People generally think of teeth as being white. But tooth enamel can be many different shades. Over time, tooth enamel can change color or become stained.
There are many reasons why teeth become discolored:
- genetics—tooth color can run in the family
- injury to the teeth
- medicines, such as some antibiotics
- tobacco use
- contact with stain-causing food and drinks over time (such as berries, sauces, coffee, cola, black tea, and red wine)
- getting too much fluoride while teeth are developing
If your teeth are discolored, tooth whitening may help. “Whitening” is any process that can make teeth look whiter. It may be safely done at home or in a dental office.
OPTIONS FOR WHITENING YOUR TEETH
Tooth-whitening options range from gentle surface whiteners to stronger ones that can also remove deeper stains. There are many different types of tooth whitening products. They fall into three main types:
Whitening toothpastes help remove stains on the surface of your teeth. They are the gentlest kind of whiteners. Since they work using polishing action rather than chemicals, they usually do not have side effects. However, they do not get teeth as white as chemical products. Whitening toothpastes can lighten teeth a little bit at a time, over days or weeks.
Home-use whiteners come from your dentist or are sold over the counter. They can be applied with trays, strips, a rinse, or a brush. They usually contain a chemical called peroxide, which gets below the surface to lighten tooth enamel. Home-use whiteners are meant to be used over days or weeks. It is best to consult your dentist before whitening your teeth.
Your dentist may make special whitening trays for your upper and lower teeth. You put the whitening gel in the trays and wear them for short times during the day or overnight. Your dentist will tell you how long to wear them. If you wear the trays for too long, the peroxide in the gel can irritate your teeth.
In-office whitening is done in the dental office. In-office whiteners are much stronger than whitening toothpastes and home-use whiteners, since they have more peroxide. They can change the color of your teeth faster than the other methods.
The in-office whitening is usually done in about one hour. To help protect the mouth from the peroxide, the patient’s gum tissues are covered either with a thin sheet of rubber or a protective gel. Sometimes a light or laser is used with the peroxide.
Before in-office whitening
After in-office whitening
Before-and-after whitening photos courtesy of Dr. Victor H. Burdick.