The Basics of Tooth Whitening

As a hygienist at SoundBridge, I get asked about whitening teeth probably more than any other topic. How does it work? Is it safe? What causes the discoloration in the first place? The list goes on and on…

First, a little anatomy lesson. Teeth are made up of an inner layer called dentin and a hard protective outer layer called enamel. The enamel layer is made up of hydroxyapatite crystals which form microscopic rods. This enamel layer is porous meaning that any staining agents left on the surface of the teeth can work their way down into the rods, thereby becoming incorporated into the teeth and staining them over time.

Now, let’s talk stain. Every time you put something in your mouth including food, tobacco, coffee, etc., another layer called pellicle forms over the enamel layer of your teeth. This film literally begins to form within seconds after being brushed away! Over time, this pellicle film gets into the porous enamel and stains the teeth. Coffee, tea, tobacco, berries, red wine, tomato based sauces, and mustards are some of the most common stain producing products.

This is where tooth whiteners enter the scene. The active whitening ingredient in bleach is hydrogen peroxide. The same ingredient used to lighten hair! Whitening procedures use this bleaching chemical to get down into the porous tooth enamel and break apart the staining agents. Bleaching works best on yellowish stains and some brownish stains but may not work at all on gray discoloration. It’s important to keep in mind that dental work such as crowns, bridges and tooth colored (resin) fillings will not lighten with bleach.

Is whitening safe for my teeth? Yes! Hydrogen peroxide is used to break down the stain but it does nothing to affect the mineral structure of the tooth itself.

Are there any side effects? The main risk to be aware of is tooth sensitivity. Not everyone experiences sensitivity, but for those that do, sensitivity can last several days following treatment and varies depending on the method and concentration of the bleach used. If you’re using bleach trays at home, any excess bleach coming in contact with the gum tissue can cause irritation. It’s important to wipe off any extra gel and inform us if any problem should persist.

At SoundBridge Dental Arts, we offer Zoom whitening treatment as our trusted, in-office procedure. Bleach trays, whitening strips, whitening toothpastes, and mouthrinses are all commonly used products. What is right for you? At your next visit, ask us! We’d be happy to share what process will get you on the road to your own pearly whites!