Whitening the teeth restores the natural color of the teeth by removing surface stains and other causes of discoloration. It is one of the most popular cosmetic dental procedures worldwide as it can greatly improve the appearance of one’s teeth. Teeth whitening is different from another procedure called teeth bleaching. Although the two are often used interchangeably, bleaching is a term used when the teeth are whitened beyond their natural color.

A tooth consists of three layers and they are enamel, dentin and pulp. The outer layer is called the enamel and it is white to grayish white in color. Underneath it is the dentin which is a yellowish color. The combined color of the enamel and dentin gives the tooth its natural color. A tooth with thin and/or rough enamel will appear more yellow because of the dentin showing through. On the other hand, a tooth with thicker and smoother enamel appears naturally lighter. Regardless of its thickness and texture, the enamel has small pores that can pick up stains. Moreover, a thin film of protein called pellicle forms on the surface of the teeth on a daily basis. Much like the enamel pores, stains and other colorants can also adhere to this film. These stains are called extrinsic stains because they come from an outside source.

Tooth discoloration may also be brought about by intrinsic stains. One cause of this type of stain is exposure to high levels of fluoride or tetracycline antibiotics while the teeth are still developing. Trauma may also cause darkening of the tooth. Whatever the cause is, intrinsic stains are not amenable to teeth whitening.

Prior to teeth whitening, all other dental problems like decayed teeth and receding gums must be addressed first. Tooth decay, for instance, must be treated first because whitening solution will go through the decay and get inside the inner part of the tooth. Receded gums expose the roots of the tooth which are yellow in color. These roots cannot be whitened so there will be sensitivity upon contact with the whitening solution. Once the dentist is done with other treatments, the dentist may proceed with teeth whitening.

Teeth whitening can be done at home or in the dental office. In at-home whitening, the dentist makes customized trays that fit the patient’s teeth perfectly. Home whitening gel will be supplied and this will be applied to the teeth using the trays. The gel will have to be applied once daily for about two to three weeks to produce an effect. Using the product beyond the recommended amount and frequency won’t make the whitening effect any better and instead will only cause damage to the teeth and surrounding tissues.

For whitening done in the dental office, the dentist will first take a photograph of the patient’s teeth to monitor any progress. Professional cleaning will then be performed to rid the tooth surface of pellicle and any other substances that might have stained the teeth. After this, the actual whitening procedure commences. The dentist will first apply a gel that serves to protect the gums from the whitening agent. The whitening agent will then be applied afterwards. For both methods of teeth whitening, the products used will always contain a compound called peroxide. But the product utilized in dental clinics is more powerful and produces faster results as it is activated right away by a special light or laser. In-office whitening takes at least 30-minutes and up to three appointments are required. The number of appointments depends on how much staining there is and how white the patient wants his or her teeth to be.

Teeth whitening is not a one-time treatment. To get the best results, patients are advised to have the procedure repeated at regular intervals. The whitening effect is not permanent either. The stains will come back and the whiteness will begin to fade in as early as one month if the patient consumes lots of dark-colored food and beverages. Avoid any possible sources of staining and the results of teeth whitening will last for as long a year.