To understand the whitening process we need to understand the intricate makeup of the tooth itself by knowing its anatomy. Enamel is very thin and is only a few millimeters thick. In some areas it is even thinner, so it varies from place to place within the same tooth. It also forms the outer layer of the crown of the tooth above the gum level. It sits next to dentin which contains all the nerve endings. When we whiten or bleach our teeth, we are only treating this enamel on the outside in the crown portion of the tooth. This may be done mildly using a baking soda and peroxide mix or harshly through tooth whitening products available over the counter or by way of Professional bleaching systems available in most dental offices across the World. By the way each of these has its own pros and cons. There is no one size fits all. There are also possible complications that are associated with tooth whitening. Bleaching is done and brought on by the effects of chemicals on the tooth surface, especially enamel. Mainly the most common side effect is post operative tooth sensitivity, that is after the fact. It could be mild, moderate or severe in nature. You as the patient should be an educated consumer. You need to know exactly how it works, the risk verses the benefits, how long will it last etc. before you make an informed decision. Ask questions before you jump in.
So what are we bleaching in the first place? Why do we need to whiten our teeth through bleaching? Stains or the very color of our tooth plays havoc in the cosmetic looks of our face. It is this very stain we are trying to get rid off. There are two types of stains – Extrinsic and intrinsic. External or extrinsic stains are stains that is formed due to external forces such as coffee, tea, tobacco, colored drinks, food stains etc. Then we have the Intrinsic or internal stain where a tooth dies from trauma and then the tooth gets discolored. Then we have tetracycline stains and stains from various dental anomalies. All these stains are in fact incorporated within the tooth structure itself, hence is nearly impossible to remove them. Laminates may be a solution in some cases. Even an intrinsic stain on the front tooth may serve as a persons identity during life and also may even serve as forensic evidence. It may even be his facial signature. It will be similar to using DNA as a marker for identification purposes.
Our’s is a cosmetically inclined society and we also happen to be social beings. So we care more about the outer looks of our body rather than focus on the overall health of our body. Our teeth included. So we are only concerned about our image in society and are looking for ways to project that image to others within this society. This may include family, friends, colleagues, coworkers, business acquaintances etc etc. Almost all of us have gum disease and do not even care to know if it exists in our mouth or not. When was the last time you had visited a Dentist for your periodic dental examination? Most likely the answer the World over is never. Gum disease have also been scientifically proven to be a contributing factor to heart disease. It is the very same bacteria that is present in our mouth that passes through our blood stream, goes through our heart and keeps circulating to all parts of our body. So our mouth does in fact become the very focus of infection. This may spread throughout our body. If we do not take care of the health of the mouth, it will be a ripple effect and the ripples are sure to arise. So setting the health of our body aside, let’s shift our focus onto the looks.
If looks are so important why do so many people neglecting the very health of their teeth (especially the front teeth), but instead are spending so much money and time on makeup, expensive dresses, face lift and other facial cosmetic procedures? Everything but the teeth. So what’s wrong with this picture? We are literally trying to mask the symptoms by hiding under cover, so as to speak. We are literally ignoring the problem by buffing up the surface. All of us want to have white teeth because this is what seems acceptable and our society demands it. A person with yellow teeth does not portray himself or herself as glamorous, but a person with white teeth does appear on the front cover of a magazine. Have you noticed the teeth of news anchors and celebrities across the globe? They all seem to have white teeth. They need to give people what they want and what society wants. The impression of WHITE TEETH. They would not have been even given that spot in front of the camera if they had yellow or discolored teeth. So people are forced to pivot and change for the society and for what society demands of them. Yellow teeth is also perfectly normal and is most commonly seen within the population. The only difference is that it is considered less attractive. As we age, the dentin underlying the enamel gets thicker and the saturation of the yellow increases leading it to a display of yellow teeth.
Now what are the Pros and cons of bleaching teeth?
- Euphoric effect
- It is temporary if we do not like the degree of whiteness
- Gets to many shades lighter
- Dead & discolored teeth may be lightened by the process of internal bleaching
- Appealing to people
- Multiple photo session opportunities
- Social acceptance.
- OTC (over the counter) products are affordable
- Post operative sensitivity- especially the 1 hour in office light activated products
- Damage to tooth surface, sometimes may be permanent
- Tooth shade cannot be controlled in many cases
- Bleaching is also temporary. Food colors, coffee, tobacco, wine etc can have a reversal effect on it
- There is no reference to quantify that color change by the patient at home
- May not like the new color and wants to reverse it to the original color
- No guarantee in longevity and outcome of treatment
- Professional in office procedures may be expensive
- OTC products may not be regulated in some cases and may or may not produce desired results.
Other options to tooth whitening:
- Veneers or laminates
- Snap on prosthesis
- Home made remedies
- Composite resin restorations
- Crowns and bridges
Types of teeth whitening products:
This may fall under the following three categories.
Mild concentration : OTC, inexpensive and is take home. May or may not produce desired results for the patient. Color change is less noticeable by the patient.
Moderate concentration: Also take home but of higher concentration and potency to bleach, safety measures need to be in place, guidelines need to be strictly followed by the patient. Purchased for you by your dentist. By prescription ONLY. Usually they are tray systems.
High concentration: As the name suggests, the potency and efficacy of these products are held to a higher level. Safety measures need to be strictly adhered to in order to prevent injury. By prescription ONLY. Available for use in dental offices ONLY and for use by a licensed Dentist. Authorized for use by a Dentist and/or by an authorized staff and to be used only under the dentist’s supervision.
In Life, Beauty is also accompanied by danger. So we need to take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves by getting ourselves equipped with timely knowledge, understanding the pros and cons, analyzing the risks verses the benefits, the intensity and duration of treatment and above all if and when will we achieve the desired results. Because this is what started it all : Having WHITE TEETH. Before you embark on your journey talk to your Dentist and keep smiling.