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If you take a look around the toothpaste aisle of any drugstore, it’s not hard to see that people have become obsessed with obtaining pearly white teeth. In fact, a study in 2013 found that almost 90 percent of orthodontists nationwide have had patients who specifically requested tooth whitening treatments. But between mouthwashes, toothpastes, and even chewing gums that claim to give you that smile you’ve always wanted, how do you know what really works?
If you break it down, there are two types of discolouration: stains on the surface of the teeth and those below the enamel. The first are mostly caused by smoking and the absorption of food or beverages on the enamel surface. The others are related to the optical properties of the enamel and the underlying dentin, and how they interact with light.
A number of things, including tooth decay, excessive fluoride ingestion, and aging can alter the intrinsic colour of your teeth. So how do you remove the stains and get below the enamel?
There are many “whitening” toothpastes on the shelves today, but experts say this label can be misleading because the products usually don’t remove intrinsic stains. The so-called whitening toothpastes contain abrasive particles and they may only be effective on stains from food and drink, which get trapped in the surface layers of tooth enamel.
At most, whitening toothpastes can help remove surface stains over time and prevent new ones from forming. This kind of stain removal may make your teeth appear brighter, but only minimally so, and it may come at a cost. In 2011, researchers found that the most effective whitening toothpastes are generally the most abrasive. Some products, including Crest White Vivid and Ultrabrite Advanced Whitening from Colgate, are so abrasive that they’re considered to be potentially damaging to enamel. Prolonged use of these products could wear away your enamel and expose your dentin – depending on the colour of your dentin, these highly abrasive toothpastes could, theoretically, make your teeth appear less white.
Pre-brush mouth rinses
To whiten teeth, pre-brush rinses typically contain hydrogen peroxide. Twice a day, gargle the liquid for 60 seconds before brushing your teeth and the bleaching agent will make quick work of your intrinsic stains. The problem: Bleaching teeth takes time. Hydrogen peroxide is so weak and unstable [for that] time of use that its effect is minimal. In 2006, a clinical trial showed that these special rinses are, essentially, no better than water at whitening your teeth.
What’s more, some users experienced increased gum sensitivity after using the rinses. You get none of the benefit and all of the pain of hydrogen peroxide with the rinses. Yet, the placebo effect leads many people to believe these rinses actually work.
Whitening chewing gums
What could be easier than whitening your teeth as you chew gum? On paper, it would appear that whitening chewing gums – which contain ingredients that are abrasive or able to coat teeth to prevent stains from sticking – can get rid of extrinsic stains, but there’s been very little research into the efficacy of these products. Some studies found that chewing gum with the compound sodium hexametaphosphate can prevent new surface stains from forming better than no chewing gum and placebo chewing gums. However, another study showed that certain nicotine-medicated chewing gums can remove extrinsic stains better than a whitening chewing gum.
Over-the-counter strips, gels, and tray systems
Medicated adhesive strips are one of the most popular over-the-counter whitening systems available today. Numerous clinical trials have shown that these strips, which usually contain hydrogen peroxide, can effectively remove intrinsic stains and make teeth six to seven shades brighter.
In one study, Crest Whitestrips are comparable to an in-office whitening treatment. Over-the-counter paint-on gels and tray-and-gel systems, which employ hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, can also whiten teeth, if used correctly. However, each system has its downsides: Strips may be hard to keep in place; paint-on gels can be difficult to use and may become diluted with saliva; and trays, which aren’t custom made, sometimes fit poorly, allowing the gel to seep out or saliva to seep in.
Professional bleaching procedures
Professional bleaching procedures are the best and safest way to achieve a whiter smile. For one thing, dentists can see if you have any cavities or decayed fillings – bleaching agents can cause excruciating pain if they get into cavities. They can also gauge the level and type of discolouration you may have and then design the appropriate procedure that best fits your time and habits.
For example, they may send you home with a custom-made tray system if you don’t want to stick around for in-office bleaching. Some dental clinics also offer light- or heat-activated treatments that supposedly cut down the necessary bleaching time. However, there is conflicting evidence on the effects of bleaching lights on tooth colour change. Dentists can also help you plan for the inevitable whitening rebound, where your teeth become a tad duller a few weeks after you bleach them. While on that subject, our experts said that power toothbrushes, such as Sonicare, are better than manual toothbrushes at maintaining bright teeth after bleaching treatments.
Homemade tooth-whitening tools
Many different tooth-whitening techniques are promoted online, such as making toothpaste by mixing baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, brushing your teeth with apple cider vinegar or rubbing your teeth with orange peels or other fruits. However, researchers haven’t done the necessary studies to show that these techniques are effective or safe.
Arm & Hammer baking soda toothpastes can remove surface stains, but these toothpastes contain additional ingredients not typically found in your cupboard. Adding hydrogen peroxide to baking soda likely won’t make much a difference, given that the compound isn’t in contact with your teeth for very long. Additionally, the citrus acid of orange peels may be able to make your teeth chalky white, but they will probably also do a lot of damage to the enamel.
Contact Family Care Dental Clinic for your consultation today!
Located in the heart of North Vancouver, BC, Family Care Dental Clinic is a group of passionate dentists and dental experts who are committed to providing patients with exceptional dental care in a modern and relaxing environment. We at Family Care Dental Clinic offer our clients a wide range of comprehensive dental services for the whole family. Call (604) 987-3545 or write us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment with a member of our excellent team!