Professional Teeth Whitening vs. At-Home Products

Dentist patient getting teeth whitening

If you are looking for a whiter and brighter smile, there are several options on the market for whitening your teeth. From at-home products you can buy at a pharmacy to procedures that are done in a dentist’s office, determine your specific whitening needs to assess the best whitening option for you. At-home whitening kits provide a cheap and easy to use option, but may not be as effective as those used in a professional setting. Also, if you have sensitive teeth or gums, custom-made trays at the dentist’s office can help you avoid irritation.

The Structure of a Tooth

Teeth are made up of a layer of dentin covered by a hard outside layer of enamel. When you consume food and drinks, an additional layer starts to accumulate on top of the enamel. Some of the most common ways to stain teeth include smoking, drinking dark liquids, and poor brushing habits. This creates a thin film over the enamel, that may be unsightly. Brushing your teeth and going to the dentist helps to clean this film off of your enamel with both chemicals and scraping tools.

The problem, however, is that as this film remains on your teeth for a long period of time, it absorbs into the enamel. Once this happens, you can not just brush away the stains. Although these stains are harmless, most people find them unattractive and turn to teeth whitening options.

How Does Teeth Whitening Work?

Teeth whiteners use bleaching chemicals to penetrate tooth enamel and create an oxidation reaction that breaks up the stains. Most teeth whitening products use either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide to bleach the teeth. When these chemicals are used on teeth, stains can be broken up and dissolved away.

Whitening your teeth is not harmful to your health. Bleaching may lead to an increased sensitivity level in the gums, due to the fact that it opens the pores of the tooth, allowing it to penetrate and whiten the tooth. While this may be uncomfortable, it is not dangerous and it is temporary. However, it is not recommended that pregnant women whiten their teeth for precautionary reasons.

Common Causes of Tooth Discoloration

  • Foods/drinks: Coffee, tea, sodas, and wine are very common as well as citrus and acidic foods
  • Poor Dental Hygiene: Bad dental habits play a big factor in tooth discoloration. Proper brushing, flossing and regular dental checkups will always help keep teeth healthy and clean.
  • Tobacco: Smoking has known to have a big impact on staining teeth. Consuming various tobacco products will darken teeth over time.
  • Natural Aging Process: Everyone gets old, so does your teeth. It’s natural for the protective enamel coating on your teeth to wear down over time. Everyday wear and tear on your teeth will cause it to fade.
  • Medications: Certain medications that contain doxycycline and tetracycline can darken teeth. Antihistamines, antipsychotic medications, and various drugs for high blood pressure have been known to stain teeth for adults. It would be best to go over the potential side effects of any of the medications you’re currently taking with your doctor.

Some other lesser-known causes of tooth discoloration aside from exposing the teeth to a dark substance may actually begin early in life. Children who are exposed to too much fluoride may develop intrinsic stains inside of the teeth. Also, children who use the antibiotic tetracycline before the age of 8 may also experience tooth discoloration. Tooth trauma that may happen during an accident can cause a tooth to die and become discolored. Finally, people who grind their teeth may find that they have discolored spots, caused by loss of enamel.

Teeth Whitening Options

Teeth whitening options

There are several options when it comes to whitening teeth, with some being more effective and efficient than others. If you opt for professional teeth whitening, often a 15-35% hydrogen peroxide gel is used, often coupled with an expediting high-intensity light. This procedure begins with the dentist cleaning the teeth with a pumice before applying a barrier on the gums to prevent sensitivity. Hydrogen peroxide paste is then applied to the teeth for several minutes before it is rinsed off and reapplied. This procedure can dramatically whiten teeth in a short period of time, up to six shades whiter in under an hour.

Alternatively, at-home systems use only 10-20% carbamide peroxide gels that contain added ingredients such as glycerin, water, sodium hydroxide, carbomer, and flavoring agents. Some at-home treatments that have over 10% carbamide peroxide may also contain sodium fluoride to strengthen the teeth and reduce sensitivity. There are also alternative options, including charcoal toothpaste, that claim to help whiten teeth at home.

You can either have a dentist order a professional at-home system for you, or you can purchase a less-accurate system at a drug store. If you get one from a dentist, the dentist will take molds of your mouth to have custom trays made. To use the treatment, you simply put a thin layer of gel into the trays and wear them for two hours each day. This process may take between one and six weeks, depending on the stains.

Advantages of Professional Teeth Whitening

In-office teeth whitening have advantages when compared to over-the-counter products. The biggest advantage of consulting with your dentist and using their suggested system is that they can determine if tooth whitening will be beneficial for each individual patient. Those with decayed teeth, crowns, and fillings on the front teeth may not find tooth whitening to be effective.

A dentist will also determine the best method of tooth whitening and chemical concentrations. The dentist can also help patients with gum sensitivity and adjust the formula for patients who are not getting the results they want. A dentist can also help patients look at other cosmetic options, such as gum lifts, veneers, tooth shaping, and tooth-colored fillings. A dentist can help a patient attain their goals more easily.

Over-The-Counter Options

Cost may be a factor when looking into tooth whitening, leading people to buy tooth whitening products such as toothpaste, whitening strips, or over-the-counter gum. While these products are more cost-friendly, they may appear to slightly whiten teeth by removing any temporary stains on the surface, but over-the-counter products are not able to change the natural color teeth or bleach a stain that has penetrated the tooth’s surface.

Regular toothpaste is designed to remove some superficial stains, while whitening toothpastes contain more abrasive ingredients that help to whiten the teeth better. These ingredients, such as silica, scrub the tooth’s surface more so than regular toothpaste.

Are There Risks Involved with Teeth Whitening?

Any avenue you choose when it comes to whitening your teeth will be beneficial, even in the slightest way. The risks associated with tooth whitening are very minimal and temporary. Tooth sensitivity may occur and root damage is possible, but dentists will be able to see if you are likely to experience these side effects with the procedure. Dentists will also help alleviate sensitivity with products that are designed to help ease the pain of sensitive teeth. Dentists can also be on the lookout for any signs of root damage and treat it preemptively. Schedule an appointment for teeth whitening services with your nearest Las Vegas dentist.

Teeth whitening is an ongoing process that is never permanent. Those who consume stain-causing foods and beverages may see whiteness begin to fade in just one month. However, people who are able to avoid these foods and beverages may keep their results for one year or longer before they need a touch-up or another treatment. If you decide teeth whitening is not for you, Absolute Dental also offers other types of cosmetic dentistry that can help improve the look of your smile

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About the Author

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Dr. Joan Landron

Currently serving the community at Absolute Dental since August 2008, Dr. Joan Landron graduated from Temple University School of Dentistry in 1997.

She further honed her skills with a general practice residency at Metropolitan Hospital and underwent specialized training at New York University’s Implant Program for General Practitioners. Specializing in services such as X-rays, examinations, cleanings, crowns, and more, Dr. Landron brings a comprehensive approach to general and cosmetic dentistry, including implants.

A proud member of the American Dental Association, Nevada Dental Association, and Southern Nevada Dental Association, she cherishes her free time by spending moments with family, reading, and maintaining her health through exercise. Dr. Landron takes immense pride in being a part of the Absolute Dental team and is dedicated to her patients at the Absolute Dental – Nellis in Las Vegas, ensuring they receive the best care possible.

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