For many individuals, the whiteness of their smile directly contributes to how they feel about their appearance. Stained or yellow teeth can cause embarrassment, leading those affected to avoid talking, smiling, or even having their picture taken. Years of drinking coffee or red wine or smoking cigarettes can take a heavy toll, and teeth naturally change color with age.
There are many products and services that can remove unsightly discoloration from teeth and restore a beautiful smile, though they differ significantly in effectiveness, cost, and comfort. Though people in the U.S. spend an estimated $1.4 billion each year on products meant to whiten teeth, many are left wondering which methods are the most effective and which are right for them.
There are two main groups of whitening products: those containing peroxide as a bleaching agent and those without. Some are administered in a dental office, while others can be bought at any drugstore and administered at home. Deciding which to use is a personal decision that only you can make. Read on to learn about the five basic types of teeth whitening procedures and how they might work best for you.
The difference between traditional toothpaste and whitening toothpaste is the polishing agent. All types of toothpaste remove basic surface stains, thanks to the mild abrasive agent they all contain. Whitening toothpaste takes cleaning one step further by adding a chemical polishing agent. They do not, however, contain bleach, and can generally only whiten teeth by about one shade. A number of whitening toothpastes bear the seal of acceptance from the American Dental Association, so be sure to look for the seal before you buy to guarantee results.
A whitening rinse is much like a traditional mouthwash. It can reduce plaque, help fight gum disease, and freshens breath. Unlike traditional mouthwash, however, a whitening rinse includes hydrogen peroxide to help whiten teeth and remove stains. These are easy to use, though they work slowly, often taking up to three months to see results. A whitening rinse is used twice each day and is swished in the mouth for about a minute each time. It must be used before brushing teeth. These are the newest addition to the array of teeth whitening products available over the counter.
Whitening systems such as these can be bought directly from a dentist or can be purchased at a drugstore. They use a tray or mouth guard filled with a whitening gel solution containing hydrogen peroxide or another similar bleaching agent. People who use tray whitening systems report significant whitening, but they can be a bit inconvenient. Trays are worn for a few hours each day or overnight for about a month, depending on the amount of whitening users wish to achieve. Sometimes, they can be used for longer periods as well.
Whitening Gels and Strips
One convenient way to whiten teeth is by using strips and gels, widely available over the counter. The clear gels have a peroxide base and are applied directly to the tooth using a small brush. Typically, they are applied 2 times daily for about two weeks and are extremely popular because they are so easy to use and work so well.
Strips for whitening are pre-coated with a gel containing peroxide. They are usually worn for about 30 minutes, 2 times every day for two weeks. They are less convenient than whitening gel applied directly to the teeth, but are every bit as effective. Strips and gels usually produce results quickly (within a few days), and whitening lasts for several months.
Dental Office Whitening
Hands down, the fastest way to a whiter, brighter smile is through in-office treatments. This type of treatment doesn’t come with a small price tag, but many people think the cost is absolutely worth the results. In the dental setting, products are applied to the teeth and combined with a special light, a laser, or intense heat. Treatments take about an hour, though several appointments are often needed to get the best possible results. One of the reasons dental office tooth whitening is becoming so popular is because the results are truly dramatic and can be seen after just one appointment.
For this type of whitening, the patient’s gums and lips are completely covered to protect them from the chemicals used in the whitening product, which contains concentrated amounts of hydrogen peroxide that penetrate teeth and eliminate unsightly stains.
In-office treatments are usually only recommended for people with very healthy teeth who have regular cleanings and do not have any cavities. Some patients report feeling uncomfortable with the intense heat used during the treatment, though this is temporary. People with anxiety or a strong gag reflex could have trouble undergoing this type of treatment and should discuss their personal situation with a dentist before making a final decision.
Why Whiten Teeth?
There are a number of reasons people turn to teeth-whitening products to improve their smile. Most people strongly believe that an attractive smile is important and can make people look and feel better about themselves. Some people also believe teeth can have an effect on career success and that an unattractive smile can be detrimental to climbing the corporate ladder. Others simply want to appear younger or more attractive, whether it is for a special upcoming event or “just because.”
What Causes Teeth to Lose Their Luster?
Teeth darken over time as part of the natural aging process, something that can also be affected by genetics. Some antibiotics can also play a role in tooth discoloration, especially tetracycline. Developmental disorders and trauma to the teeth are also factors that can have an impact.
The biggest reasons teeth lose their brightness are from tobacco use or food consumption. Experts say foods with tannins, oranges, carrots, tea, coffee, and others are largely to blame. Smoking is another big issue, and red wine can also cause tooth discoloration. The good news is that people who want to address the issue of discolored teeth have more options than ever before, and many are not just effective – they are affordable.