Although a bright, healthy smile can be maintained by regularly brushing, flossing and visiting the dentist, many choose to brighten their smiles even further with teeth whitening. From Zoom! teeth whitening to other systems such as BriteSmile, GLO and Opalescence, whitening has become increasingly popular.
For good reason too, over time as we drink our favorite drinks (red wine, coffee, tea, cola, etc.) and eat colorful fruits and veggies (carrots, oranges, etc.), our teeth naturally become stained and discolored. These types of stains, along with those caused by tobacco and natural wear and tear, are extrinsic stains, or surface stains. Intrinsic stains are those deep within the enamel caused by trauma, dental work, medication, aging, etc.
There are numerous whitening systems available today, both in-office and take-home. For a quick-fix, in-office whitening can often be completed in around two hours, costing anywhere from $400 to $900. If whitening your teeth at home better suites your lifestyle, you may want to investigate take-home whitening systems. Costing $100 to $400, many patients achieve results in two to three weeks. There are several over-the-counter systems available at your local drug store or supermarket too, including whitening strips, rinses and toothpastes. These are affordable options that remove and prevent surface stains. However, unlike professional-dispensed systems, these do not alter the intrinsic color of your tooth and may whiten only a few teeth rather than your entire smile.
With in-office and take-home whitening, your dentist can help determine if tooth whitening should be performed and if it will be effective. Patients with decayed teeth, infected gums, white spots on their teeth, and multiple tooth colored fillings or crowns on their front teeth may not be good candidates for whitening. Your dentist can also monitor your sensitivity to the whitening agents and modify the procedure if you’re having difficulty getting optimal results. Although less expensive and immediate, over-the-counter tooth whitening systems sometimes provide less than desirable results, and there is no professional making sure everything works correctly.
But how safe is whitening for your teeth? Studies show that when used correctly, whitening is both effective and safe for your teeth. Mild irritation of the gums can occur from the in-office, take-home or over-the-counter tooth whitening systems, but it’s reversible and completely treatable.
Talk with your dentist to determine whether whitening will be effective for you. If you have crowns or tooth colored fillings, whitening will not change the color of these materials. In this case, ask your dentist about alternative options. Whitening should also restricted to patients who are 16 years of age or older. Younger patients’ teeth are still forming and the nerves are more sensitive to whitening solutions.
Anitta Barnabas, DDS, is a practicing dentist at Redbird Dental Care in Bloomington