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How does Teeth Whitening work?

A bright smile is the best accessory that anyone can wear. Millions of people suffer from teeth discoloration to varying degrees. Even those who brush, floss, and visit the dentist regularly may find that they still cannot attain a natural-looking white smile.

Teeth are composed of a surface enamel layer, and an underlying dentin layer. The color of the teeth is influenced by a combination of intrinsic color and the presence of any extrinsic stains that may form on the tooth surface. The intrinsic discoloration occurs in the dentin layer, and can be caused by exposure to fluoride or tetracycline antibiotics at an early age. Also, the aging process itself can cause discoloration. Extrinsic discoloration occurs in the enamel layer of the tooth. There are numerous tiny pores on the surface of the enamel, which can hold stains from food, drinks, and smoking.

Teeth whitening products containing peroxide can effectively lighten or eliminate stains. Peroxide (usually in the form of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) is diffused through the enamel to produce free radicals that oxidize the colored components, thus helping to remove the stains. Peroxide based products have been proven to be a safe and effective way to whiten teeth. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved both hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide as oral antiseptic agents in 1983.

Teeth whitening may involve several teeth whitening treatments, and the results vary depending on an individual’s health and the products used. LED light emitting cold blue light activates the hydrogen peroxide and can accelerate the whitening process. The vast majority of patients have been satisfied with the outcome of their whitening treatment. Side effects are rare and mild, and the treatment is convenient and non-invasive.

Teeth whitening is a low-risk procedure, and therefore it is suitable for a wide range of patients. However, there are certain factors that may preclude patients from being good candidates for treatment. These include but are not limited to:

  • Patients with fabrications or restorations (such as porcelain veneers, dental crowns, or dental bonding) on the front facing teeth
  • Patients with intrinsic discoloration due to exposure to certain chemicals, such as fluoride or tetracycline antibiotics
  • Patients with extreme tooth sensitivity due to worn enamel, cracks, or cavities
  • Patients with bruxism or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD)