Understanding Teeth Whitening
Human beings are as diverse as fish in the sea, and so it goes that our self image and the degree to which we prioritize appearance varies widely across communities and cultures. While some may consider great skin to be of utmost concern, others may prioritize body shape, clothing or fashion style, or hairstyle. While many of us hold many factors of our appearance as equally important though, it is rare for us humans to forego vanity altogether. The reality is, the way that we look impacts not only the way that others perceive us, but also how we feel about ourselves. Concerns about our appearance are difficult to ignore given the preoccupation we have with image in the media across the Western world. We are bombarded with imagery of near-perfect hair, body and teeth in the movies, on our personal phones and even in the waiting rooms of clinics of all kinds – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
Cosmetics and cosmetic procedures have rapidly evolved to allow us access to services which were at one time only available to the rich and famous. We can dye our hair at home, access an array of products to enhance our cosmetic appearance and get a manicure for a reasonable price in almost any city across North America. Teeth whitening is no exception – with an abundance of over-the-counter whitening products so widely available, it’s no small wonder that teeth whitening is a $15 billion dollar industry. While whitening products are widely available anywhere that offers cosmetic dentistry in Edmonton, patients often ask questions about whether over-the-counter products are as safe or effective as the products offered through your dentist. Let’s explore teeth whitening and foster more understanding about this much-requested service!
A Look at History
If you’re thinking about whitening your teeth, you need not feel any sense of shame – after all, civilizations as old as ancient Egypt and even the Roman Empire were trying to whiten their teeth before scientific advancements made the service available…and safe!
In ancient Egypt, whiter teeth were considered a sign of beauty as well as a sign of wealth, and many were willing to do almost anything to achieve whiter whites. Records indicate that one method of whitening the teeth was to apply a mixture of goat milk and urine to the teeth. As gross as this may sound, urine was chosen for its ammonia content – scientifically sound, but still not the way most of us would like to achieve the desired effect!
The Romans often turned to their local barber for help on the subject. Often, barbers would file the teeth with an abrasive, such as pumice stone, before applying an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice to the teeth. Whether or not this provided some effect in the beginning, the filing away of enamel would inevitably have compromised the integrity and structure of the teeth by removing enamel and exposing dentin. This would have meant that the treatment would have needed to be done and redone over time as dentin took on stains readily, due to the lack of protection of the enamel that had been filed away – not to mention the sensitivity that must have accompanied this mistreatment of the teeth! Ouch!
Peroxide Based Whitening – A Happy Accident
Many centuries later, dentists would observe the side effect of whitening teeth from the application of peroxide quite by accident. Peroxide, known for its antiseptic properties, was routinely used to treat cases of dental concerns such as periodontal disease. When applied to the gums for some duration, the product would inevitably come into contact with the teeth leading to the discovery of this happy side effect! Since peroxide destroys bacterial cell walls, it could be used in the mouth to decrease bacterial counts without damaging the enamel.
Why Does Peroxide Work?
Peroxide’s properties do not break down our valuable enamel, but it does travel through it. The hard, almost transparent enamel on our teeth is actually made up of microscopic channels, or tubules, which run from the outside of the tooth in toward the dentin. Peroxide readily travels through these channels until it meets with the layer of dentin inside of our teeth where it does its work lightening the colour of the dentin. Since dentin is visible through the enamel, lightening the colour is tantamount to brightening the background of your computer screen!
Other Factors in Tooth Colour
Whitening dentin is usually a reliable way of improving the shade of the teeth, assuming there are no other factors working against you. Staining of the enamel itself can occur for several reasons, and where this is the case it will impede the achievement of that bright white smile you’re looking for. First and foremost, if you are considering a teeth whitening appointment, you should review when your last dental appointment was and what it was for. Often when we see the dentist for a cavity filling, root canal, or other procedure, it can be easy to forget what hasn’t been done – often that is a professional cleaning. Even if your teeth look clean on their surface, a professional cleaning is not only good for your teeth but the removal of surface stains by a qualified dental hygienist can refresh a dull smile and it might just be the pick-me-up your teeth need!
Most of us are aware of the staining capacity of some of our favourite beverages such as coffee and red wine, but we may overlook the number of other factors that are at play where it comes to teeth whitening. Dental trauma, metallic compounds in water, antibiotics, genetics and more can play a significant role in the health and appearance of your teeth. Your dentist is best able to determine which factors are impacting the colour of your teeth and how best to improve it. While dental whitening is an effective way to lighten the shade of your teeth, teeth that are grey in colour may need another approach, such as internal teeth whitening. Teeth that are darkening from the inside will not respond effectively to topical whitening treatments. In this case, your dentist may create a small opening in the tooth in order to deposit whitening product inside at the source of the discolouration. This would be left inside the tooth for a duration of a day or two before it will be cleaned and resealed. If you are a great candidate for dental whitening, your dentist can discuss the benefits of clinical whitening and the associated cost.
Clinical Whitening – Money Well Spent
There are so many whitening products on the market it could leave your head spinning! Gums for whitening, strips, trays, mouthwashes, toothpastes… the list goes on! So, what’s the truth about these products and where is your money best spent?
Since tooth whitening can dehydrate the dentin of the teeth during application, dentin can shrink slightly and put pressure on the nerves of the teeth. This is why tooth sensitivity is a common complaint after whitening. This is also the case with milder forms of whitening, such as the whitening agent in whitening toothpaste. If you commonly get sensitive teeth with over-the-counter products, your best bet is to see a dentist for clinical whitening. A stronger formulation will give you more bang for your buck, while your dentist’s ability to offer gum sealants and rehydrating solutions gives you your best chance at discomfort-free whitening!