will my teeth stay white?
  • What steps do I need to take to keep my teeth white?
  • Do I need to stop drinking coffee, tea, and soda?
  • Are there certain foods I should avoid after teeth whitening?
  • Will my teeth look unnatural after whitening?
  • What are the risks and complications of teeth whitening?
  • How often will I need touch-ups?
  • Will teeth whitening treatments damage my dental restorations?
  • Can my teeth be whitened if I have cavities or fillings?
  • How soon do I need my teeth cleaned before starting whitening treatment?

Teeth Whitening May Also be Known as:

  • Tooth whitening
  • Tooth bleaching
  • Chairside bleaching
  • Teeth cleaner



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