Many people are interested in whiter teeth. Here’s what you need to know about what causes stains, what whitening options are available, and any risks that might accompany the treatment.
With more and more whitening options becoming available, many patients are interested in exploring their options for a brighter smile.
So what is it that makes teeth anything less than white, what options are available to improve the brilliance of your teeth, and are there any risks involved when chasing a dazzling Hollywood smile?
What causes stained or discoloured teeth?
Firstly, it’s important to understand just what it is that causes stains and discolouration of the teeth. This may help you decide on the best whitening option for your teeth, and it can help you understand how to reduce the issue in future.
Most causes of tooth stains are extrinsic, which means that the discolouring comes from an outside source rather than from within the tooth itself. Much of this comes from your diet and lifestyle habits. For example, coffee, tea and red wine are all common causes of stains. If you regularly drink these hot drinks or enjoy a glass of red or two, the stains on your teeth could easily come from these sources. Other foods, including fizzy drinks, can also discolour teeth. Another major cause is that of smoking or chewing tobacco, which is known to discolour teeth over time. Finally, stains may be a simple result of poor cleaning techniques.
Other tooth stain causes are intrinsic, which means the discolourisation comes from within the tooth. In this case, the dentin – part of the tooth – will darken or take on a yellow tinge. Common causes here are from too much fluoride in early childhood, the use of tetracycline antibiotics as a child under the age of eight, trauma, or a birth condition known as dentinogenesis imperfecta.
How to tell if your teeth are suitable for whitening
The best way to tell if your teeth are suited for any kind of whitening treatment is to talk to your dentist. He or she will talk to you about the causes of the issue, and will be able to make an informed decision about which treatment option may work best.
Your dentist will also be able to inspect your teeth and gums to ensure they are in a good and healthy condition in order to receive treatment. Plus, as your dentist already knows you and your teeth, he or she will discuss specifics, such as whether or not you’re likely to feel any sensitivity during whitening.
What are the options for at-home teeth whitening?
Products you can purchase yourself include whitening toothpastes, gels, strips and trays.
Toothpastes can help to remove surface stains, but don’t usually contain bleaching agents such as hydrogen peroxide.
Another over-the-counter option is whitening gels that you brush on with a “pen,” which are peroxide-based for a stronger whitening agent. Whitening strips are a similar product that are coated with a peroxide gel, which you apply to your teeth twice per day and offer similar results to gels. These products are usually stronger than the whitening toothpastes.
At-home bleaching kits are also a popular treatment. In this case, you will apply a whitening solution to a tray that looks a bit like a mouth guard, then sit for up to an hour (depending on the specific product) to let the solution do its job.
With any of these products, it’s crucial that you speak with a dental professional first. They can evaluate the effectiveness and safety of the product. They can also let you know if you’re the right candidate for the products – sometimes discolouration might be caused by oral health issues that can be worsened by over-the-counter treatments.
What are the options for in-clinic teeth whitening?
If you know that you want to whiten your teeth, a qualified dental professional is usually the safest option. Your dentist can provide a gel with more powerful bleaching agents (up to 38 per cent hydrogen peroxide) than what you can find in a store, and having a professional carry out the treatment can be the best way to ensure the products work as efficiently as possible.
In-clinic treatments often consist of a gel that your dentist will apply to your teeth. He or she will also put another gel on your gums for protection to avoid any tingling or sensitivity. Once you’re ready, an LED light will be shone over your teeth for up to an hour to assist the bleach. Results will be immediate, and you will need to avoid foods and drinks that could stain teeth for the following 24 hours.
You may prefer to opt for several treatments to achieve the desired shade of white, but many people only require one session for great results. Depending on your lifestyle and dietary habits, results may last for up to a year.
Are there any risks associated with teeth whitening?
Teeth whitening does come with risks, but they can largely be minimised with the right advice from your dentist. Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical and it can have an adverse effect on the teeth or gums, which is why the Australian Dental Association recommends that any products with 6 per cent or higher of this agent are only applied by a trained professional.
The worst that most people will experience is a tingling sensation or sensitivity in the gums during or immediately following the whitening procedure. Should this happen, let your dentist know immediately – the symptoms should pass quickly or within a few days but he or she will be able to advise you further.
While rare, other side effects can include blistering of the mouth and gums, or uneven coloured teeth. It’s also possible that veneers, crowns and fillings won’t whiten in the same way as your natural teeth, which can leave uneven results.
Once you know the risks and options for treatment and are still interested in moving ahead with teeth whitening, you will be able to begin an at-home or in-clinic solution.