I work as a general and cosmetic dentist across San Diego County. One of the most commonly asked questions in my practice involves teeth whitening. White teeth are universally desired because a simple change in color can dramatically improve your smile. The dental whitening market is a huge industry that provides a wide variety of products that can affect the color of your teeth. However, we need to be able to understand the limitations of these products in order to use them effectively.

When talking about whitening, we need to first review dental staining. Some of the most common stainers in our everyday life include coffee, tea, red wine & sodas. These dark colored beverages contain pigments that can attach to the outermost layers of your teeth. Other causes of dental staining include age, smoking, pigmented foods & dental trauma. Staining can be broken down into two simple categories, EXTRINSIC & INTRINSIC. Extrinsic stains are the most superficial discolorations. They appear dark on your teeth & are most commonly removed with a professional dental cleaning. The most affordable way to remove this stain throughout your day involves avoidance & proper oral hygiene. Eliminating or reducing the amount of dark colored beverages you drink throughout the day is one means of keeping your teeth bright white. Another simple way to avoid dental staining is by using a using a straw while drinking these beverages or rinsing frequently with water. These methods prevent the pigments from attaching to the front part of your teeth & appearing dark.

Intrinsic staining is typically associated with a darkness from within the tooth. A professional cleaning can not eliminate intrinsic stains. This type of discoloration can only be brightened through the use of a true bleaching solution such as carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. I find that many of my patients believe that whitening toothpastes can help with this type of stain. However, the vast majority of these whitening products are effective in removing surface stains only. If you look at the ingredients within these whitening toothpastes, you will see a variety of polishing elements & the lack of a true bleaching solution.

On the other hand, dental whitening strips contain a small percentage of bleaching solution. These strips are directly applied to your teeth & worn for a range of time listed for each individial product. The application of these strips will slowly bleach your teeth over time. However, these products have limitations associated with the lack of customization & the small percentage of peroxide used.

A more effective means of whitening your teeth involves at – home custom whitening trays or in – office bleaching. Dental whitening trays are made by taking a customized impression of your teeth & fabricated a tray that fits comfortably in your mouth. After fabricating this tray, you will be given a percentage of carbamide peroxide that fits to your particular needs. A small amount of this peroxide gel is applied to front surface of the tray. Once you snap the tray in place it will be evenly distributed across your teeth. These solutions vary in strength associated with the percentage of bleach used. The higher the solution, the shorter amount of time that the tray should be worn to reduce dental sensitivity. If the bleaching solution interacts with your gums, it can cause inflammation; thus you want to avoid overfilling the tray. These customized trays are reusable & the bleaching solution can be purchased with a visit to your local dentist..

In – Office whitening is the most effective & fastest solution for brightening your smile. The bleaching solution used can be as high as 40 percent; thus, a resin barrier is applied to the gums so that the solution doesn’t burn the gingiva. After, the solution is applied directly to the teeth & reapplied until the desired shade is achieved. Since this procedure offers the highest percentage solution of whitening, we ask that that people with very sensitive teeth avoid this method.

Something must be said about staining associated with dental fillings. Many tooth colored restorations easily darken with the stainers mentioned above. Whitening solutions do not brighten these type of restorations. If you are interested in brightening your smile while doing dental work, it is important to first whiten your natural teeth in order to give the dentist the ability to more effectively match their restoration to the color of your teeth. .Some dental restorations such as porcelain crowns & veneers are more resistant to dental stains than that of composite fillings. Communicating with your dentist prior to receiving any restoration is the best way to avoid complications

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