When it comes to making your teeth whiter, the words whitening and bleaching are often used to refer to the same procedure. In fact, the American Dental Association often does not make a distinction between the two. Teeth bleaching is typically considered a technical term, while whitening has become the more common phrase today as products are marketed directly to consumers. To be clear, though, you are not actually putting bleach on your teeth. “Bleaching” refers to making them whiter.
Teeth whitening entails removing surface stains to restore teeth to their natural shade, while teeth bleaching goes a step beyond and lightens the tooth enamel beyond its natural color. In all cases, whitening procedures work only on natural teeth. Talk to your dentist if you have crowns or other dental devices.
Causes of Teeth Stains
Dentists categorize teeth stains into two types: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic tooth stains are the ones that coffee drinkers and smokers notice. Intrinsic stains are caused by factors outside a person’s control—like heredity, aging, or certain medical conditions.
Here are some common causes of tooth stains and discoloration:
1. Poor Dental Hygiene
Without proper, regular brushing and flossing, your teeth are prone to stains and discoloration since you do not routinely remove foods and substances that can cause stains.
Smoking or chewing tobacco is associated with a number of oral problems, including teeth discoloration.
3. Certain Foods and Drinks
Highly acidic drinks, such as coffee, soda, wine, juice, and tea, and foods such as beets, apples, cherries, and blueberries can also cause teeth stains.
Certain medications such as antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants, high-blood pressure medications, and antihistamines may cause teeth to discolor.
5. Dental Trauma
Any dental trauma—such as a break or a chip—that damages the tooth’s protective layer can cause discoloration.
If bright, white teeth are your goal, you’re in luck. There are a number of over-the-counter home whitening products, dentist-distributed at-home kits, and professional in-office dental procedures available that help you rid your teeth of stains. Let’s take a look:
1. Whitening Strips
Available over-the-counter, strips don’t require a dental appointment and work best on teeth that have slight to moderate staining. They’re easy to apply—one strip goes on your upper teeth, the other on the bottom. You may see whiter teeth within a few days.
2. Whitening Toothpaste
Compared to regular toothpaste, whitening toothpaste cleans teeth and removes most of the substances that stain the teeth. The toothpaste usually contains hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Whitening toothpaste does not work as quickly as strips do—it may take a few weeks to see results.
3. Custom-Fit Tray Bleaching
You will need to make an appointment with your dentist to have these custom trays fitted to your mouth. The trays are comfortable and easy to use. They hold whitening gel that your dentist provides. The trays are worn in the comfort of your home for a period of time recommended by your dentist—usually up to two hours.
4. Laser Bleaching
Laser teeth bleaching is a new technological advancement performed in your dentist’s office. Your dentist uses a laser to activate a whitening agent. This treatment provides faster results compared to other whitening options, but not everyone is eligible. Speak to your dentist to see if it is for you.
While the costs of teeth bleaching vary, teeth whitening products and procedures are generally affordable. Check with your dentist to find out the best treatment for you.
Common Side Effects of Teeth Whitening
Generally, teeth bleaching or whitening is considered safe, though you may experience some side effects. Some of the more common side effects of teeth whitening are temporary tooth sensitivity, and mouth and gum irritation. Most often, it is the hydrogen peroxide in the product that causes discomfort. You may feel temporary sensitivity when drinking or eating hot or cold beverages and foods after a treatment. Getting your teeth whitened repeatedly or using tooth whitening kits for longer than directed can also result in long-term damage to your tooth enamel.
It is important to follow the product’s or dentist’s instructions carefully when whitening your teeth. Talk with your dentist about any sensitivity you may experience after the treatment. Sometimes, dentists are able to use an application process that reduces irritation.
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