Teeth whitening may seem like an invention of our modern culture's obsession with perfection, but did you know that the practice is actually 4,000 years old? According to The Seattle Times, ancient Egyptians created a teeth whitening paste made of ground pumice stone and white vinegar. White teeth were a mark of beauty and an indication of wealth. Even in the more recent past, teeth whitening was still considered to be under the purview of the image conscious elite — actors, models, and TV hosts all flashed their pearly whites and inspired viewers to long for a Vanna White smile. Fortunately, teeth whitening has come to the masses. If you want the confidence of Cleopatra, you have so many options available now, from at-home paste or kits to professional treatments at your dentist's office. We've gathered expert advice from dentists and dental hygienists to help you sort through the pros, the cons, and myths about teeth whitening. Pros Enjoying a brighter and whiter smile Teeth whitening has the obvious benefits of a brighter and whiter smile, even for those with teeth that are more yellow. Many teeth whitening tools require pens, LED lights, and even charcoal to whiten teeth. Patients can choose to whiten their teeth in the office or at home. Many dentists recommend in office to get a more effective treatment and to ensure that there is no accidental damage to teeth enamel and gums. Dr. Ron Baise, London Dental "Tooth whitening is the only effective way of whitening teeth that have age related staining. As you get older, the dentine within your teeth naturally gets darker. This can lead to teeth having a grey look. Polishing teeth will not get rid of this, as this type of tooth discoloration has little to do with staining on the enamel itself. You can have age related staining without any external stains on the enamel. Tooth whitening bleaches the enamel, rather than removing stains from it, therefore it will whiten teeth regardless of the source of the staining. That being said, if your teeth have extrinsic staining, that is external staining of the enamel, a simple polishing from the hygienist can be enough to make your teeth white again. This is cheaper than tooth whitening, and is also less invasive as it does not involve the use of acidic chemicals on teeth." Dentists can recommend which teeth whitening tools will best benefit your smile. Looking younger Having a brighter and whiter smile also helps you look younger. As adults age, their teeth naturally become more yellow. As a result, teeth whitening users typically look younger after whitening their teeth. Dr. Rhonda Kalasho, Glo Modern Dental “Teeth whitening keeps your teeth looking youthful, and vibrant. By removing surface staining with teeth whitening, you are essentially making sure the stain does not settle in deeper into the enamel, which make the teeth appear dull and aged. At times, stain settles in too far that whitening gels do not really work as well.” Dr. Lara T Coseo, Mouthpower.org "A brighter, whiter smile simply looks more attractive than a dingy or yellowing smile. Because yellowing is a natural part of the aging process, teeth whitening also gives your smile a younger appearance. “ Promoting healthier teeth and gums Not only does teeth whitening make your smile brighter and whiter, but it also increases health in your teeth and gums. Dr. Coseo “In addition to cosmetic benefits, some studies show that the ingredients in teeth whitening gel may promote healthier teeth and gums. Carbamide peroxide gels are bactericidal, meaning they kill bacteria, and create an effervescence (bubbling) effect that helps dislodge sticky dental plaque. Patients with moderate to severe gum disease typically see an improvement in their disease control by using a 10 percent carbamide peroxide whitening gel in custom-fitted trays overnight." Dr. Namrita Harchandani, AuthorityDental.org “Tooth whitening is very safe when done under the supervision of your dentist. It is important to get a dental check up with your dentist before whitening your teeth. If you have underlying cavities, gum disease and sensitive teeth, it's best to address them before whitening." Feeling more confident When you can smile without embarrasment, you feel more confident. That confidence will benefit you in all aspects of your life, including in relationships with family and friends and in the workplace. Dr. Coseo “It goes without saying that improving one’s appearance can also have an impact on one’s self-esteem and confidence. This, in turn, affects the quality of life, job performance, and improved social interactions.” Dr Mark Burhenne, AsktheDentist.com “Many patients come to me for professional teeth whitening treatments because they're getting ready for a job interview, want to be more confident while putting themselves in the dating world, or simply are dissatisfied with the color of their teeth. The benefits to self-esteem and confidence after teeth whitening are sometimes nothing short of astounding! Often, people fail to take care of their teeth for so long that they didn't fully grasp how much the appearance of their teeth was affecting their feelings about their overall appearance." Cons Being consistent with maintenance and care Whether at home or in office, teeth whitening requires constant care and a delicate hand. Not only do you need to be committed when applying the gel or the light, but it takes several months of repetitive measures to get the desired effects. Dr. Shahrooz Yazdani, Yazdani Family Dentistry "If you want to maintain your whitened teeth, it's recommended to visit the dentist every six months at a minimum. However, a great way to do so at home is to simply use a quality whitening toothpaste. With that being said, ease it into your toothbrushing routine as each person is different. Even whitening toothpaste can sometimes create sensitivity for some patients." Worrying about safety of chemicals Teeth whitening invloves using chemicals and should be done with caution. Check with your dentist if you have concerns. Dr. Kalasho “Teeth whitening is a great treatment when done in moderation and under the supervision of a dental provider. The over-the-counter whitening systems are great, and they do lend some substantial whitening treatment that is affordable as well as convenient; however they may not get your teeth as white as you would like. Over-the-counter whitening products are regulated and cannot exceed a certain concentration due to the possibility of ingestion as well as the potential of burning your gums. When whitening treatment is done by a dental provider in a clinical setting, the gums are covered with barrier to protect them from getting burned, and the lips and tissue are also moved away for the same reason. I recommend professional in office teeth whitening because it is effective, safe, and reliable.” Dr. Coseo “Researchers have not been able to confirm the safety of peroxide whitening chemicals for pregnant and nursing mothers, so at this time, we recommend that you do not whiten while pregnant or nursing. As far as safety goes, that is currently the only specific restriction.” Dealing with sensitive teeth and gums Sensitive teeth are very common among patients. The gels, pens, and teeth whitening systems can be an irritant to teeth enamel as well as to gums which can cause discomfort or pain. Dr. Burhenne “For whitening beyond the stain-removing power of toothpaste, the best options are to get a custom whitening tray from your dentist, or to go to an in-office whitening session where the pros will paint on the whitening solution and carefully avoid your sensitive gum tissue.” Dr. Coseo "People with very sensitive teeth may find whitening uncomfortable or painful. It can also aggravate symptoms of dental problems like cavities and cracks. Harsh whitening chemicals have a temporary weakening effect on tooth enamel, so starting with strong healthy teeth is a must. For this reason, it is a good idea for you to see a dentist before starting any teeth whitening regimen, including an over-the-counter one. If you have sensitive or weak teeth, your dentist can help you strengthen them before whitening, keeping you out of pain and preventing any dental problems. If you know that you have dental problems, you should address them before attempting any type of teeth whitening. This will give you a more predictable and less painful experience." Dr. Kalasho "A major side effect is sensitivity and making the enamel more porous. Making sure you combine all your teeth whitening procedures with a high concentration fluoride treatment is incredibly important and can ameliorate teeth sensitivity. " Myths Dr. Ali from Aspen Dental reports that "Americans spend nearly $1.3 billion every year on do-it-yourself teeth whitening techniques. The use of at-home teeth whitening kits has recently increased new products and services that have launched this season. But the real question is: do they work? " Dr. Ali identifies three myths you may have heard about whitening your teeth and sets the record straight: What you've heard. . . What Dr. Ali wants you to know. . . Charcoal toothpaste is the best and most natural way to whiten your teeth. Charcoal toothpaste is abrasive; coarse, grainy, sand-like particles polish the enamel and this in turn gives the teeth a smooth polished finish making them look whiter. However, it is too coarse for everyday use and hurts the gums. Instead, I recommend a whitening toothpaste which has very fine particles that are just enough to polish your teeth without negatively affecting the enamel. Also, charcoal toothpastes lack fluoride which enamel needs daily in order to re-mineralize the tooth surface at a microscopic level. The strongest at-home whitening gel is the best. Although a strong gel left on for a prolonged period of time can speed up the whitening process, it can cause pain and tooth sensitivity. With at-home treatments, it’s a good idea to test the gel first and work your way up to the maximum time in order to prevent these issues. However, over-the-counter solutions do not work as well as a visit to your dentist, who has the ability to prescribe a stronger gel and can monitor any issues that arise. If a patient is looking for immediate results, I suggest a good hygiene treatment followed by in-office bleaching treatment which will please those seeking instant gratification. You can whiten fillings, veneers, and crowns. If you plan to have veneers or crowns done, its best to whiten your teeth first. Crowns and veneers will not respond to teeth whitening treatments the same way real teeth will. Talk with your dentist today to see what method of teeth whitening is best for you and your smile.
Guest Post by Sabina Szatanik In-office whitening doubtlessly gives the most impressive effects in a short amount of time. But it’s also very expensive and not covered by insurance. Recently, there has been an influx of home remedies that give surprisingly fruitful results. And they’re a lot cheaper! But how do they compare to what the dentist can do? At-home teeth whitening You’ve probably already heard that changing your diet can help make your teeth brighter and healthier. But what if you want more drastic changes? If your discoloration is caused by extrinsic causes (drinking coffee or wine, or smoking tobacco), you can consider whitening your teeth from home. Charcoal This is one of the most popular alternative solutions. Charcoal is sourced from coconut shells, olive pits, wood, and peat. You have to be careful when using it for your teeth though, as it can turn out to be too abrasive for your enamel. Here’s how you should use it: Mix the charcoal powder with some water to make a paste. Apply to your finger for a less abrasive surface than a toothbrush. Massage your teeth. Alternate with fluoride toothpaste to avoid damage to enamel. Do not use for extended periods of time. It shouldn’t replace your regular oral hygiene products entirely, though, “People sometimes ask me about charcoal toothpaste. I usually advise them to use any fluoridated toothpaste and use the charcoal one as an additional mechanism for whitening.” says DDS Namrita Harchandani. Baking soda Baking soda can be found in most households. Its properties include fighting bacteria and polishing teeth. There is actually some scientific research claiming that it is safe and that it works. You shouldn’t, however, use it more than a few times a week to avoid erosion. Oil pulling Coconut, sesame, or sunflower oils can help remove dirt, bacteria, and food debris. Swishing them around in your mouth is a complementary technique, and shouldn’t replace your oral hygiene. So remember to keep brushing and flossing! Whitening kits Especially on social media, it is common to see celebrities promoting whitening kits. They generally include a gel or serum and special light to speed up the process. They usually work like this: Smear the gel over cleaned teeth. Place the lamp into your mouth. Most have a timer; if not, make sure to track time yourself. The process will take about ten minutes per day. Whitening strips Whitening strips are covered with an active ingredient that sticks to your teeth. They are easy to use, but may give uneven coverage, especially if you have issues with crowding. Whitening pens If you want something more on-the-go you are going to want a whitening pen. It might be hard not to wipe the product away with lips and saliva. Some also find it awkward to apply it in public places. In-office teeth whitening If your discoloration is caused by intrinsic causes (infection, tooth trauma, or aging), it might be too risky to take any steps by yourself. In-office teeth whitening guarantees results. The three procedures below involve setting up appointments with your dentist. He or she will vouch for your mouth’s safety. Laser teeth whitening Similar to a whitening kit, this procedure uses a combination of light and a serum or gel. The difference is that the concentration of the active ingredient will be higher at the office. Your gums and lips will be covered with a protective gel or rubber shield. A gel or serum will be applied to your teeth. A laser light will shine onto them. This can take about ten minutes. You will get to enjoy instant results! Gel take-home kit This option involves your dentist, but also requires you to do some work at home. A mold of your mouth will be made at the dentist’s office. It will fit your mouth perfectly. You will have to put the gel inside and wear it. Such a solution is great if you want dramatic effects from home. Chairside bleaching This method allows whitening without the light. It is recommended for sensitive teeth. The appointment might take a bit longer though. How do they compare? How do alternative remedies and professional solutions compare in terms of the price, the effects, and safety to your teeth? Cost Using at-home remedies is considerably cheaper. Products such as baking soda and coconut oil can probably already be found in your pantry. If not, some quick grocery shopping will do the trick. Things you will have to order or shop around for, such as strips or pens, can cost around $50 with a supply for a few weeks. Kits might be a bit more expensive, somewhere around $100. Whitening procedures at the dentist can cost you over $500. You might also have to take a day off work or pay for childcare, depending on when your appointment is. Effects Baking soda does make your teeth visibly more white after a few uses. However, it only works on surface stains, as it has no bleaching properties. This means that the effects will fade after a few weeks. Charcoal whitening and oil pulling have not been widely researched. Patient reviews online tend to praise their effects, while dentists remain skeptical. Charcoal works, like baking soda, on the basis of polishing your teeth and removing surface stains. According to a survey performed by Authority Dental, over 65 percent of people who used charcoal noticed that their teeth were whiter. While oils might fight bacteria and remove food debris, there isn’t much evidence that they whiten teeth significantly. On the other hand, OTC whitening kits can give surprisingly good results. “I often recommend patients use store-bought whitening; just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines” says DMD Matthew Stewart. Bleaching solutions with carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide can make your teeth from five to seven shades brighter. This includes both in-office as well as at-home whitening. Procedures done at the dentist’s office, however, are more likely to trigger dramatic effects, and quickly too. Everything you do at home will be milder and will probably take more time. According to Dr. Harchandani “in-office gives a substantial difference right away, as the concentration [of the active ingredients] used is much higher.” Safety Quite obviously, any procedure that happens under the watchful eye of a dentist is going to be safer than amateur techniques. Whatever procedure you choose, you should always consult with a licensed professional. The biggest issues concerned with whitening are tooth sensitivity and the abrasiveness of some materials. Bleaching teeth in any way makes them more sensitive for a while. You should abstain from smoking and eating food with tannins for at least a few hours after the treatment. It is important to always check the abrasiveness of products you use on your teeth. The ADA does not recommend using toothpaste with an RDA (relative dentin abrasion) over 250. The higher the RDA the bigger the risk of damaging your enamel. Charcoal whitening can be quite harsh on your teeth. The Authority Dental survey quoted above has found that over 80 percent of the respondents had no dental consultation before using this method for whitening. It should come as no surprise, then, that only a fifth of them checked the RDA of the product. On the other hand, among those who did have a consultation beforehand, the proportions are inverted. As many as eight out of every ten respondents checked the RDA. This is proof of their awareness on this issue. In the opinion of Dr. Stewart, it is much safer to use traditional teeth bleaching products than alternative methods. The bottom line While it makes sense to treat intrinsic discoloration in-office and extrinsic at home, this is not always best. A dentist will most likely advise you against working completely on your own, no matter what the cause of your discoloration is. But is this approach reasonable? Let’s have a look at the biggest differences: At-Home Cheaper Milder changes You can adjust it to your schedule In-Office Quicker More dramatic shade change The effect will probably last longer The solution that makes a compromise between at-home and in-office whitening is a take-home kit you receive from your dentist. However, if you want to avoid visiting the dentist altogether, a teeth whitening kit might be your best bet. Make sure to compare different brands and choose what’s best for you. Sabina Szatanik is a copy editor at Authority Dental. Breaking free from her family’s wishes to become a dentist herself (both of her parents working in the industry) she decided to marry one instead. Her great escape is writing about teeth on the internet.