Everyday brushing and flossing can keep your smile bright and white. You’re not the only one feeling your smile lacks sparkle or has become more yellowed. The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry asked patients what they would like to see in their smiles. Nearly 90% of patients asked for tooth whitening, according to the American Association of Orthodontists.

Are you thinking about whitening your teeth? First, learn the facts. These are the five most frequently asked questions about the process.

What caused my teeth to change color?

Your teeth can become less white over time.

  • Food and Drink – Tea, coffee and red wine are all major staining agents. What are they all related to? Chromogens are intense color pigments that attach to your enamel (white, outer portion of your teeth).
  • Tobacco Use – Two chemicals in tobacco cause stubborn stains: nicotine and Tar. Tar is naturally dark. Nicotine is colorless unless it is mixed with oxygen. It becomes a yellowish-colored substance when it is mixed with oxygen.
  • Age – Below the outer, hard-shelled white enamel of your teeth (enamel), is a soft area called dentin. As you brush your teeth, the outer enamel layer becomes thinner and more yellowish dentin is visible.
  • Medications – Side effects of antihistamines, high blood pressure medications and antipsychotics can cause tooth darkening. Children who have been exposed to antibiotics such as doxycycline or tetracycline while their teeth are still developing (either in the womb, or as babies) could experience discoloration in their adult teeth later on in their lives. Teeth can also be darkened by radiation from the head or neck, chemotherapy and other treatments.

How does teeth whitening work?

Teeth whitening can be done in a few easy steps. Two types of tooth bleach are used in whitening products: carbamide peroxide and hydrogen peroxide. These bleaches reduce stains to smaller pieces, making your teeth appear brighter.

Is whitening effective for all teeth?

It is possible to correct discoloration with whiteners, but not all. Yellow teeth will likely bleach well, while brown teeth might not react as well, and gray teeth may not bleach at any rate. Whitening won’t work for fillings, caps, veneers and crowns. If your tooth discoloration is due to medication or an injury, it won’t work.

What are my options for whitening?

Before you start, consult your dentist. There are four options to brighten your smile if you are a candidate

Toothpastes for stain removal

All toothpastes remove surface stains by using mild abrasives to scrub the teeth. You should look for whitening toothpastes with the ADA Seal of Approval for stain removal. The label will indicate this. These toothpastes contain additional polishing agents that are safe and effective in stain removal. These ADA-Accepted toothpastes do not alter the color of your teeth like bleaches. They can only remove stains from the surface of your teeth.

In-Office Bleaching

This procedure, called chairside bleaching, usually only requires one visit to the dentist. Your dentist will either apply a protective gel to your gums, or a rubber shield to protect them. The teeth are then treated with bleach.

Bleaching at-Home from your Dentist

A tray can be made by your dentist for at-home bleaching. The dentist will instruct you on how to use the bleaching solution and the time it should be used. If you prefer to whitening at home, with a slower pace and still under the guidance of a dentist, this may be an option. The process of bleaching outside the office can take from a few days up to several weeks.

Bleaching products for over-the-counter

There may be other options available online, or at your local grocery store. These include toothpastes and strips that bleach your teeth. These products contain a lower concentration of bleaching agent than the one your dentist would recommend. You can discuss the options with your dentist if you’re considering using an over-the-counter bleaching kit. Make sure to look for one that has the ADA Seal Of Acceptance. It has been proven safe and effective in teeth whitening. Check out the complete list of ADA-Accepted at home bleaching products.

Are there any side effects to teeth whitening?

Tooth sensitivity can occur in some people who use teeth whitening products. This happens when the peroxide in your whitener penetrates the enamel and the soft dentin layer, and causes irritation to the nerve of your tooth. Most cases of sensitivity are temporary. It is possible to delay treatment and then try again.

Too much use of whiteners can cause damage to the gums and tooth enamel. Talk to your dentist to learn more.

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