Countless people use whitening products to reduce or eliminate tooth stains and discoloration. But are these products effective; and is it safe to use them regularly? Here’s what you should know about using professional and over-the-counter tooth whitening products.
What Causes Tooth Discoloration?
A number of things can cause or contribute to tooth stains, including:
- Genetics: Some people have naturally yellowish teeth due to inherited genetic traits.
- Age: It’s natural for the dentin to yellow over time.
- Poor dental hygiene: If you don’t brush and floss regularly, plaque and tartar will develop, making your teeth appear yellow.
- Tobacco: Cigarettes and chewing tobacco can both stain your teeth over time.
- Trauma: Physical trauma and overexposure to fluoride can cause teeth to change color.
- Foods: Some foods are known to cause tooth stains; these include tea, coffee, colas, wine, and dark-pigmented vegetables and fruits.
- Medical issues: Certain diseases can impact tooth dentin and enamel. Medications and treatments can also cause tooth discoloration; this includes head and neck radiation, chemotherapy, some antibiotics, and antipsychotic drugs.
Available Treatment Options
In the past, dentists were only able to treat tooth stains and natural discoloration by applying a bleaching chemical. Unfortunately, this typically does little to improve tooth discoloration related to genetics and aging. Today, modern dental professionals can treat teeth discoloration in a number of different ways depending on the cause.
The most common treatments include:
- Over-the-counter whitening agents
- In-office whitening procedures
- At-home whitening agents provided by a dentist
- Veneers and/or bondings
According to the Mayo Clinic, professional bleaching products tend to yield better, more predictable results compared to whitening toothpaste and OTC products.
Are Whitening Treatments Safe?
While teeth whitening is considered safe, you may experience some side effects, including:
- Sensitivity: Teeth whitening treatments can make your teeth more sensitive. Your dentist may recommend treating sensitivity with sodium fluoride gel and products that contain potassium nitrate.
- Irritated gums: Some people experience gingival irritation after whitening treatments; however, this should subside once you stop your whitening treatment.
- Damage to dental work: In some instances, excessive whitening treatments could potentially damage existing dental work. Whitening may not be a good option for patients with tooth-colored restorations.
As with any treatment, your risk of complications increases if you don’t follow the recommended instructions. The Academy of General Dentistry recommends dentist supervision for any type of whitening treatment, whether it’s professionally administered or an over-the-counter product. Although OTC treatments are less expensive, they often require longer treatment periods, increasing the risk of gum irritation or damage to previous dental work.
If you want faster, more reliable results, you should talk to your local dentist about in-office whitening treatments or modern laser whitening options. In-office procedures may require more than one visit; however, a professional dentist-supervised whitening treatment can last from one to five years, depending on your drinking, eating or smoking habits.