Memorial Day is right around the corner, signaling the start of summer. It’s also the season when people return to wearing white. However, the quest for a brighter, whiter smile begs a big question: should you visit the dentist to whiten your teeth or rely on over-the-counter products like strips? The low price point and convenience of at-home remedies may be appealing, but do they really work?
Understanding the Causes of Dental Discoloration
“For some time, there has been consistent consumer demand for whiter, brighter teeth and an attractive smile,” the American Dental Association (ADA) explained. “Professionally administered (in-office) tooth whitening, also known as dental bleaching, remains a popular esthetic procedure and can be performed using a wide range of techniques and application protocols. Another common approach is at-home whitening with custom-fitted trays, which patients use to apply professional-strength bleaching gel (for use at night or during the day). Numerous over-the-counter (OTC) whitening products (e.g., strips, gels, rinses, chewing gums, or paint-on films) are also widely available for self-application at home.”
Dental discoloration is the term dentists use to describe any change in the color or translucency of teeth. Discolorations are typically classified as extrinsic or intrinsic in origin, but can also be the result of a combination between both origins.
Extrinsic stains commonly result from an accumulation of colored compounds on enamel. Extrinsic discoloration is primarily associated with environmental factors or individual behaviors such as tobacco use, exposure to metal salts (e.g., iron or copper), or the consumption of highly pigmented foods (e.g., dark fruits) or beverages (e.g., red wine, coffee, tea, or cola drinks).
Intrinsic stains occur inside the tooth (within the enamel or in the underlying dentin), and can arise due to systemic causes such as genetic disorders (e.g., dentinogenesis imperfecta, amelogenesis imperfecta) or local factors during tooth development or after eruption (e.g., fluorosis).
“Aging,” the ADA noted, “ is another common etiology of intrinsic discoloration. With increasing age, enamel becomes more translucent and thinner, which allows the yellower dentin to show through and the overall tooth color may darken. Other causes of intrinsic discoloration include certain antibiotic use in childhood (e.g., tetracycline), caries, amalgam restorations, and pulpal hemorrhage, decomposition or necrosis. Intrinsic discoloration can also occur with prolonged use of antiseptic mouthrinse (e.g., chlorhexidine rinse).”
Do It Yourself?
The oral hygiene marketplace, touting affordability and convenience, has packed store shelves with a wide variety of products that promise to polish the pearly whites of consumers. These offerings generally fall under three main categories.
- Whitening toothpaste includes ingredients that remove surface stains during brushing and may provide gradual brightening.
- Gel strips are applied to the teeth once a day for up to 2 hours. Depending on the strength of the product, people may need to wear them for 10 to 20 days.
- Whitening trays are filled with gel and fitted over the teeth. They resemble the appliances hygienists use during routine cleanings in a dental office.
Yes, over-the-counter products are easily accessible and economical, but they have downsides.
- The bleaching ingredients in whitening toothpastes can cause sensitivity in teeth.
- Whitening trays are not custom-made, so they’re more likely to rub and irritate gums than professional dental devices.
- Strips can be cumbersome to use and usually whiten only the front 6 teeth. If teeth are crooked or misaligned, strips become even less effective in their coverage.
- Many over-the-counter products are less effective than cleanings administered by dentists because their chemistry is either weaker, which prevents them from bleaching teeth for sufficient amounts of time, or stronger, which poses risks to users if ingested.
Visit the Dentist
Tooth whitening is a common elective procedure and a popular, less-invasive aesthetic treatment for patients seeking to enhance their smile and appearance. Whitening treatments provided by a dentist are more controlled, longer lasting, and produce significantly better results. The bleaching agents and devices used by dentists are safe, effective, and made to fit the patient’s mouth.
In-office procedures also help determine the source of discoloration and a treatment plan for long-term care. A clinical exam prior to the start of tooth bleaching procedures, with radiographs and other screening and diagnostic tests as appropriate, can help diagnose various factors contributing to the patient’s tooth discoloration. A standard dental exam, beginning with a health and dental history, may include questions about the patient’s perception of the cause of the dental discoloration, as well as allergies (which may include ingredients in bleaching materials), and any past or recent history of tooth sensitivity.
Tooth decay or recession can also complicate matters by increasing sensitivity. With over-the-counter products, patients have less control over the ingredients and dosage strength, which increases the risk of sensitivity and gingival irritation.
For the best results, visit your dentist and have a whitening evaluation to find out what system is best for you. If cost is the issue, your dentist can still recommend the best low-cost or over-the-counter whitening system based on your circumstances.
Brighten Your Smile at the Blende Dental Group Today
We’re offering our teeth whitening service for only $125 when booked in conjunction with a teeth cleaning now through September 1, 2022! Call us at 415-563-4261 (SF) / 646-461-1295 (NY) or click here to book your appointment today.