Getting a Brighter Smile

Brushing and flossing are everyday ways to keep your teeth bright, white and healthy. Still, if you might feel like your smile is lacking some sparkle or is more yellow than it used to be, you’re not alone. When the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry asked people what they’d most like to improve about their smile, the most common response was whiter teeth. The American Association of Orthodontists also found that nearly 90% of patients requested tooth whitening.
Thinking about teeth whitening? Get the facts first. Here are five of the most commonly asked questions about the process.

Why Did My Teeth Change Color?

Over time, your teeth can go from white to not-so-bright for a number of reasons:

Food and Drink
Coffee, tea and red wine are some major staining culprits. What do they have in common? Intense color pigments called chromogens that attach to the white, outer part of your tooth (enamel).

Tobacco Use
Two chemicals found in tobacco create stubborn stains: Tar and nicotine. Tar is naturally dark. Nicotine is colorless until it’s mixed with oxygen. Then, it turns into a yellowish, surface-staining substance.

Age
Below the hard, white outer shell of your teeth (enamel) is a softer area called dentin. Over time, the outer enamel layer gets thinner from normal function and tooth wear, and more of the yellowish dentin shows through.

Trauma
If you’ve been hit in the mouth, your tooth may change color because it reacts to an injury by laying down more dentin, which is a darker layer under the enamel.

Medications
Tooth darkening can be a side effect of certain antihistamines, antipsychotics and high blood pressure medications. Young children who are exposed to antibiotics like tetracycline and doxycycline when their teeth are forming (either in the womb or as a baby) may have discoloration of their adult teeth later in life. Chemotherapy and head and neck radiation can also darken teeth.

Decay
Often if decay (a cavity) has progressed well into the dentin of the tooth, this is the layer of tooth under the enamel, the tooth will appear darker in appearance than it did in the past. Decayed tooth structure is unhealthy and weak and will not whiten. In most cases it is best to have decay treated prior to pursuing any whitening procedures.

Does Whitening Work on All Teeth?

No, which is why it’s important to talk to your dentist before deciding to whiten your teeth, as whiteners may not correct all types of discoloration. For example, yellow teeth will probably bleach well, brown teeth may not respond as well and teeth with gray tones may not bleach at all. Whitening will not work on caps, veneers, crowns or fillings. It also won’t be effective if your tooth discoloration is caused by medications , tooth injury, or decay.

What Are My Whitening Options?

Whitening Toothpastes
All toothpastes help remove surface stain through the action of mild abrasives that scrub the teeth.  Look for the ADA Seal for safe whitening toothpastes that have special chemical or polishing agents to provide additional stain removal effectiveness. Unlike bleaches, these types of ADA Accepted products do not change the color of teeth because they can only remove stains on the surface.

Over the Counter Whitening Products
There are several over-the-counter whitening options available at most drug stores and grocery stores. Some are applied as strips, some as a topical application. The active ingredient is usually a peroxide but is in a lesser concentration than whitening solutions available from your dentist. These products may produce results for some people and can cause tooth sensitivity as any whitening agent may.

Custom Whitening Trays
Molds of the upper and lower teeth are made in the dental office and models from these molds are used to create clear trays that will hold whitening agent against the enamel of the teeth. The whitening agent used is peroxide-containing and is in a higher concentration than over-the-counter products. It is important to follow the directions given for wearing the whitening trays to achieve desired results.
Read the ADA’s Statement on the Safety and Effectiveness of Tooth Whitening Products.

Are There Any Side Effects from Teeth Whitening?

Some people who use teeth whiteners may experience tooth sensitivity. That happens when the peroxide in the whitener gets through the enamel to the soft layer of dentin and irritates the nerve of your tooth. In most cases the sensitivity is temporary. You can delay treatment, then try again.
Overuse of whiteners can also damage the tooth enamel or gums, so be sure to follow directions and talk to your dentist.