The Naked Truth About Teeth Whitening

Everybody wants a sparkling, white smile but there’s more to teeth whitening than what’s on the surface. Before we get started, there’s something important we want you to understand. Perfectly healthy teeth can look yellow.
In fact, a number of factors can influence the shade of your teeth and we’ll explain those here. Secondly, if you have noticed a tooth that has changed color suddenly, especially to shades of brown, grey or black, this could be a sign of something serious, so don’t wait to call your dentist if this is the case.

Understanding Stains

Teeth can be stained by a number of factors, but they mostly fall into two categories: extrinsic stains and intrinsic stains. Extrinsic stains are what most people struggle with, and are caused by coffee, wine, soda and other foods, as well as smoking. These stains cause discoloration on the surface of the tooth.
Intrinsic stains are caused when the inner structure of the tooth, called dentin, begins to darken or take on a yellow tint. Too much fluoride as a child or dental trauma can cause these kinds of stains under the surface of your enamel. Also, disease treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can cause intrinsic discoloration.
Although not a stain, the thinning of enamel can also leave your teeth appearing not-so-white as they once were. Enamel is the outermost layer of your tooth and it thins naturally with age, revealing more of the yellow-hued dentin underneath. Even completely healthy teeth can have a yellowish hue. It’s natural, but if it’s something that you’d rather change, whitening methods could still help.

Regular Care is the Simplest Whitening Solution

First and foremost, brushing your teeth twice daily for two minutes at a time, and flossing once a day helps keep your teeth healthy and clean. Also, the bulk of surface stains can be cleaned away during your dental cleaning every six months without whitening treatments.
Combined with your twice-yearly cleanings, daily maintenance will go a long way in keeping your smile brighter. Avoiding teeth-staining foods and beverages will also work, but rinsing with water after indulging helps, too.
If daily maintenance and regular cleanings aren’t giving you the brightening results you’re looking for, whitening treatments may be worth considering.

What about Whitening?

Teeth whitening is a common cosmetic procedure in dentistry that uses either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide to bleach the teeth, making them appear whiter and brighter. The key word here is appear. It is important to understand that whitening your teeth does not make them healthier and can even have possible side effects.
One side effect is sensitivity. Peroxides used in bleaching can cause sensitivity for a few days after treatment and gum irritation can occur (although usually, this irritation is from poor-fitting bleaching trays). Additionally, if the bleaching agents are too strong, it can cause a burning sensation in the gums or throat, and may even cause an upset stomach!
Lastly, when you’re deciding to bleach or not to bleach, consider your existing smile. Do you have fillings, crowns or bridges that are visible when you smile? Whitening agents won’t change the color of these artificial surfaces, so they’ll remain the same shade that they have always been.

Know Your Options

There are many different whitening products on the market, available both over the counter and in the office, but the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that if you decide to whiten your teeth, you should consult your dentist first to make sure you’re a good candidate for it.
When selecting a product, be it toothpaste, trays, strips or gels, always look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Most over the counter products with this seal contain 10% carbamide peroxide (which includes 3.5% hydrogen peroxide). And you’ll want to plan ahead if whitening for special events, as over the counter whitening works over a longer period of time.
Professional whitening can be done with a higher concentration (typically between 25-40%) of hydrogen peroxide, sometimes in combination with a light or laser. In the office, special protection can be placed over the gums so they aren’t damaged by the additional peroxide exposure.
No matter which process you chose, remember that whitening only lasts a few months to a year, so plan for reapplications when necessary.
Ready to learn more about whitening and discover which option is best for you? Give us a call! Our dentists can help you find the best whitening treatment for your needs. We also offer take-home custom whitening trays, available for $299, and in-office bleaching is available for $399. Looking for a budget-friendly option? Try our prefilled take-home trays for $50!

Teeth Whitening FAQs

Professional teeth whitening services are typically offered as in-office or chairside treatments or as custom-fitted take-home kits. Professional teeth whitening products contain a higher concentration of bleaching agents, delivering better, brighter, and longer-lasting results in less time than over-the-counter products. Professional teeth whitening is also applied by a professional dentist for safer, more precise use and a reduced risk of side effects. The dentist can make sure that your teeth and gums are healthy enough for the whitening treatment and double check to make sure there aren’t any restorations like crowns, veneers, or bridges or deep stains or discolorations that won’t respond to the whitening.

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Bleaching products, like in-office or take-home professional teeth whitening products, can change the color of your teeth, whitening them beyond your natural color. The food-safe chemicals penetrate the enamel and dentin to remove both surface stains and deep discolorations.

Teeth whitening products that work through stain removal restore the natural color of your teeth by removing surface stains, not by bleaching. These can include toothpaste or prophy pastes that physically remove stains using abrasive agents.

No matter what type of teeth whitening product you use, be sure to look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance, especially for at-home kits; this seal guarantees that the product has been tested and found to be safe and effective for teeth whitening.


Yes. Regular brushing removes bacteria, plaque, and food particles from your mouth, helping to prevent things like tartar buildup, cavities, infection, and bad breath. Teeth whitening is a purely cosmetic procedure; it doesn’t clean your teeth, prevent cavities or decay, or restore the strength and integrity of your teeth. Cavities can still develop and build-up along the gums can still progress into gingivitis and gum disease, so it’s just as important to maintain a good oral health routine–including regular visits to your dentist for cleanings and checkups–after your teeth whitening. It may be even more important, since good oral hygiene can also help preserve and prolong the results of your teeth whitening treatment.

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