All You Need to Know About Teeth Whitening

We all want teeth that are white and shiny. If you are one who needs help achieving a brighter smile, you are probably curious about teeth whitening.

Stains and decay can pose a threat to the health of teeth. It can make you self-conscious when your teeth have stains or yellowing. Fortunately, teeth whitening exists. It is popular cosmetic dentistry that has been around since a couple of years ago.

You can boost your confidence and improve the appearance of yellow teeth with professional teeth whitening. It only involves a less invasive procedure inside your dentist’s office or can be done at home.

Here, we will discuss various teeth whitening options, how they work, and what foods typically cause stains.

What Is Teeth Whitening?

Teeth can often become yellow or discoloured over time, especially with age. Because of our lifestyle and eating habits, we suffer from stains that can not be removed by toothbrushes alone. A simple way to combat this issue is by teeth whitening.

Teeth whitening is a cosmetic treatment that lightens discoloured teeth and teeth with a natural yellowish tint. This technique has been used in dentistry for centuries and provides immediate results. It is one of the fastest ways to make cosmetic improvements that can help you make a great impression. Also, it is the most affordable treatment available.

Treatment success varies for every patient. For example, some patients require more treatments to see results, while others need less maintenance. Not everyone are the same, and everyone has different tooth characteristics, including opacity, translucency, gloss, and fluorescence, which determine how long it takes for their teeth whitening treatment to take effect.

Many choices for tooth whitening have been made available. These include home-based products such as toothpaste, gels, and films, or in office-based procedures where highly concentrated bleaching agents are applied under professional supervision.

The History of Teeth Whitening

In many cultures, healthy and affluent people are believed to possess bright white teeth. Over centuries, people have used materials around them to wear away the stains on their teeth.

In ancient Egypt, people started to whiten their teeth 4,000 years ago. The Egyptians used pumice stone, white vinegar, and ground oxen hooves as the ingredients for their toothpaste. They used a stick to brush their teeth with their invented paste. They started to invent a whitening paste because the Pharaohs believed white teeth symbolised wealth, masculinity and beauty.

During the Renaissance period, dental work was scarce, and people believed that barbers could help them with their teeth and hair. Barbers will file down a person’s teeth and apply an acid to remove the stains. It was then effective to whiten the discolouration. However, they realised that nitric acid could damage the tooth enamel. Instead of a cure, this practice can lead to tooth decay.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, dentistry flourished as a science. Dental professionals seek proactive means of preventing gum disease and staving off oral infections. They discovered that hydrogen peroxide yielded the most rewarding effects; they developed ways to keep it in contact with their gums for long periods, so patients could treat their gums and whiten their teeth at once. Dentists soon realised that hydrogen peroxide with prolonged exposure not only treated the gums but whitened teeth too.

Fast forward, fluoride was discovered in the early 19th century when dentists realised that their patients with cavity-free teeth were exposed to it. However, too much fluoride can cause fluorosis which depicts yellow or brownish-yellow stains on your teeth, and this discovery led researchers to find a healthy balance of exposure for optimal benefits.

What Causes Teeth Discolouration?

Your teeth’s colour is determined by lifestyle, diet, habits, and oral care practices. There are two types of tooth discolouration: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic stains are surface-level, naturally occurring discolourations that a person accumulates over a lifetime. Beverages like coffee, tea and red wine can cause dark pigments to seep into the teeth, while tobacco products stain them a yellowish-brown.

Intrinsic discolouration is caused by excessive fluoride use, pulp injuries, and certain medications such as tetracycline use of mothers while pregnant. These stains are more difficult to remove than surface stains on the enamel because they develop on the inner layer of the teeth (dentin).

Foods that Can Stain Teeth

Several factors can cause yellow teeth to become dull and lose a bright smile.

Certain foods can stain your enamel, which is the outermost layer of your teeth. Additionally, plaque buildup on teeth causes them to look yellow, and this kind of discolouration can be solved with regular brushing and whitening remedies.

Teeth may also appear yellow because the hard enamel has eroded, revealing the dentin underneath. Dentin is a naturally yellow, bony tissue that lies beneath the enamel.

Moreover, keep in mind that having yellow or off-white teeth is not always a sign of poor oral health.

The following are common causes of tooth discolouration: 

Tobacco Products

Smoking makes your teeth yellow because of the tar, nicotine, and other chemicals carried in the smoke. They seep through pores in tooth enamel, leaving a permanent stain on its natural colour.

In contrast, e-cigarettes may not stain your teeth to the same degree. But it still contains nicotine, which becomes yellow when it mixes with oxygen.

Aside from teeth stains, smoking can lead to many other oral health problems. Nicotine causes gum recession that leads to gum disease and periodontitis.

Genetics

There is a wide range of enamel structures and different tooth colours. It can be due to genetics, which might affect whether the teeth are thicker or have darker enamel than average.

Bad Dental Hygiene

Your teeth might start to look yellow if you’re not taking care of them properly. This is probably due to plaque buildup or tartar, both sticky substances that form when drinks and food particles aren’t cleaned off your teeth. Over time, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed through professional cleaning by a dentist.

Aging

As people age, tooth enamel naturally wears down. The dentin below the enamel layer will show when it becomes thinner, making your entire teeth more susceptible to discolouration.

Illness and Medication

If you take an allergy, antihistamine or high blood pressure medication, it may cause your teeth to discolour. Some medicines like amoxicillin have the same side effects. If this is a problem for you, speak with your doctor about it.

It is not uncommon to experience discolouration of teeth due to certain illnesses. It can result from chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer, but it may also occur in other conditions affecting the liver.

Use of Fluoride

The American Dental Association says drinking an optimal level of water with fluoride is effective and safe. It also has the benefits of preventing cavities and tooth decay. But, excessive consumption can leave stains or uneven white streaks on teeth.

Intake of Tetracycline

Some women take tetracycline during pregnancy to avoid bacterial diseases. One of the side effects of this antibiotic is the discolouration of the teeth of the child and the mother. Typically, it shows as brown or grey stains, which are often referred to as “tetracycline teeth”.

Dental Amalgam

Over time, amalgam fillings may change their colour from silver to black, leaving dark stains on the teeth because they contain sulphide.

Old Dental Restoration

Your previous tooth fillings can wear down after a few months or years. For example, composite restorations are made partly of plastic resin, which can become porous at the surface. The discolouration is often just on the surface, but it can pick up stains or appear more yellow.

Your Diet

It’s no secret that your food consumption does leave a lasting impression on your teeth. It’s essential to consider the effects they’ll have on your health—especially foods with dark pigments or high acidity.

  • Berries: dark-coloured fruits like blackberries, blueberries, and pomegranates are healthy for you. But they can seep into porous teeth surfaces, causing them to stain.
  • Sauces: Curry, tomato-based pasta or soup, and soy sauce are delicious meals. However, they not only mark stains on the table cloth but also your teeth.
  • Coffee: Coffee is a beverage that can make your teeth yellow. Besides making them brown or yellow, they contain tannins that make colour stick easily to your tooth enamel when you regularly drink coffee.
  • Tea: Tea, just like coffee, has tannins. It is an organic substance that makes its dark colour stay on the tooth surface or can erode your enamel.
  • Wine: Red wine can leave your teeth with stains because of its dark colour. The same goes for white wine, as it contains an acid that may weaken your natural tooth surface.
  • Sugary Drinks: Soft drinks and energy drinks contain lots of acids which may erode the enamel on our teeth. Drinking water while working out helps protect those precious pearly whites!
  • Smoking: Nicotine makes your teeth brownish or yellowish. This substance can cause other oral health problems.
  • Braces: People sometimes end up with stained teeth after braces, but it’s not necessarily the brackets to blame. During this time of braces, bacteria can build up around them and should be cleaned when flossing, in addition to brushing your teeth twice a day.

How Does Teeth Whitening Treatment Work?

Teeth whitening is commonly referred to as teeth bleaching due to its active ingredients, mainly hydrogen or carbamide peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide is a common ingredient used in teeth whitening products. Research shows that this tooth bleaching agent is effective and safe when it isn’t overused or misused. Additionally, hydrogen peroxide has been shown to be safely absorbed by the body with few adverse side effects on its own.

Hydrogen peroxide whitens your teeth by oxidising them. Teeth are porous, so enamel and dentin underneath can easily absorb hydrogen-peroxide based gels, which results in whiter teeth with little to no side effects, except for the potential of teeth sensitivity if not used correctly or for too long a period at once.

A common cosmetic procedure, teeth whitening, is different between countries. In some places, it’s strictly regulated, and only professionals can provide the service, while in other regions, anyone with a product can offer treatment.

Different Types of Teeth Whitening Treatment

Professional teeth whitening treatments reverse the effects of staining to give you a more aesthetically pleasing smile.

Many teeth whitening treatments are now available to give you the option of having a clean and whiter smile. The following are the different types of whitening procedures that are cost-effective:

Professional Teeth Whitening

The most popular and common option is in-chair whitening treatments. Because they provide immediate results with little time commitment required from the patient, some of these include ZOOM, BOOST and Kor Whitening, which can produce white teeth in one visit!

Take-Home Teeth Whitening

If you prefer to whiten your teeth at your convenience, the dentist can provide a custom at-home kit. The strength of the gel and applicator trays will be tailored to meet your needs, with specific instructions given on how to use them safely. After the treatment, your dentist will ask you to visit the clinic to monitor progress.

Over the Counter Whitening Products

The cheapest option for whitening your teeth is through over-the-counter products that are commonly available on the market, such as toothpaste, mouthwash, strips, and gels. Although they cost less, these solutions are time-consuming and have a lower success rate than other options because they are not specifically made for your needs.

Whitening Pens

Whitening pens are great for people on the go. They only require a few minutes a day of whitening to maintain results and are also relatively inexpensive. These pens typically contain hydrogen peroxide, but some brands are peroxide-free.

Yet, if you want better results from whitening pens, you will need patience and consistency since it takes time before noticeable changes occur. Aside from being convenient, you can also use them together with LED whitening kits or various other teeth whiteners that can help maximise a bright smile.

Led Whitening Kits

Another option if you want to whiten your teeth at home is blue teeth whitening light kits.

These whitening kits usually consist of a whitening gel or serum that you apply to your teeth. Then, a blue LED light is used to activate the bleaching agent. You can also put the trays in boiling water and then bite down on them, so they mould perfectly to fit your mouth, or use fixed-shape trays for a more straightforward application process.

Using LED light alone will not be as effective as using whitening gel.

DIY Teeth Whitening vs Professional Teeth Whitening

At-home teeth whitening is a cheaper alternative to professional teeth whitening. It costs less but requires more upkeep. Also, this treatment may lead to tooth sensitivity as it can increase the risk of enamel erosion (due to loss of mineral content within the enamel).

Over-the-counter products, like whitening strips and gels, must be used consistently to see results. Professional treatments only need to be done every six months or even three years, depending on the dentist’s recommendations.

LED whitening kits can be used in between professional treatments to keep your teeth bright. They are more expensive than over-the-counter products, but they only need to be used sparingly after achieving the desired results.

Dental lab research suggests that in-chair whitening by dentists increases the strength of enamel, making it more resistant to erosion by acid.

All of these procedures work with hydrogen peroxide. But many dental professionals use a higher concentration of bleaching agents than over-the-counter kits.

Cost of Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening varies depending on the type of treatment you prefer. According to the National

The cost of teeth whitening varies depending on the procedure you pick. According to the National Australian Dental Charge Survey, a take-home teeth whitening kit can cost up to $610. In-chair bleaching can cost up to $260 per tooth, plus up to $280 for the complimentary consultation with the dentist and plaque removal.

It is essential to discuss the price range with your dentist before the procedure to fit your budget. Since teeth whitening is a cosmetic procedure, it is not typically covered by health insurance.

Ways to Whiten Your Teeth Naturally

Tooth whitening is the process of making teeth whiter. If you want a brighter smile, some conventional methods can be done at home to remove stains from your teeth and give them more shine.

However, if these products are used incorrectly or too much time is spent on one method, it could damage your enamel, putting you at risk for tooth decay and sensitivity.

Coconut Oil Pulling

Oil pulling is traditional Indian folk medicine that has been used to treat many oral health issues and remove harmful toxins from the body for hundreds of years.

Use coconut oil, swish it in your mouth for a couple of minutes, and spit it out. It is essential to take note to avoid spitting them in your sink because it will clog the pipes.

Diy Whitening Paste

Combine baking soda and hydrogen peroxide to make a paste. Both ingredients can remove plaque buildup as well as bacteria. Thus, it can get rid of stains on your teeth. After you’ve brushed your teeth, take a small amount of this toothpaste and rub it onto your teeth for 30 seconds.

Hydrogen peroxide is a bleaching agent. It kills bacteria in your mouth while it whitens your teeth. Many people use this chemical to disinfect wounds.

Apple Vinegar Cider

Dark stains on teeth can be removed with apple cider vinegar. Apply the vinegar to your teeth using your finger for one minute before rinsing off with water and brushing. Continue this process daily for at least a month to see the results.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables can both make your teeth whiter as well as protect them.

Leafy greens like kale and spinach are awesome for your teeth because they’re high in fibre. Fibre helps by scrubbing away food debris or plaque while eating these veggies, just as it does with carrots! Moreover, strawberries and apples have been claimed to whiten your teeth and freshen your breath.

Activated Charcoal

You can use activated charcoal to remove stains from your teeth. Although it can turn your mouth black, it is highly absorbent and believed to get rid of toxins in the mouth. It removes pigments and bacteria that lead to bad breath.

How Long Does Teeth Whitening Last?

For the best results, your bright smile will need to be maintained. With continued whitening treatments and general good dental hygiene habits such as brushing & flossing, you can expect to have an improved white appearance for about 1-3 years-or even longer if you avoid food, beverages and habits that contribute to tooth staining. 

For at-home treatments, it is recommended to get a booster treatment every six months. For more invasive professional treatments, such as the Kor whitening system, you typically won’t need another treatment for at least a year or longer.

Side Effects of Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening is relatively safe. But just like other treatments, it has potential side effects.

While most people love the results of teeth whitening, there are some risks and drawbacks that are worth knowing so you can make an informed decision. The following are common effects of teeth whitening:

Tooth Sensitivity

One significant effect of contemporary tooth bleaching products is tooth sensitivity. It makes your teeth more sensitive because it exposes the dentin layer, which is found below your enamel.

For over-the-counter whitening, it is possible to reduce sensitivity when you stop treatment.

In contrast, during your teeth whitening in a dental clinic, your dentist can take steps to avoid any sensitive issues from occurring.

Gum Irritation

If the whitening gel comes in contact with your gums, you can experience gum irritation. This discomfort usually disappears within 24 to 48 hours and will persist if the bleaching product touches your gums.

Whitening teeth can result in translucency that may appear grey from the shadows of the mouth. This is very rare and only occurs if a person overextends whitening.

With take-home whitening, you may ingest the gel and experience nausea. The chances of this are low, though, as your teeth should fit perfectly in a custom tray to prevent contact with gums and other soft tissues inside the mouth that can be damaged by peroxide.

Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

The safest way to whiten your teeth is by consulting an approved dentist. Oral health practitioners are trained and able to carry out various procedures and identify cases that aren’t recommended for the sake of a patient’s health. People with gum disease or dental crowns may not benefit from bleaching treatments—as these may end up causing further damage. The procedure may not whiten fillings or teeth with a dental restoration.

Current evidence shows that bleaching agents may cause physical changes to restorative materials. This results in premature failure by compromising properties. However, recent studies reveal that the effects may depend on the restorative material. This is according to the Journal of Dental Sciences.

Research has shown that teeth whitening is a safe way to enhance the appearance of your teeth, removing any unusual streaks and discolouration. Proper use and application of teeth whitening products won’t cause any permanent damage, and there haven’t been any long-term effects. Whitening can cause some sensitivity to the teeth during or soon after treatment, but this typically only lasts two days at most.

Teeth whitening is not a permanent solution. Generally, it can last from a few months to three years, depending on your circumstances. If you frequently smoke or drink dark liquids such as red wine, tea or coffee, the effect of this treatment will be shorter-lived and fade faster than expected, since these drinks contain pigments that stain teeth and trigger early recurrence of discolouration over time.

Do’s and Don’ts After the Teeth Whitening Treatment

Consult with a dental professional to find out the best whitening method that will work for you. Cosmetic dental treatments are good options to enhance the appearance of your natural teeth. All of them can do good for you, but you need to be aware of the things to keep them maintained and worth it. Below are the following aftercare to prevent or minimize tooth discolouration, keeping them long-lasting.

Do’s

  • Professional teeth cleaning should be done twice a year.
  • Brush your teeth twice a day and floss before bed. 
  • Use whitening toothpaste and mouthwash a couple of times a week (do not overdo it).
  • Use over-the-counter or professional whitening treatments to whiten your teeth.
  • Use light-coloured dental hygiene products like white toothpaste.

Don’ts

  • Do not use tobacco products or smoke.
  • Avoid processed foods and artificially coloured foods.
  • Avoid staining foods and beverages such as soda, red wine, tea, coffee, and meals containing colour.
  • As much as possible, avoid dental hygiene products such as coloured toothpaste (blue, red, or orange).

Teeth Whitening FAQ’s

Is teeth whitening permanent?

Teeth whitening is only temporary, lasting anywhere from a few months to a year or longer, depending on the individual’s lifestyle and oral hygiene. It will also stay for a shorter time if you smoke, eat discoloured foods, or drink dark beverages.

The potential risk of teeth whitening?

Teeth whitening is a popular cosmetic dental treatment, but it comes with potential risks. These side effects are linked to the product’s concentration, time spent whitening teeth, and other ingredients. Increased tooth sensitivity and gum inflammation are among the symptoms.

Can teeth whitening damage your teeth?

No, teeth whitening products used by a licensed dentist and done strictly in a proper way will not affect your enamel. Tooth enamel is one of the hardest tissues in the body. While whitening treatments may cause temporary tooth discomfort, they will not harm your tooth enamel permanently. Overexposure to bleaching products, on the other hand, has been observed to cause tooth erosion.

Can teeth whitening damage your gums?

Although tooth-whitening procedures can cause temporary gum irritation, they do not cause long-term harm. Customising your mouthpiece tray with your dentist can help reduce the risk of gum inflammation or discomfort.

Can I smoke after my teeth whitening treatment?

If you smoke, the results of your teeth whitening treatment will be quickly reversed. Tobacco causes significant discolouration of the tooth enamel and should be avoided for at least a week following your treatment. To keep their colour, smokers will need more frequent re-treatments than non-smokers.

Can I drink coffee after teeth whitening treatment?

To protect your teeth after a tooth whitening procedure, you must avoid dark-coloured foods and beverages, including coffee, for at least 48 hours. At this point, the enamel is highly porous, which means it absorbs colour quickly.

Alternatives to teeth whitening

Veneers

Porcelain veneers are thin shells that are applied to the front surfaces of your teeth to cover them. These can be an excellent way to conceal aesthetic flaws, including discolouration or gaps in the teeth. Veneers keep them firmly in place and allow you to eat and speak as if you were still using your natural teeth.

Dental crowns

Crowns are a restorative and cosmetic option for teeth that have been damaged. Some people choose dental crowns when they have a tooth that needs both cosmetic and structural work. Full Dental crowns, unlike veneers, cover the entire tooth rather than just the front. As a result, they can help you maintain better oral health and keep your natural teeth for longer.

Lumineers

Similar to porcelain veneers, Lumineers are glued to the front surface of the teeth to conceal flaws. You might choose a lighter hue to improve your smile in addition to hiding tooth discolouration. 

How can I make my teeth whitening last longer?

Practising good dental hygiene helps keep your teeth clean and washes off possible stains from the food you eat. Try to avoid foods that contain tannin, particularly acid and dark-pigmented foods, as these are the source of tooth discolouration. Ask for your dentist’s recommendation about how to take care of your teeth after the treatment properly.

If your dentist uses laser teeth whitening or chemical whitening, you must restrict certain meals and beverages to keep the results. The following suggestions can help you maintain your teeth’s appearance and protect them from future stains.

Can I go for teeth whitening treatment when pregnant?

Non-essential dental operations, such as teeth whitening, should be postponed while you’re pregnant, according to dentists.

Final Thoughts

Teeth whitening has been used in dentistry for centuries and provides immediate results. It is one of the fastest ways to make cosmetic improvements that can help you make a great impression. Also, it is the most affordable treatment available. 

Many teeth whitening treatments are now available to give you the option of having a clean and whiter smile. Most of them contain hydrogen peroxide that whitens your teeth.

Teeth whitening is not a permanent solution. Consulting with a dental professional is necessary to know the best whitening method that will work for you.

Dr. Ross Bailey

https://peeldentalstudio.com.au

Dr Bailey currently serves on the Australian Dental Association as immediate Past President, and before this has held office as President, Treasurer and Country Councillor. He is on the Australian Dental Association Federal Council and has always been keen to give back to the profession that has been his life. He has tutored young dentists at the Oral Health Centre in Perth, which he has held for over 20 years.