Cosmetic DentistCertain foods and drinks can stain our teeth over time and spoil our smile. Our teeth can also become tarnished as part of the aging process. Teeth whitening products are available online and from outlets such as drugstores and other shops, but you can also get your teeth whitened by a dentist.

Professional teeth whitening is faster and more effective than over-the-counter (OTC) teeth whitening toothpastes and DIY teeth bleaching kits. Professional whitening treatment works by removing stains from tooth enamel and lightening the color of the underlying dentin.

Whitening toothpastes usually contain chemicals and abrasive materials to help break down stains and polish teeth. While these toothpastes may remove surface stains, most won’t lighten deeper discoloration and usually take several weeks to produce any visible results. They can also be tough on enamel.

OTC bleaching gels and strips and tray-based whitening systems are available for deeper stains but, like whitening toothpastes, may not be enamel-friendly, and can irritate the gums.

What Causes Teeth Stains?

Enamel – the outer layer of teeth – is the hardest substance in the body and protects us from tooth decay. However, it’s still susceptible to staining. When enamel becomes discolored through external factors, it’s known as extrinsic or surface staining.

Extrinsic stains develop when colored residue from foods or drinks accumulates on the protein film that covers dental enamel.

The main culprits are:

  • Dark-colored sodas.
  • Coffee.
  • Tea.
  • Red wine.
  • Some vegetables and fruits with heavy pigmentation, such as beets and blueberries.

Nicotine from tobacco use – both smoking and chewing tobacco – is also a major cause of stained teeth, and poor oral hygiene such as inadequate brushing and flossing can also result in discoloration of teeth.

Intrinsic staining – below the surface of a tooth – is more difficult to correct. It can happen as we get older and causes teeth to appear yellow as enamel thins, allowing more exposure of the dentin, which yellows naturally during the aging process.

Some people – particularly older adults – have problems with both intrinsic and extrinsic staining.

Other factors that can contribute to stained teeth include:

  • Some medications – including chemotherapy, and certain blood pressure drugs, antibiotics and antihistamines.
  • Dental injury – damage from a knock or fall can interrupt enamel development in young children, and physical trauma can also cause discoloration of adult teeth. Cracks in the enamel can allow stains to go deeper into a tooth, and damage to the pulp – the central part of a tooth – can also result in staining.

Advantages of Professional Teeth Whitening

One principal advantage of professional teeth whitening vs. OTC teeth whitening is that your dentist or dental hygienist can give your teeth a professional cleaning ahead of the whitening process.

A dental cleaning is a key part of preventive dentistry and plays a major role in maintaining your oral health. For instance, if bacterial plaque calcifies into tartar, it can only be removed by a dental professional with specialized equipment.

Professional teeth cleaning also typically incorporates a dental check-up to identify any potential problems before they become serious issues. Your dentist won’t proceed with teeth whitening unless your teeth and gums are healthy – before any kind of whitening treatment, they’ll ensure your mouth is disease- and decay-free.

Sometimes, even expert teeth cleaning isn’t enough to get rid of heavy staining, which is when professional whitening provides the ideal solution to restore your smile to its former glory.

Professional teeth whitening uses stronger bleaching agents than available over the counter, and so produces better results. As the American Dental Association (ADA) points out, professional teeth whitening is highly effective in removing stubborn stains.

After professional teeth whitening, your teeth will be stronger and healthier, and your dentist will advise you on how to keep your teeth clean and stain-free after treatment. This advice typically includes the best methods of brushing and flossing and which foods and drinks to avoid.

Types of Professional Teeth Whitening

Professional teeth whitening is usually achieved in one of two ways – a procedure in the dental chair or prescription customized whitening trays for use at home.

A whitening treatment in the dental office lightens discoloration of both dentin and enamel to give you dramatic results in less than an hour.

A popular alternative to this procedure is provided by whitening trays prescribed by a dentist, which hold a huge advantage over OTC teeth whitening kits – the process is customized to your individual needs.

Firstly, your dentist will take impressions of your teeth from which custom trays can be crafted for a precise fit to ensure the whitening gel stays in close contact with your teeth to produce the best results. The custom-fit also avoids issues associated with OTC whitening trays, such as leaking gel irritating the gums.

Back home, you fill each tray with the whitening agent provided by the dentist and wear them for short periods of time over a few days. Many people quickly achieve their desired level of whitening – with a smile that’s four to eight shades brighter.

During chairside whitening, dentists monitor each stage of the process and protect your mouth from damage. This, of course, isn’t possible with a home-based tray whitening system, so, as a safeguard, dentists prescribe a gel with lower levels of peroxide than those used for in-office treatments.

Why Choose Professional Teeth Whitening?

Supported by a good routine of oral hygiene – brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily – professional teeth whitening is long-lasting and reliable.

Although professional whitening may cost more than a single over-the-counter whitening product, it can work out less expensive in the long run. You may find you have to buy multiple whitening products before you see any results.

Professional teeth whitening achieves significant results because it lightens both enamel and dentin, and the treatment is tailored to your specific needs to provide the exact level of brightness you’re looking for, in the areas you want it most.