Tooth Whitening – An Obsession?

Tooth WhiteningA friend of mine recently had their teeth whitened by their dentist, and despite sensitivity, discomfort, and possible damage to tooth enamel, it seems like many people are having this procedure done. Maybe it’s an effort to mimic the unearthly white teeth that celebrities have, or pressure from advertisements always showing someone’s perfect smile. Whatever the reason, oral hygiene in the US seems sort of like an obsession, and it seems like there’s more toothpastes, whitening strips, and dental products in the supermarket than there are fruits or vegetables!

Here are some things you should know about tooth whitening products:
There are two types of whitening agents:

  • Peroxide-containing whiteners (carbamide peroxide) or bleaching agents
  • Whitening toothpastes

Within these types, there are home-use products (over-the-counter or dentist prescribed), professionally applied products, and toothpastes/rinses.

  • All home-use products and professionally applied products fall into the “peroxide/bleach” category, as these solutions make up the “whitening” agent in these products.
  • Home-use products include all types of whitening strips, gels, and even pastes prescribed from your dentist. They work on the basis of bleaching the tooth enamel (surface of the tooth)  to change the color beneath the enamel. Because bleaching acts on the enamel of your tooth, it often causes discomfort when using products like this. Heightened tooth sensitivity and possible irritation of the soft tissue in the mouth may also occur.
  • Whitening pastes use a chemical process to scrub the surface of the tooth, and remove surface stains, but do not work to whiten the color of your enamel. Whiteners may not work for all types of discoloration. Yellow hued teeth will probably bleach well, brownish-colored teeth may bleach less, and grayish-hued teeth may not bleach at all.

To be honest, from what I’ve heard from dentists (and from personal experience) it seems like tooth whitening systems really can hurt the enamel of your teeth. This is bad news, because enamel is what protects the inside parts of your teeth. I’ve personally only used whitening toothpastes, and have been hesitant to use strips or professional whitening. I think the most important thing is to keep up with good dental hygiene, and also to consult your dentist before using a tooth whitening system.