Many of us have asked about or considered using whitening products on our teeth. It seems everywhere we turn there are more products that promise to deliver tooth whitening right from the shelves in our drugstores and grocery stores. Whether we are looking to freshen the color of our smile or we are seeking relief from the self-consciousness of tooth discoloration, it can be hard to know where to start with tooth whitening products.
Since many products promise you the moon, people often seek to achieve a shade of white that is beyond the natural color of a tooth. It is important to discuss your needs with your dentist so that he or she can help you understand what you can expect from a tooth whitening experience over another cosmetic service such as veneers or bonding.
If you have a tooth that has undergone root canal therapy at some point and is grayish in tone, your dentist will explain that tooth whitening will not be effective since surface whiteners whiten from the outside-in and your tooth is discoloring from the inside-out. In these cases, you may be a good candidate for another whitening service called internal bleaching. Internal bleaching applies bleaching solution to the inside of a tooth rather than to its surface. In this instance, a small hole will be drilled in the tooth to allow a syringe to deposit bleaching solution to the inside. Since this tooth has undergone root canal therapy, it is no longer housing a nerve, so we do not have concerns about pain or sensitivity in this tooth as a result of the treatment. Once the bleaching solution has been injected into the tooth, it is left to work inside the tooth for a few days based upon your dentist’s discretion. Once the bleaching process is complete, the tooth can be closed with a small amount of filling material.
Understanding Sensitivity After Whitening
If you have experienced pain and sensitivity in your teeth after using an over-the-counter product such as a strip or paste to whiten your teeth, you are among the many people who struggle to whiten their teeth without discomfort. This is because while the surfaces of our tooth enamel appear smooth, on a microscopic level the enamel and dentin are connected by a series of channels through the enamel. When a peroxide-based solution is applied to the enamel it penetrates the channels and accesses the dentin on the inside of the tooth. This is ideal, because the dentin inside of your tooth is darker than the enamel and the enamel is partially transparent. That means that dentin that is darkening will show through the enamel. Whitening agents in your strip, rinse or toothpaste are making use of this pathway to effectively whiten the dentin.
A side effect of teeth whitening, however, is that your dentin is more sensitive since it is closer to the nerve and susceptible to dehydration by the bleaching agents. When dentin dehydrates, it shrinks at a molecular level and puts pressure on the pulp – the chamber of nerves and blood supply that it is housing. One advantage of having your teeth whitened using a clinical strength product under your dentist’s guidance is that dentists have access to higher concentrations of bleaching agents as well as access to rehydrating agents that can be applied to the surfaces of the teeth after the whitening treatment to proactively rehydrate the dentin and decrease discomfort.
If you are noticing a change in the color of your teeth as you age, you are probably right. It is perfectly natural for our enamel to thin over time and therefore show more of our dentin as we age. Dentin is typically more yellow than it appears through a healthy layer of enamel. While this is commonly observable in both men and women, men tend to experience tooth discoloration more immediately than women since their teeth (and therefore their tooth surface) is greater
Watching for Stainers
Whether you go ahead with booking a whitening appointment or not, it is a good practice to watch for and avoid stainers in your daily diet. Stainers are those substances that, when consumed, have an acidic and staining quality that allows them not only to break down the surface of the enamel but also to deposit color readily. Examples of these are red wines, carbonated drinks, coffee, and tea. Drinking coffee through a straw is quite convenient in the summertime and allows the majority of the stainer to bypass the teeth.
Staining beverages have a more difficult time staining the teeth when there is not a presence of porous tartar on them. Tarter that has accumulated along the collars of the teeth can begin to take on a brown or yellow tone that makes the teeth appear stained. Ensuring that you see your dentist regularly for professional cleanings removes this tartar and effectively polishes away surface stains.