A teeth whitening procedure or bleaching simply refers to any process that will make the teeth appear whiter. It is considered a non-invasive procedure that is designed to whiten and brighten teeth that are stained, discolored, darkened, or yellowed. First introduced to the public in the 1980's, the popularity of teeth whitening products and procedures has soared. According to a survey conducted by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, when respondents were asked, "What would you like to improve most about your smile?" The most common response was: whiter and brighter teeth.
How white a tooth appears depends upon how light is reflected and scattered off the enamel, the outermost layer of the tooth. Teeth can look dark or discolored for a variety of reasons, with an imperfect appearance the result of outer surface stains or discoloration from within the tooth. While external tooth stains are typically due to certain foods and tobacco, internal tooth discoloration is mainly the result of hereditary factors, certain medications, tooth decay, restorations, or trauma. Additionally, the aging process can influence the color of a tooth. This is because over time the outer layer of enamel becomes thinner showing more yellowish tones from the underlying layer of dentin.
Although over the counter teeth whitening systems purchased in stores or online have become popular, there are health concerns and limitations with these products. If the manufacturers protocol is not correctly followed, certain products can damage the teeth and soft tissues in the mouth, and may not deliver the results as promised. Teeth whitening systems contain varying concentration of either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which act as the bleaching agents. When sensitive teeth, exposed roots, cavities, broken fillings, cracked teeth, or loose dental work are present, a teeth whitening procedure may be contraindicated. Also, since whitening systems do not have an effect on the color of dental fillings, crowns or bridges the presence of restorations is an important cosmetic consideration in treatment planning.
In general, individuals with yellow tones to their teeth respond best to teeth whitening procedures. Brown and grayish tinted teeth bleach respond less well and may require significantly longer dentist supervised tooth whitening regimens or alternative cosmetic treatments. Finally, teeth whitening may not be recommended in the presence of sensitive teeth, worn enamel and significant gum disease.
As a rule the healthiest and most effective methods of teeth whitening are the ones managed and supervised by the dentist. An in-office teeth whitening procedure as performed by the dentist is the most reliable and safest way to get the maximum results quickly. In as little as one hour a prescription-strength, in-office whitening procedure can dramatically whiten and brighten the natural teeth by several shades, while the surrounding tissues and any sensitive areas of the teeth are carefully isolated and protected from the bleaching agents.
A home whitening system from the dentist along with custom trays that have been fitted to the teeth is also an excellent option. Custom trays keep the bleaching agent in maximum contact with the teeth and away from the other areas of the mouth. With a take-home teeth whitening system, maximum results are less rapid than an in office procedure and are typically achieved over a longer period of time. A home whitening system can be used by itself or as recommended by the dentist as a follow up to an in office procedure in order to perfect or maintain the results.