Getting Those Pearly Whites: 3 FAQs About Teeth Whitening Answered

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If you're self-conscious that the whiteness of your teeth is impacting your entire look, you're not alone. Teeth whitening is a frequently-requested treatment in dental care, but before you make an appointment make sure you know the ins and outs.

Why do stains form on teeth at all?

Each tooth is made of an inner dentin layer and a hard, outer enamel layer that protects the tooth. When you put certain things in your mouth, another layer gradually forms on top of the enamel, called a pellicle film. This film can be easily taken off with regular brushing and simple scraping at the dentist's office. Deeper stains form as the pellicle film sits on the porous enamel for years and sinks into it. Some common reasons that surface stains and internal discoloration occur are: 

  • Drinking coffee, tea, colas, and red wine.

  • Eating pigmented foods like cherries and blueberries.

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco.

  • Ingesting fluoride when teeth are forming.

  • Any treatment with an antibiotic called tetracycline during childhood.

  • Accumulation of plaque and tartar deposits.

  • The natural aging process.

The color of your teeth also depends on genetics. Just like humans have different hair, eye, and skin color, they also have varying natural tooth color.

How do teeth whitening procedures actually work?

Teeth whiteners use bleaching chemicals that get into the enamel layer and set off a chemical reaction. This chemically-induced process breaks apart staining compounds and is called an oxidation reaction. Most whiteners use either carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, which is the same chemical that bleaches hair. In cosmetic dental care, dentists will make sure to clean the teeth, fill any cavities, and check that the gums are healthy before administering the treatment. To preserve the whiteness of the treatment, dentists recommend avoiding the things listed above and cleaning teeth about 30 minutes after having something to eat or drink.

I'm still skeptical of chemicals on my teeth. What is the point of whitening them?

The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry conducted a survey that found that about 74% of adults believe that an unattractive smile can hurt the success of their career. When you whiten your teeth, you don't have to think about covering your mouth when you laugh or smile for fear of others judging your discolored teeth. Having your teeth whitened will reverse years of everyday staining and yellowing, giving you a younger appearance and a huge boost in confidence and self-esteem. It's a great procedure to have done before a special event like a wedding or class reunion, and in job interviews or first dates you'll make a positive first impression.

Proper dental care obviously involves getting your regular check-ups and preventing cavities, but it also includes achieving the smile that will make you the happiest. And if that smile needs perfectly pearly teeth, teeth whitening can help you get there. 

Jeff Raschka