A Guide to Tooth Whitening Procedures
Nobody begins life with crooked, stained or unsightly teeth. Although nutrition plays an important role in the development of strong, healthy teeth, most people who end up with bad teeth usually got that way either not paying enough attention to their daily oral health care or by consuming substances that can stain or be harmful to your teeth, such as coffee and teas, sodas, red wine, smoking, and taking drugs.
The part of the tooth that is visible is called the enamel. This porcelain-like substance is actually made up of a series of tiny crystalline rods that protect the teeth from damage during chewing. Enamel also guards the interior of the tooth from gnashing and trauma, as well as the acids and sugars in the foods we eat. Over time, tooth enamel can become worn away. When this occurs, the underlying layer beneath the enamel – known as dentin – can show through. Unlike enamel, dentin has a yellowish hue, causing tooth discoloration.
But breakdowns in the enamel also can create little fissures and crevices within the surface of the teeth. When you drink a liquid, smoke or eat foods that can stain teeth, these tiny openings in the enamel can collect debris and become darkened with unsightly stains. When this happens long enough, the tooth’s surface can begin to turn darker. In some instances, stained teeth can even turn brown or even black.
Benefits of Teeth Whitening
The process of teeth whitening removes these stains and debris from the tiny openings in the tooth enamel. Once the foreign bodies have been removed, some of these microscopic openings in the enamel can actually repair themselves, forming new mineralized deposits from the natural saliva found in the mouth. Others, however, will simply refill with more organic debris and staining can re-occur.
Types of Teeth Whitening
While the process of teeth whitening is not new – it’s actually been around for decades – advancements in technology have opened up the procedure to more people. There are two different types of teeth whitening. Both rely on the use of compounds that include peroxide to remove organic materials that can build up on the tooth’s enamel.
Plasma Cool-Light Teeth Whitening
The first is called plasma cool-light teeth whitening. This is an in-office procedure in which your dentist applies a peroxide solution directly to the surface of your tooth. This chemical then is allowed a brief time – between 20 and 30 minutes in most cases, depending on the severity of the stains — to break down the organic materials located within the fissures of your tooth enamel.
Then a highly concentrated blue light is used to remove the peroxide compound – and most of the stains – from the surface of your teeth. The blue light is a cool light, meaning it doesn’t burn the compound off of its teeth.
Usually, the plasma cool-light teeth whitening procedure only needs to be used once to remove stains from teeth. But patients who have severe stains or other concerns may be required to return for another whitening session (or multiple sessions), or the procedure may be performed in conjunction with the other primary teeth whitening process: The home-use whitening system.
Home Teeth Whitening Kits
There are also teeth whitening kits you can buy at drug stores and other places that can be used to reduce stains on teeth. While these are usually less expensive than in-office plasma cool-light teeth whitening procedures performed by licensed dentists, the results generally aren’t as good. Home teeth whitening kits use a lower concentration of the peroxide compound. It is applied using a mouth guard that is worn for an hour at a time (sometimes longer or even overnight, depending on the kit), or a period of several weeks.
How effective home teeth whitening kits are at removing stains depends on a lot of factors. Some people report fantastic results while others complain that these relatively expensive and cumbersome kits actually did very little to improve the whiteness of their smile.
The Right Choice for You
So if you want whiter teeth, which teeth whitening option should you use? That’s really going to depend on you. Generally, dental insurance doesn’t cover cosmetic dentistry procedures, including teeth whitening. That means you probably are going to have to pay for this treatment out of your own pocket. The cost can vary between dentists and geographic areas, but you really can expect to pay anywhere from $800 to more than $1,000 for the single treatment. Obviously, if multiple treatments are required, you will pay more.
If you don’t have as big a budget for teeth whitening, home teeth whitening kits usually can be found for well under $100. But their results aren’t as consistent as in-office treatments by a professional dentist.
Your best bet may be to try the home whitening treatment and, if it doesn’t give you the results you want, schedule an appointment with your dentist for a consultation on a plasma cool-light teeth whitening procedure.