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Achieving the perfect smile with healthy teeth is a goal that many people pursue. However, even if they are healthy and aligned, your teeth could have an unpleasant dark or yellow tone due to enamel stains. This can prevent you from sharing your smile with the world and make you hide your teeth as much as possible. Luckily, as this is a frequent issue, many alternatives have been developed to help you achieve whiter teeth to improve your looks. Currently, you can choose from a wide variety of over-the-counter whitening products to solve your problems or let your dentist do it with a professional whitening session. In this article, we will explain what dental whitening is and how they work.


What is dental whitening?

It is a method used to lighten the teeth tones by removing stains that can be located either on the outside or the inside of the enamel. Doing so enhances the smile to make it more aesthetically pleasing. The outer layer of the teeth, called enamel, is a clear tissue that can be easily affected by the pigments present in different foods and beverages, such as coffee and red wine. After the teeth have been exposed to the pigments for prolonged periods, they begin to penetrate it, reaching deeper layers and turning it darker. The whitening agents are capable of reaching the stains to eliminate them and restore the teeth to their natural color. However, certain aspects affect the whitening efficiency and must be evaluated beforehand.

There are two different types of stains:

  1. Extrinsic stains 
    • These stains affect only the outside layers of the teeth without penetrating the enamel or dentin. They can be often attributed to nicotine or coffee and dark tea excess consumption. Furthermore, plaque also contributes to extrinsic stains. In a nutshell, it is a transparent film that attaches to the teeth. Thereby, it can be easily stained by pigments, making the teeth seem darker than they are. Since extrinsic stains do not penetrate the teeth, they can be mechanically removed by the dentist with a professional cleaning without needing any special whitening agent.
  2. Intrinsic stains  
    • These stains are harder to remove as they are found deep inside the teeth. To eliminate them, dentists usually use a special whitening agent that can be either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. These agents can be found on over-the-counter whitening products and professional whitening systems. However, the concentration varies between products and brands, and it disturbs the effectiveness of the treatment.  Usually, professional whitening systems possess higher peroxide concentrations. This allows for faster results in a controlled environment. Furthermore, although on many occasions at-office whitening systems require more than one session to achieve the desired results, it is still faster than the systems designed to be used at home.

How do whitening work?  

The teeth possess hundreds of microscopic tubes that reach the inside. Peroxide molecules are small enough to penetrate these dentin tubes and reach the stains deep inside the tooth. Upon entering in contact with them, a chemical reaction begins, causing an oxidation process that results in the stains removal. Furthermore, whitening agents also interact with the outer surface of the enamel, helping lighten the teeth’ shades and improving their optical properties.


The higher the peroxide concentration, the higher the stain-removal capacity it will have. However, the chemical reaction also can irritate the dental pulp, causing temporal hypersensitivity that could last for a few days. Furthermore, the severity of the pulp reaction is tied to your normal body response and varies from person to person. While some people can experience mild or no discomfort with high peroxide concentration, others can experience severe bother with the same or even lower concentrations.


Special considerations  

Although dental whitening is a straightforward and safe procedure, there are many things to consider before undergoing it. Moreover, it is highly advised to consult with a dentist beforehand, even if you are planning to get an over-the-counter whitening system.

  • Dental whitening does not work on restorations: There is no whitening agent capable of altering the color of restorations. Therefore, it is not advised to undergo the procedure if you have a restoration on a visible area, such as the incisor teeth or the canines. Doing so will cause a color discrepancy between the natural tooth and the restoration, resulting in an unpleasant outcome.
  • Teeth hypersensitivity: In most cases, dental whitening causes teeth hypersensitivity. This is due to the chemical reaction that removes the stains and can last for a few days after the session. If you already have sensitive teeth, it may be advised to not perform a whitening until the condition is treated as it could harm the pulp.
  • Dental whitening does not last forever: Although the treatment is highly effective, the teeth are still susceptible to pigments. Therefore, they can get stained again after a while. However, it will depend on the care taken after the whitening. Reducing the intake of food containing dark pigments will prolong the results and increase the time needed before another whitening. Furthermore, it is often advised to maintain a white diet during the first 3 days after whitening is performed. 

Conclusively, dental whitening is a simple procedure capable of drastically enhancing your smile. However, it is vital to visit your dentist beforehand to determine the type of stains your teeth have and whether you are a good candidate or not.

If you have extrinsic stains, a professional cleaning will make your teeth regain their natural color and shine. However, intrinsic stains will require a whitening agent, such as peroxide, capable of penetrating the teeth to remove the stains. As long as you reduce the intake of heavily pigmented products, such as nicotine and coffee, you will be able to prolong the result of the treatment, allowing you to show your perfect white smile to everyone you encounter.


Let’s get started. Request An Appointment with a Family Dentist

Dr. Rahaf Suede, DDS at Great Lakes Smiles Dental is trusted by many patients in Plymouth and surrounding areas for comprehensive dental care. She is recognized for her high quality dental treatment and patient satisfaction. Contact her now for an appointment Call (734) 459-9360

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