Tooth discolouration can affect your oral health and adversely impact your self-esteem, especially in professional or social situations. However, many Australians are reluctant to visit the dentist for a tooth whitening treatment due to dental fear or concerns about the treatment’s safety.
Speaking with your dentist can help you understand how does teeth whitening work and what regulations are in place to control whitening treatments. This knowledge can help alleviate anxiety surrounding the procedure and enable you to rejuvenate your smile.
What Causes Tooth Discolouration?
Teeth appear discoloured because staining molecules alter how light reflects off your teeth, changing how your tooth colour is perceived. There are two types of tooth stains: intrinsic and extrinsic stains. Extrinsic stains are visible on the tooth’s surface, and intrinsic stains occur underneath the tooth enamel.
Extrinsic tooth stains
Extrinsic stains are primarily caused by diet and tobacco use. A thin protein-based biofilm, called the pellicle layer, forms across your teeth when you eat. This layer absorbs pigments from the food and drinks you consume.
If the film is not removed with regular brushing and flossing, the tooth enamel is exposed to these staining pigments for an extended period, causing the tooth’s surface to appear discoloured.
Common pigmented foods include coffee, tea, red wine, chocolate, tomato sauces, and berries. These items contain staining compounds, such as anthocyanins, tannins, and lycopene.
Tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco, also contain staining molecules called carotenoids, which cause yellow-brown stains.
Intrinsic tooth stains
Intrinsic staining occurs when pigment molecules pass through the porous tooth enamel and accumulate. Excessive fluoride consumption can also cause intrinsic stains, especially in children.
Some medications, including tetracycline antibiotics, antihistamines, and antihypertensive medications, are linked with increased intrinsic tooth stains.
Some intrinsic tooth stains are also age-related. Tooth enamel naturally thins with age. This exposes the hard yellow dentin underneath, making your teeth appear discoloured.
How Does Teeth Whitening Work? The Science Behind Teeth Whitening
While professional tooth cleaning and mildly abrasive whitening toothpaste can remove mild extrinsic stains, severe surface tooth discolouration and some intrinsic stains can only be removed with professional whitening treatments.
Teeth whitening at a dental practice uses bleaching agents such as hydrogen or carbamide peroxide to brighten teeth.
After the teeth whitening gel is applied, the peroxide molecules penetrate the tooth enamel and undergo an oxidation reaction. This reaction produces free oxygen molecules that break down staining pigments into smaller particles and disperse them.
Once the bleaching gel is rinsed from the teeth, the staining pigments are eliminated. This allows the teeth’s crystalline structure to reflect light more effectively, making them appear whiter.
Unfortunately, teeth whitening treatments are only effective on your natural teeth. If you have a lot of restorations, ask your dentist about other cosmetic procedures, like dental veneers, that can whiten your smile.
How Does Teeth Whitening Work? Professional Teeth Whitening Treatment
There are two types of professional teeth whitening treatments available that are effective for brightening your smile: in-office whitening and at-home kits.
In-office teeth whitening
At Sydney Dental Group, we use state-of-the-art Philipps Zoom! in-chair whitening. Before your whitening treatment, your dental professional cleans your teeth to remove built-up plaque and tartar. Then, they apply a covering to your lips and gums to protect those soft tissues against irritation.
Your dentist then carefully paints the hydrogen peroxide gel onto your teeth. A blue UV light activates the bleaching agent and catalyses the oxidation reaction. The gel remains on your teeth for 15 minutes.
During this time you can relax and listen to music or watch TV. After the teeth whitening treatment is complete, your dentist removes the gel and asks you to rinse your mouth.
Your dentist then compares your tooth colour to a shade chart to determine whether you need additional whitening treatments to achieve your desired brightness. You can repeat the entire teeth whitening procedure up to three times in a single session so that you can get a brighter smile up to eight shades lighter in under an hour.
At-home teeth whitening kits
We also offer a safe and effective at-home teeth whitening treatment. At-home whitening treatments are an excellent alternative to in-office procedures for mild tooth stains. It is also a great choice to maintain your pearly white smile between dental visits.
To create your custom kit, your dentist takes impressions of your teeth to create a mould to fabricate your whitening tray. You’ll be provided with precisely measured doses of bleaching gel.
You apply the gel to the tray’s interior cavities and wear the tray for the amount of time prescribed by your dentist. The bleaching gel used in your at-home kit has a lower concentration than in-chair whitening treatments, so it can take up to 14 days to see noticeable results.
How Does Teeth Whitening Work: Are Teeth Whitening Treatments Safe?
Whitening treatments are widely regarded as a safe way to brighten your smile. In-office and custom at-home teeth whitening treatments are carefully monitored by your dentist.
All teeth whitening products are heavily regulated by the Dental Board of Australia (DBA) and must comply with Australian Consumer Laws.
According to the DBA, only dentists are authorised to use teeth whitening products containing more than 6% hydrogen peroxide or 18% carbamide peroxide. Extended exposure to highly concentrated bleaching agents can erode tooth enamel and increase tooth sensitivity. So, it is important that you only whiten your teeth under the close supervision of your dentist.
Smile Brighter With The Sydney Dental Group
If you have discoloured teeth and want a brighter smile, contact the Sydney Dental Group to book your appointment for professional teeth whitening. If you need more information on how does teeth whitening work, contact our practice on (02) 9158 6135 for a consultation.
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