The tooth whitening industry is a very large and ever expanding market. Over $1.4 billion dollars were spent on whitening products by Americans. Some of this money was a complete waste, and some of this money was used to transform a smile. On the more effective end of whitening products you have Zoom Whitening, which is fast and efficient. On the opposite end, you have whitening strips. Let’s discuss how whitening works, and how to best spend your money.
What part of the tooth is whitened?
The average person believes that the enamel is that part of the tooth that gives the tooth color and that the enamel is what needs whitened. This is a misunderstanding of tooth anatomy. Almost everybody knows that enamel is the outer layer of the tooth, but not many people outside of dental health professionals can name the second layer of the tooth. This is called the “dentin” and this is what gives your tooth its color. If your teeth are yellow, it is because your dentin is yellow, and if your teeth are grey it is because your dentin is grey.
Various things that we put into our bodies will stain the dentin and turn it different colors. Smoking, red wine, coffee, tea, and many other things can change the color of your teeth. Also, as we age, teeth gradually become more and more grey. Some of these stains are superficial and can be removed by properly brushing your teeth or by a professional cleaning at your dentist office during a regular cleaning.
How is the tooth whitened?
The enamel is made up of an interesting physical structure constructed of rods. These rods are aligned one right next to the other, and together they make up the hardest substance of the entire body. The image below is an electron microscope view of the enamel rods of the teeth. Due to the internal structure of the tooth, hydrogen peroxide is the most common ingredient used to whiten teeth. It penetrates the enamel and works its way through the rods to find its way into the dentin, dissolving stains and leaving your teeth whiter and brighter.
The dentin of the tooth is made up of what are called tubules. These tubules are where the hydrogen peroxide enters and the whitening begins to transform the color of the tooth. An important factor to consider is the concentration of the hydrogen peroxide. The higher the concentration, the better the penetration of the whitening and the more drastic the whitening changes are. In most states, hydrogen peroxide can’t be sold over the counter in high enough concentrations to see any sort of significant whitening results. Whitening strips are the most common form of over-the-counter whitening products, however the results are not significant for most people.
What about whitening toothpaste?
Toothpastes are not permitted to contain high enough concentrations of hydrogen peroxide to penetrate the tooth at all, so all they do is remove surface stains. Every toothpaste can remove surface stains, because toothpaste is a mild abrasive designed to remove whatever is on the surface of your tooth. Whitening toothpaste does absolutely nothing to whiten the dentin, as it cannot penetrate the enamel of the tooth.
What are the side effects of whitening?
Unfortunately, there can be side effects to whitening your teeth. By opening up the enamel and penetrating the dentin of the teeth, there can be some slight sensitivity. The great news is that with modern advances to the whitening formula, this sensitivity can be controlled and become almost negligible.
Another side effect is damage to the soft tissues of the mouth. The inside of the cheeks, lips, and gums can be burned by the hydrogen peroxide formula. The problem with do it yourself home products is that people are not aware of the damage being done to the teeth and soft tissues. This is why all whitening should be monitored by a professional. When whitening is done at a dental office by professionals, great care is taken to avoid any damage to the soft tissues of the mouth.
Is there such a thing as too much whitening?
Absolutely. When and how often someone should whiten there teeth is best determined by a dentist consulting with their patient. Chronic bleaching can harm teeth, usually unnecessarily because the teeth are already white.
There are many options out there to brighten your smile. Consult with your dentist as to which option is best suited to helping you obtain the desired outcome.