Everybody wants a brighter and whiter smile. If your teeth seem to be yellower or duller than they were in the past, you may be considering your options for tooth whitening. If so, it's important to know what those options are and which choice is best for your teeth.
Two Types of Whitening Products
While there are a variety of tooth whitening products available on the market, either for DIY use at home or for professional application by your dentist, they can all basically be distilled into two categories: abrasives and chemicals.
Abrasive products use rough materials to scrub away stains that sit on the top layer of your tooth enamel. They don't actually change the color of your teeth; they just remove stains that cause your teeth to appear darker than they should. On the other hand, chemical tooth whitening products contain bleaching chemicals that penetrate the teeth, changing the color of the enamel and the dentin underneath the enamel to a whiter shade.
Abrasives vs. Chemicals
If you're like many people, you may be tempted to opt for an abrasive tooth whitening product over a chemical product. It's understandable – at first glance, a product that scrubs stains away may seem like a less invasive choice than chemicals that penetrate and bleach your teeth. However, there are some good reasons why chemical products are usually a better option.
The way that abrasive whitening products remove stains is by removing the stained enamel. Enamel is delicate – you can remove it simply by using a toothbrush with bristles that are too hard, or simply scrubbing too hard with your brush, even without an abrasive toothpaste. And you only get so much enamel. Once it's gone, it won't regenerate.
Enamel is the substance that protects the more sensitive dentin underneath. Once enamel is worn away, teeth become more sensitive to heat or cold. Teeth with less enamel are also more susceptible to cavities and infection. What's more, teeth with less enamel are more likely to appear yellowish. The dentin underneath the enamel is yellowish in color, which means that teeth tend to appear yellow when less white enamel is available to cover them.
Ultimately, choosing a whitening product or procedure that relies on bleaching chemicals to change the color of your teeth is actually safer and healthier for your teeth than using abrasives that will scrub the enamel away.
The Best Whitening Option
Even when you narrow your tooth whitening options down to bleaching products and procedures, there are still many to choose from. How do you know which is best?
While some whitening toothpastes are just abrasives, others do contain bleaching chemicals that could whiten your teeth. However, toothpaste generally doesn't stay in contact with your teeth long enough to brighten them significantly. Over-the-counter whitening trays are more effective as long as you follow the instructions or use them with the oversight of your dentist. For the most dramatic and long-lasting whitening effects, a cosmetic dentist can apply whitening gel to your teeth in the office and even use laser treatments to enhance the effectiveness of the whitening products and speed up the whitening process.
Your best bet is to ask your own dentist to evaluate your teeth and suggest a whitening treatment that will achieve the results that you're looking for that's also safe and healthy for your teeth.