Bleaching vs. Whitening – Which One Is the Best?

When we first get our teeth, they are a nice shade of white but over time, as we eat different foods and drink coffee or wine (or smoke) our teeth start to lose their pearly luster. The top layer of our teeth, the enamel, begins to deteriorate. Little cracks appear on the surface which allow teeth to become yellow or even brown.

It’s because of this phenomenon that teeth whitening has become more and more popular – most people are looking for a brighter and whiter smile to look younger, healthier and boost confidence. Any drugstore will show scores of over-the-counter teeth whitening products and take-home whitening kits. But do those give the desired results?

Causes of Tooth Discoloration

Let’s first look at how teeth are losing their luster. The crown of a tooth is made up of two mineralized layers. Enamel is a white, heavily mineralized, porcelain-like, external layer. The inner layer, dentin, is the yellowish, less mineralized, supporting layer. Over time, the enamel breaks down and micro-fractures can form in the outer layer. These micro-fractures pick up stains, debris, pigmentation, and start to show the yellow dentin support layer. The degree of staining over a lifetime is influenced by foods (curry, coffee), drinks (red wine), habits (smoking, teeth grinding), and medications (Tetracycline). There is also a genetic component to the color of your dentin that affects how white your teeth are.

Whitening vs. Bleaching

The terms “Whitening” and “bleaching” are often used interchangably but there is a difference. According to the FDA, the term “bleaching” is allowed for products that can whiten teeth beyond their natural color – in other words, a “whiter than white” result often seen with celebrities. This applies to products that have active ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. On the other hand, the term “whitening” is used to describe the process of restoring teeth to their natural color by removing stains and debris from the tooth’s surface. Whiteners include cleaning agents such as mouth rinses and toothpaste. Since “whitening” sounds more pleasant, most “bleaching” products with active ingredients are called “whitening.”
Teeth whitening refers to whitening teeth back to their natural, white color. Toothpastes are advertised as teeth whitening because they contain abrasives that remove stain from teeth, but most teeth whitening toothpastes do not contain any chemicals that bleach the teeth.

How Bleaching Works

Bleaching products contain an active ingredient called hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Bleaching activates the peroxides to release oxygen molecules that enter the enamel micro-fractures to break down stain pigmentation. This release of oxygen can occur over time or rapidly. Custom take home bleaching treatments stimulate the release of oxygen over a period of a few hours. On the other hand, laser whitening (without peroxide) causes the rapid release of oxygen within a few minutes. This is accomplished by using a high intensity light source. The main side effect of bleaching is temporary tooth sensitivity to cold. This is because the micro-fractures and your natural enamel pores are open during treatment. These micro-fractures and pores will re-mineralize over time. Special toothpastes can help reduce sensitivity by accelerating this re-mineralization process.

How Long Will Whitening Results Last

Whitening treatments help to reduce existing stains, but consuming coffee and pigmented foods, smoking, and just natural aging may eventually lead to discoloration again. Typical results last for 8-24 months. If you avoid foods and drinks that stain your teeth and follow proper dental maintenance, you can expect your teeth to stay lighter for an even longer period of time.

What’s the Difference Between Home Whitening and Professional Dental Whitening?

Over-the-counter whitening kits are not customized to your teeth. Your teeth have many different angulations, shades of color, and fillings/crowns that don’t respond to the over-the-counter bleaching kits. Whitening strips and paint-on kits have lower concentrations of active ingredients and are not applied uniformly. Therefore, results may be inconsistent. Professional dental bleaching treatments contain higher concentrations and the amount administered is specific to your individual smile.
The other, most important advantage is that at Holistic Dental Center, we only use natural non-toxic materials and ingredients and your overall health is our first concern. Dr. G will only use whitening products that are not in any way harmful for your teeth or health in the long run, and which produce excellent results.

Questions? Ask Dr. G or Our Hygiene Expert!

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