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Everything You Need to Know about Teeth Whitening

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Once you finish orthodontic treatment and your smile is beautiful, an easy way to top off your smile transformation is to whiten your teeth. In fact, we get asked almost daily about this. So here is “Teeth Whitening 101”:


What causes teeth to darken?

There are two types of discoloration- extrinsic (or outside/surface staining) and intrinsic (or darkening from within the tooth) and each has it’s own cause.

  1. Extrinsic staining is caused by any food or drink that is very pigmented adhering to the outside surface of the teeth. Common culprits are coffee, tea, smoking, red wine, soda, berries, etc.
  2. Intrinsic staining can be caused by various factors and usually happens over time. Age, trauma, and medications are among the most common.


What are the options for teeth whitening?

  1. Whitening toothpastes are able to remove surface stains only. They contain abrasives that gently scrub the stains off teeth while you brush. Be careful not to scrub too hard with these toothpastes, though, because you don’t want to wear away the enamel. Toothpastes are not able to intrinsically whiten teeth because they don’t contain any bleaching agents. To get teeth a lighter color than their natural shade, you will need to chose one of the following options.
  2. In-office whitening is simple procedure performed in a dental office. Your dentist will place a protective barrier over your gums, apply a bleaching gel to the teeth, then set you under a special light. The reason people like this option is because they get instant results. However, this method has been shown to cause the most sensitivity because it dehydrates the teeth, which also makes the teeth initially appear whiter than they will remain because the teeth are temporarily slightly lighter when drier.
  3. Whitening strips can be found in stores and placed over the teeth at home. They have a low concentration of bleach so although they do work, the results will take longer to achieve. However, they are a very cost-efficient way to improve the tooth’s natural shade.
  4. Whitening trays that are not custom-made can be purchased from a store, but the best option is a custom-fit tray made at our office or by your dentist. To use these, a bleach gel from a dental professional will need to be purchased separately and a small amount placed in the trays worn at home. The best part? Your custom aligner we give you at the end of treatment can also be used for whitening!


Are there any side-effects to teeth whitening?

Side effects from whitening aren’t serious or permanent, but some people may experience one or more of the following:

  1. Tooth sensitivity is caused by an agent in the bleach reaching the nerve. Check out our post on sensitivity to learn more.
  2. Soft tissue irritation happens when too much bleach is placed in the trays causing it to overflow onto the gums when the tray is put on the teeth or when a whitening strip overlaps the gums. This is also known as a chemical burn and although it can be painful, it will go away on it’s own within a few days.
  3. Unsatisfactory results. If you have a root canal, if a tooth is severely damaged, or if you have veneers, crowns, bridges, or certain fillings, bleaching may not work for you. If you have severe intrinsic discoloration, heavy staining, or whiten too often, you may not be happy with the outcome. Teeth whitening isn’t harmful in these situations, but you may not get the results you are looking for.

Darkening teeth is natural and common and is only a “problem” when it comes to cosmetics. Yet a lot of people say whiter teeth is one of the biggest improvements they desire with their smile. Whitening is very popular these days and as you can see, there are many options available for you. If you are interested in whitening, talk to your dentist, Dr. Montano, or Dr. Cardall about which method is best for you!






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