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Teeth Whitening: Overview, Types, Procedures & Maintenance

Many people want straight, white, and healthy teeth. However, many factors may hinder us from achieving our most beautiful smile. We eat and drink various types of foods and beverages without much consideration of the effect they have on our teeth. After all, we love our mornings filled with a hot cup of coffee, not minding that the caffeinated drink is staining our teeth.

Our lifestyle constitutes activities that do more harm than good to our oral health. We spend some time in our day smoking or drinking alcoholic beverages that discolor our teeth and lead to dry mouth. Unavoidable circumstances like aging are also taking a toll on the condition of our mouth.

Fortunately, dentistry has improved through time. Today, dentistry creates solutions to our dental problems and promises us the achievement of better smiles. Orthodontics help us have straighter teeth. Preventive care treatments like dental cleanings and checkups keep our oral health in check.

And our discolored teeth can transform to a pearly white appearance through teeth whitening. Teeth whitening allows the teeth to lighten and brighten from its current shade. But before we dwell on the solution, let's dig into the problem — discolored teeth.

What Causes Teeth to Yellow?

Our teeth naturally stain over time. Tooth discoloration can be extrinsic, intrinsic, or age-related.

  • Extrinsic stains are on the tooth surface. They often occur when residue from food or drinks builds up in a protein film, covering the enamel. Aside from food and beverages, tobacco use also contributes to extrinsic stains.
  • Intrinsic stains are found underneath the tooth surface. They are acquired when stain-causing particles get into the tooth's exterior and accumulate inside the enamel, causing the dentin to darken or gets a yellow tint. Some causes of intrinsic stains are excessive fluoride use during childhood, use of tetracycline antibiotics when young, trauma, among others.
  • Age-related stains are a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic stains. As we age, the enamel gets thinner. This results in the exposure of the teeth' core issues, which naturally turn yellow over time. This intrinsic discoloration, along with extrinsic stains due to food, can lead to noticeable tooth discoloration.

How Can I Whiten My Discolored Teeth?

You can restore your teeth's "whiteness" through teeth whitening.

There's a myriad of teeth whitening products to choose from: whitening toothpaste or rinses, whitening strips, whitening gels, tray bleaching, and in-office whitening.

  • Whitening toothpaste can help reduce discoloration, especially if it's due to extrinsic stains. Whitening toothpaste contains carbamide peroxide or hydrogen, which are bleaching agents. The abrasives in the toothpaste are what help remove stains on the enamel.
  • Whitening rinse contains similar bleaching agents that whitening toothpaste does and is used similarly to ordinary rinses.
  • Made from thin, flexible, and hydrogen peroxide-infused polyethylene, the most common plastic, teeth whitening strips are lightly pressed directly onto the teeth. They're normally worn two times a day for 30 minutes each period.
  • Teeth whitening gels also have hydrogen peroxide. The gel is regularly applied to the teeth two times daily for two weeks.
  • If over-the-counter measures don't work, patients can opt for tray bleaching, which is a professional whitening kit offered by a dentist. Compared to over-the-counter whitening products, this works faster and more effectively. Tray bleaching works by applying peroxide-based gel on customized trays. 
  • In-office whitening is considered the quickest way to whiten teeth. The in-office whitening treatment utilizes a dental lamp to accelerate peroxide breakdown. Higher concentrations of peroxide, which can only be found in the dental office, is used in this treatment.

How to Set Realistic Teeth Whitening Results

In the past, you might have experimented with different types of teeth whitening products. That could mean a carbamide peroxide teeth whitening kit, or some whitening toothpaste, or even a hydrogen peroxide and baking soda paste. And before trying it out, you might’ve been lured in with the promise of quick and effective pearly whites, often after 30 minutes of application. 

But sometimes, thinking this way can set us up for failure. We might find, for instance, that instead of blinding brightness, our teeth are more yellow after whitening procedures. And we might beat ourselves over it, despite yellow teeth being a regular thing in some cases.

How, then, can we set realistic teeth whitening results for ourselves?   

#1 Know what you want from your smile

Before you set yourself for realistic teeth whitening results, ask yourself—is a whiter smile really what you need? Or is there something else you can do for your teeth? What might come across as a dull smile might actually be a case of poor oral health. Whether it’s traces of tooth decay or staining from your cup of tea or coffee, a good brush and floss often do the job. And in cases where your oral hygiene routine no longer suffices, having it checked with dental professionals is always a good idea.

There might also be times where your teeth are in tip-top condition, only to be plagued with occlusion problems. In that case, an appointment with some dental professionals—particularly an orthodontist—is crucial.

#2 Healthy is always better than bright

So you find yourself going through one teeth whitening kit after another in pursuit of a whiter smile. Maybe you tried a bit of home whitening in between, encouraged by promises of instant whiteness after 30 minutes of application. Perhaps you’ve tried a whole slew of teeth whitening products or gone through various dental professionals. But while there’s no harm in pursuing a whiter smile, sometimes the extra mile might not be necessary. And at times, it can be quite expensive.

In the end, then, your oral health will always trump how white your teeth are. No matter how dull you might find your smile to be, in the end, a healthy smile still carries the same charm as the ultra-bright smiles you see on the billboards. 

#3 Yellow teeth are not your enemy

When it comes to unrealistic whitening expectations, the promise of a beaming, bluish-white smile is probably the heaviest of all. As a matter of fact, it’s near impossible—because our dentin is naturally yellow, all teeth have yellowish undertones. So before you subject your teeth to a barrage of bleaching agents, take a step back. To achieve realistic teeth whitening results, it’s always best to look at the bigger picture. 

How Long will Results Take?

Contrary to what you may hear, it’s impossible to see your teeth whiten overnight. A professional whitening treatment takes 3-4 weeks before you see a noticeable difference. Whitening gels range somewhere between 4 days to many months. And strips might take a little while longer. Proponents of natural whitening might say that they work immediately after use. Others worry about these whitening treatments' abrasive nature. Thus, if this is the route you choose, it might be best to use these methods sparingly. Whichever option your choose, set realistic expectations over what to expect.

There isn't really one set teeth whitening age. As long as you have all your permanent teeth in good oral health, sensitive teeth shouldn't be a problem.

What's the Minimum Age for Teeth Whitening?

Is your child wanting to try over-the-counter teeth whitening products? Hold on. Whitening your kids' teeth might do more harm than good. Primary teeth typically have thinner enamel shells and don't have the compact minerals your permanent teeth have. When you whiten them, you leave them more vulnerable to oral bacterial attacks. And because teeth whitening can dry out your teeth, this can give your kid sensitive teeth. As a result, this can interfere with their proper development. 

So, when can my child use teeth whitening products? Well, first, make sure that all your child's permanent teeth have erupted. This typically occurs at 12-14 years of age. But don't start your teens off the whitening gel just yet. At this stage, their teeth still need time to harden and gather all the minerals they need. Called enamel calcification, this usually takes two more years after the last permanent tooth emerges. In a sense, the ideal teeth whitening age is around 16 years old. One could even say it's the very minimum age for teeth whitening.

Even if your child hits their 16th birthday, however, getting their teeth whitened probably shouldn't be right in the cards just yet. As with all things, teeth whitening has its share of side effects. And in this case, it's something that could interfere with healthy tooth development. In any case, getting a whitening treatment might be best once they're adults or if their dentist says it's okay. 

Why You Shouldn't Use Activated Charcoal Teeth Whitening

Why is there a preference for activated charcoal teeth whitening among other whitening products? We can't say for sure, but it might have something to do with a viable natural product choice. And with health scares over potentially harmful substances and concern over rising prices, it's no surprise. 

Activated charcoal is a preferred ingredient because of activated charcoal powder's usual use in poison treatment. When ingested, activated charcoal powder binds to the toxins, absorbing them before they could do any severe damage. 

Those who swear by activated charcoal for teeth whitening purposes then argue that it works the same way. When you place the activated charcoal powder on your teeth, it supposedly removes stains by absorbing the particles that stain teeth. Aside from the unsightly activated charcoal teeth, this type of whitening might do more harm than good. 

Why shouldn't you use activated charcoal teeth whitening, then? 

It doesn't work the way you think it does

On the surface, assuming that activated charcoal teeth whitening works the same way as absorbing poison does seem like a plausible explanation. After all, that is the nature of the activated charcoal powder. However, what other people don't mention is that it can only absorb a select number of substances. Mayo Clinic, for instance, notes the few materials activated charcoal can't digest, such as:

  • Strong acids and bases
  • Iron
  • Lithium
  • Petroleum products
  • Alcohol
  • Lye
  • Oil

As such, activated charcoal powder can't absorb the tiny particles that stain teeth. We also previously noted that whitening products must get through the pores in the enamel to break down those particles that stain teeth to give your teeth that pearly white status. Activated charcoal powder, however, doesn't have this ability.

If that's the case, how does it work?

Charcoal Teeth Whitening Can Ruin Your Enamel

Charcoal teeth whitening removes stains the same way most natural whitening products do: abrasion. That's right—charcoal powder doesn't remove stains through absorption.  

Sure, the activated charcoal powder can feel pretty fair to the touch, but it still has abrasive properties, which are enough to scour off any surface stains and strip down layers of tooth enamel.

For the latter reason, dentists and other dental professionals tend to sway people off activated charcoal whitening. Aside from getting a bad case of activated charcoal teeth, every time you brush with a spoonful of activated charcoal powder, you're slowly wearing down your tooth enamel. And instead of having it remove stains, you're one step towards compromising your oral hygiene and oral health. 

That said, if the activated charcoal powder isn't the way to go, what is? Usually, getting your teeth whitened professionally is the best way to go. And the next time you hear about the latest oral hygiene craze, it's always best to consult your doctor. 

Is Laser Teeth Whitening Safe?

At some point in your life, you might have considered whitening your teeth. Maybe you even checked out your whitening options, even. Perhaps at-home teeth whitening kit with hydrogen peroxide seemed most appealing to you. Or maybe a whitening toothpaste suited your groove better. As you looked through the various teeth whitening options, you might have come across the idea of laser whitening and all its benefits. Despite this, you might have asked yourself: is laser teeth whitening safe? 

When it comes to how good laser whitening is, the procedure looks quite good on paper. Those who swear by it, for instance, might talk about how laser whitening gives them their desired results faster. Others might say how it removes stains more effectively compared to other teeth whitening products. As with all teeth whitening options, however, the treatment does have its downsides. Some, for instance, might contest how effective it is, questioning if laser teeth whitening works. Others might wonder if laser teeth whitening hurts, which might call into question how safe it is, exactly. 

So, is laser teeth whitening safe? To answer this question, we might need to understand how laser teeth whitening works and where these downsides come from. 

How Does it Work?

Before partaking in any teeth whitening treatment, it’s essential to know how healthy your teeth are. Most teeth whitening products or teeth whitening treatments are abrasive in nature, meaning that they can wear down your tooth enamel in the process. People with less than stellar oral health might want to consider resolving those dental issues before proceeding with such procedures. 

It’s also for this reason why your dentist cleans your teeth before the whitening process. This serves two purposes. First, this process gives your dentist time to see if your teeth have any issues lying dormant. Second, this office treatment scales off any dental plaque or tartar that can interfere with the teeth whitening treatment. 

After your teeth are cleaned, you’ll receive protective eyewear to protect your eyes from the effects of the peroxide gel. Hydrogen peroxide is usually the peroxide of choice in laser professional teeth whitening since it produces faster whitening results. To protect your gums, your dentist or dental assistant might apply a rubber shield or protective gel to them. 

Once all the protective gear is in place, your dentist applies the peroxide gel to your teeth. They then laser the area to help speed up the whitening process by assisting the active ingredients in the gel in breaking down particles that cause staining. During the procedure, your dentist might apply more bleach to specific teeth to ensure that your whole set whitens equally. 

Is Laser Teeth Whitening Safe?

Now that we know how laser teeth whitening works, are there any downsides to the procedure? Yes, but it shares the same problems as other whitening services. For one, your teeth might feel sensitive post-operation due to the concentration of hydrogen peroxide in the peroxide gel. And despite the precautions, some of the gel might still make their way to your gums, causing irritation. 

Overall, however, laser teeth whitening is safe for the teeth as compared to other whitening methods. Because it targets the accumulated pore particles, you get less abrasive enamel wear compared to other methods, like act/teeth-whitening-procedure/ivated charcoal. And laser teeth whitening does work. The only downside is you need to regularly get your teeth whitened, so it doesn’t lose its sheen.

So, is laser teeth whitening safe? Yes, it is—counting out your pocket expenses, that is. 

How To Maintain Your Whitened Teeth

Avoid acidic foods and drinks: As most know, teeth whitening treatments often leave patients' teeth sensitive and weak for a while. This is especially true when dealing with acidic foods and drinks. It is not uncommon for pain to occur after the consumption of such. For this reason, limit or avoid acidic foods and drinks for about a week or two. This includes lemonade, vinegar, alcohol, citrus fruits, and tomatoes.

Dark beverages and foods: Dark, staining drinks such as alcoholic beverages, coffee, darker juices, and black teas can stain your beautifully whitened teeth. Sodas and sports drinks are also unsafe post-teeth whitening. If you must consume these, opt for a straw to avoid as much direct contact with your teeth as possible. Additionally, avoid darker foods like cranberries, lollipops, other candies, popsicles, and other brightly- or deeply-colored foods.

Keeping away from staining foods and drinks is necessary if you want your teeth whitening treatment to last as long as possible.

High sugar: As much as most of us love sugar, avoiding overly sweet foods is vital. This is because the teeth are still struggling with sensitivity after teeth-whitening treatment. Keeping a diet filled with non-sugary foods is always critical for healthy teeth. However, things should always be eaten in moderation, especially for sensitive teeth after whitening their pearly whites.

In conclusion, teeth whitening is an excellent dental procedure for those wanting brighter and whiter teeth. However, it is crucial to follow simple guidelines after the treatment to ensure your sensitive teeth are best cared for and beautiful for months to come.

Following the procedure, what you eat and drink is essential. This is especially during the first few weeks after treatment. Shortly afterward, one may resume their regular diet as sensitivity will most likely reduce or be gone. Some, though, continue avoiding staining foods and drinks until their teeth whitening starts to wear off.

It is up to you to decide if the health of your teeth is important enough to avoid certain types of foods and drinks temporarily.

Vertical Lines on Teeth after Whitening?

Ever get those vertical lines on teeth after whitening? If it’s something that concerns you, you’re not alone. It’s not something you really expect to get after teeth whitening. If anything, it’s something you want to avoid, especially if you get them on your front teeth. Having unevenly whitened teeth, after all, is a nightmare most people who get their teeth whitened fear. But while it might look unsightly, these white lines might give you an insight into the state of your oral hygiene. So, if you have visible lines in your teeth, what do they mean? 

First off, it's essential to note that when you whiten your teeth, you’re actually just brightening it to a pre-existing shade. And our teeth aren’t evenly shaded for the most part. Some areas can be lighter than others. So, if you whiten your teeth all at once, these lighter parts tend to stick out more. It’s also for this reason why we recommend getting professional teeth whitening. Your dentist can monitor the areas of the teeth that need more whitening, so they become even.

If you do see these vertical lines on teeth after whitening, however, what do they mean? 

The Visible Lines on Your Teeth Were Always There

There’s a bevy of reasons why you’d have vertical lines on teeth after whitening. Your enamel might be thinner in specific areas on your teeth. Or maybe the white lines might be a sign your teeth could be lacking minerals. Regardless of the reason, one thing’s clear—those visible lines in your teeth had always been there.

So, what happened? Earlier, we talked about how teeth whitening can make the lighter parts of your teeth stick out more. And in a way, that can be a good thing. These white lines can tell you if there’s something wrong with your teeth. And, consequently, what you can do to fix it. 

What usually causes these white lines, then? Often, they are the following:

  • Thinning tooth enamel. Our dentin is naturally yellow. When our tooth enamel grows thin, it slowly exposes the dentin, giving it a yellowish color. It’s not uncommon to notice your teeth growing yellow as you grow older. If you find some of your teeth growing white while other parts are turning yellow after whitening, it might be a sign that you’ve got thin tooth enamel.  
  • Hypocalcification. When your tooth enamel loses enough minerals, it undergoes something called hypo-calcification. This can happen when you don’t keep to your oral hygiene routine. Because it is chalky white in appearance, post-teeth whitening can make these areas stand out further.
  • Tooth dehydration. When you get professional teeth whitening, your dentist might add a hydrogen peroxide gel to your teeth. The hydrogen peroxide opens your enamel pores to break down the stain-causing particles and effectively whiten your teeth. Post-whitening, however, it can dehydrate your teeth in segments, leaving white marks in the process. Unlike the first two causes, tooth dehydration is, fortunately, a temporary side-effect. 

Are Your Teeth Sensitive after Whitening?

Teeth whitening treatments can cause teeth sensitivity. Dental professionals suggest the use of desensitizing toothpaste, avoidance of sugary and acidic foods and drinks, and to consult with your dentist for possible remedy.

How can I treat my sensitive teeth after teeth whitening?

Teeth can be sensitive after whitening treatments. In case this happens to you, there are lots of available options for you to consider in order to lessen the discomfort or pain. Some of them include:

  • Chewing gum. Studies have discovered that chewing gum greatly helps produce more saliva. In addition, such actions can aid distract the person with sensitive teeth from the discomfort.
  • Using toothpaste that is designed for those with sensitive teeth. There is available sensitive toothpaste which is specially formulated with potassium nitrate. This ingredient is great for relieving the discomfort linked with tooth sensitivity.
  • For a while, avoid the use of whitening products or treatments. If sensitivity persists, give your teeth some time to rest from using whitening products.
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