Teeth Whitening Safe is Safe
Teeth Whitening for today's image conscious woman -- Is it Safe?
I frequently get questions about teeth whitening and safety. As a dentist no longer treating patients, I have nothing to gain or lose by expressing my opinion on this topic! Read on to learn about the different types of stains that affect your teeth, how cosmetic teeth whitening does its work to remove them, and about issues of sensitivity and harm to tooth enamel.
Two different kinds of Stain
We all know about the first kind of stain, it's the stain that lies on the surface of your teeth and can be removed by brushing or by a professional cleaning at the dentist or hygienist. Dentists call this extrinsic stain.
If you could see your teeth under a microscope, the surface would look something like a honeycomb. Thousands of tiny crystals (called "enamel rods") line up side by side to form the outer enamel, and beneath them "dentin tubules" form the tooth's inner layer. Over time, stain on the tooth's surface works its way through this system of rods and tubes and become trapped deep inside. This stain is now part of your tooth. We dentists call it intrinsic stain. It can't be brushed, scraped or polished away.
How Teeth Whitening Works
Whitening formulas rely on the chemical agents Hydrogen Peroxide or Carbamide Peroxide, not on abrasives. These whitening (or bleaching) agents actually react with both extrinsic and intrinsic stain to neutralize it, not scrub it away. And there's no need to worry about peroxides becoming "trapped" inside you teeth. Their presence is temporary. This is why teeth whitening typically involves a series of applications, and "touch ups" every 6 months or so .
Many of the older teeth whiteners (Ultrabrite toothpaste, Pearl drops, etc. used harsh abrasives that literally scoured away extrinsic stains and took off a significant amount of tooth enamel in the process. Stay away from abrasive toothpastes!
Changes in your Teeth: Temporary or permanent?
Under a microscope, tiny changes in the tooth surface can be detected after teeth whitening. But our saliva has the ability to counteract these changes immediately. In studies that have shown irreversible damage from bleaching agents, exposure levels were so continuous and for such prolonged periods of time that they would be near impossible to reproduce at home. If you're being cautious, then opt for a one-hour exposure process like the "Brite Smile" system used in dental offices.
What about Sensitivity?
Some people do experience temperature sensitivity while they're whitening, and for some time afterward. This will be more likely if teeth were temperature sensitive to begin with. The reason is that the peroxides must first remove some microscopic organic "plugs" from tooth enamel in order to clear a path to the deeper stain that lies below the surface. Removing this organic barrier leaves the teeth temporarily more vulnerable to temperature changes. But the plugs will form again, and sensitivity will subside (usually in a couple of weeks).
To avoid sensitivity, you can always try a lower concentration of the bleaching agent and/or a different brand. The main difference between one bleaching system and another is which agent is used, in what concentration, and how long it stays in contact with your teeth. It always surprised me how a person would have sensitivity with one brand of bleaching gel but not with another, even when they were quite similar.
Following each bleaching session with a fluoride treatment can also be extremely helpful in reducing or preventing sensitivity.
And of course, during teeth whitening procedures, avoid vigorous scrubbing when you brush. You're cleaning your teeth, not the grout in the bathroom tiles. Aggressive brushing and abrasive toothpastes are enough to make your teeth sensitive, whitening or no whitening! Use soft bristles, and throw away that medium or hard toothbrush, and consider getting an electric one .
The bottom line is that for the vast majority of us, teeth whitening is a perfectly safe and harmless beauty treatment that almost anyone can afford. I believe everyone should at least consult with a dentist to be sure they have healthy teeth before they start and discuss the various products and whitening technologies available (home-whitening or whitening at the dentist 's office with professional strength gels and high-tech lights that speed the process, for example). You may decided to use an over-the-counter product because it's more affordable. You may have to try more than one product, even with your dentist, before finding the one that gives you maximum results with minimum sensitivity. But if you're like most of today's beauty conscious patients, you'll come away smiling!
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