To bleach or not to bleach? That is a question that many consumers face during the summer months.
Tooth whitening has become the biggest and fastest growing trend in the field of cosmetic dentistry. Although many people are satisfied with the sparkle that they receive from brushing twice daily, flossing, and regular professional cleanings at their dental offices, there are a variety of products and procedures available that go beyond “the norm” to improve the look of most individual’s smiles.
It is important to understand these products and procedures in order to make an informed decision on whether or not you should bleach your teeth and which options suit your needs the best.
Let’s start at the very beginning. What exactly is tooth bleaching or whitening?
“Whitening” is any process that will make teeth appear whiter. This can be achieved in two ways. A product can bleach the tooth, which means that it actually changes the natural tooth color. Bleaching products contain peroxides that help remove deep (intrinsic) and surface (extrinsic) stains.
By contrast, non-bleaching whitening products contain agents that work by physical or chemical action to help remove stains only. Different options for tooth whitening include in-office bleaching, at home bleaching, and whitening toothpaste
This type of procedure, seen on many reality shows, can often claim up to 64 hours of tray bleaching professionally performed in a matter of one to two hours. Frequently referred to as chairside bleaching, the dental professional applies a protective coating to your gums to shield the oral soft tissues. A bleaching agent is then applied to teeth, and a special light may be used to enhance the action of the agent. It is important to note that this is not laser bleaching, since the American Dental Association (ADA) has not currently accepted this method of tooth whitening. The ADA has, however, approved and accepted many in-office bleaching agents, assuring their safety and effectiveness.
There are several types of products available for use at home, which can either be dispensed by the dentist or purchased over-the-counter (OTC). Bleaching solutions contain peroxide(s) which actually bleach the tooth enamel. The percent of carbamide peroxide (10%, 16%, 22%) is the active bleaching agent in these products. Peroxide-containing whiteners typically are dispensed in gel and are placed in a mouth guard. Usage regiments vary anywhere from one to two weeks, and the mouth guards should be custom made by your dentist to fit your teeth precisely to ensure protection of the gum tissue, and any oral structures against the bleaching agents. Currently, the ADA seal is only present on dentist dispensed home-use 10 percent carbamide peroxide tray-applied gels.
These products help to remove surface stains through the action of mild abrasives. “Whitening” toothpastes, which have the ADA Seal of Acceptance, contain special chemical or polishing agents that provide additional stain removal effectiveness. Unlike bleachers, the toothpastes do not alter the intrinsic color of the teeth. It is important to note that teeth often become sensitive during the period when you are using a bleaching product. Most times this sensitivity subsides or lessens once the treatment is finished. Some people also may experience soft tissue irritation, either from an unfitting tray or solution that comes into contact with the tissues. If you have concerns about such side effects, you should discuss them with your dentist.
Hopefully, during these warm months, or any other month for that matter, consumers all across the country will have an easier time deciding which “tooth whitening” product suits their needs best. When selecting a whitening product, be sure to look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance to assure that standards have been met for safety and effectiveness.
Dr. Shikha Batra, DMD, PLC, is a general dentist who owns her practice in Troy. She offers a variety of each of these methods of tooth whitening in her practice. For any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to contact the office at 248-362-1100.