Tooth Whitening or Bleaching? The Myths of Cosmetic Dentistry Explained

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Demand For Whiter Teeth

More and more, people are demanding whiter teeth. They are no longer willing to accept the slow discoloration of their teeth over time. As a result, a major industry has grown up around "tooth whitening". I want to bring some clarity into the cloud of information (and misinformation) concerning "tooth whitening" and the procedures and products used to achieve whiter smiles. This is going to be a series of articles addressing this subject.

Today we will start with some definitions and explanations. In subsequent posts I will discuss the pros and cons of the different methods and materials employed and then, finally, discuss some of the major brands of tooth whitening systems out there currently. Let's get started.

The Factors Affecting Tooth Color

Tooth color is an enormously complex subject composed of many factors including hue, saturation, translucency, stains and age to name a few. However, for our purposes here, the thicker the enamel, the whiter the appearance of the teeth. Some people start out with thick opaque enamel and, hence, whiter looking teeth. In general, the original color of teeth ranges from the yellow-brown caste to the grey-green caste. As teeth age, the enamel tends to wear and become thinner and more translucent. This allows the yellow-brown color of the underlying dentin to show through more. Also, aging is accompanied by slight cracking and imperfections in the surface of the enamel allowing deeper penetration of stains.

Types of Stains

Stains are classified as either intrinsic (internal) or extrinsic (external or surface). Intrinsic staining can be a result of age, trauma (either acute or chronic), exposure minerals (as in Tetracycline) during formation or fluoride in too large doses. Often there is a combination of all these factors, different for each individual.

Extrinsic stains affect the surface of the tooth enamel coming from foods, dark colored beverages (wine and juices), tobacco and other sources that penetrate surface imperfections over time with the wear and trauma of chewing and/or tooth grinding.

Whitening vs Bleaching

Although the term "tooth whitening" is commonly used for all types of whitening systems, there are actually two distinct types of procedures involved. The FDA classifies the use of a peroxide containing agent to produce a whiter intrinsic shade as "bleaching". "Whitening" on the other hand is the process of removing as much of the extrinsic or surface stain on teeth through the use of toothpastes, toothbrush floss and other cleaning agents such as the pumice used by the hygienist.

In the next installment, we will talk about the three types of whitening systems commonly available: In-office systems, At-home systems and Over-the-counter systems.


Or you can also download the free complete report on tooth whitening at . Follow Steven J. Brazis DDS at

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