Tooth bleaching, also known as tooth whitening, is a common procedure in general dentistry but most especially in the field of cosmetic dentistry. Many people consider white teeth to be an attractive feature of a smile. A child's deciduous teeth are generally whiter than the adult teeth that follow. As a person ages the adult teeth often become darker. This darkening is due to changes in the mineral structure of the tooth, as the enamel becomes less porous. Teeth can also become stained by bacterial pigments, food, drink and tobacco.
As white teeth are subconsciously associated with youth, it is desirable to have whiter teeth. This has been made more apparent with the spread of American culture worldwide, where an especially white smile is coined a "Hollywood smile." One procedure to bleach teeth uses oxidizing agents such as hydrogen peroxide to lighten the shade of the tooth. The oxidizing agent penetrates the porosities in the rod-like crystal structure of enamel and oxidises interprismatic stain deposits; over a period of time, the dentine layer, lying underneath the enamel, is also bleached.
There are two main methods of bleaching. The first involves applying a high concentration of oxidizing agent for a short period of time, which is the so-called office bleach. This produces quick results but can risk chemical burns to the soft tissues. Therefore, most in-office bleaching procedures use a light-cured protective layer that is carefully painted on the gums and papilla (the tips of the gums between the teeth). The bleaching agent is either carbamide peroxide, which breaks down in the mouth to form hydrogen peroxide, or hydrogen peroxide itself. The bleaching gel typically contains up to 35% hydrogen peroxide equivalent.
The alternative method involves using a thin mouthguard or strip to hold a low concentration of oxidising agent next to the teeth for as long as several hours a day for a period of 5 to 14 days. This is known as take-home or over-the-counter bleaching. This is a slower process but has fewer risks to the soft tissues. The bleaching agent is typically less than 10% hydrogen peroxide equivalent.
A typical course of bleaching can produce dramatic improvements in the cosmetic appearance of most stained teeth; however, some stains do not respond to bleaching. Tetracycline staining may require prolonged bleaching, as it takes longer for the bleach to reach the dentine layer. White-spot decalcifications may also be highlighted and become more noticeable.
Recently, efforts have been made to accelerate the bleaching process by the use of light. Whichever process is used, before an individual is treated for teeth whitening, the dentist will first have to clean the teeth to prepare them for the whitening process. The tooth whitening process will begin once your dentist has checked that your gums are as healthy.
There is no assurance that your teeth will remain permanently white. Tooth whitening usually needs to be maintained regularly for the best results.
(Download your FREE copy right now)