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Stains and Discoloration
Enamel protects the teeth from chewing, grinding, and harsh foods. But as the years go on, the enamel will crack and wear down, allowing stains and food debris to enter, creating a dulled appearance. It also allows for the dentin layer, a natural yellow color, to being to show through. Teeth whitening can help to remove these stains and debris.
Stains can be caused by extrinsic sources or intrinsic sources. Extrinsic sources include food and dark-colored drinks (like red wine and coffee), and smoking. Some of these can be removed by simply brushing after meals and with regular cleanings at the dental office. Intrinsic sources include aging, genetic traits (such as starting color and translucency), use of tetracycline, or too heavy an intake of fluoride. These intrinsic stains can be tougher to treat, but whitening treatments have been used to help both stain sources.
When seeking treatment, it's important to note that there is a difference between the terms "bleaching" and "whitening." Bleaching is a term used when the whitening will go beyond how white the teeth naturally are. These products will include a bleaching ingredient such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Treatments will range in their concentrations of these ingredients depending on if it is a product to be used at home, or if it is one intended to be used by a professional. Conversely, the word "whitening" can be placed on any product that removes stains or cleans teeth. This means even a simple toothpaste can be labeled as "whitening" without having any bleaching qualities.
Generally speaking, there are three choices for treatments: dental office treatments, professional take-home kits, and over-the-counter products.
Dental office treatments are the most expensive. The average cost is $650. But this is the treatment that will provide the most significant results. In about an hour-long session, these professionals can use higher concentrations of bleaching products while also having means available to protect gums. Sometimes after one of these sessions, they will send home a kit to continue the process at home. The dentist can also provide insight on expected results and risks.
Professional take-home kits run between $100-$400 and can provide similar results to dental office treatments. The dentist can mold a custom-fitted bleaching tray (reminiscent of a retainer or mouthguard) that will be taken home for use. The bleaching agent used will be less concentrated than that of the office, and it can remain applied for a longer period. The benefit is having an easy way to treat and maintain from the convenience of home. Once the tray is made, it can be used for future treatments, as well.
Over-the-counter products are the cheapest, ranging between $20-$100. The bleaching agent in these products is the least concentrated out of the three types, and results vary widely between products. These products might only treat the front teeth, whereas others treat the entire smile.
Considerations and Risks
As with any treatment, there are considerations and risks.
Possible side effects include:
Arguably the most important factor is maintenance. After the cost and time put into the treatment, maintenance is key. Whitening results are not permanent, so it is recommended to repeat treatments as the effects wear off and to take preventative measures on future additional stains. Dentists suggest at-home whitening, avoiding dark-colored food and drinks (especially directly after treatments), drinking dark drinks through a straw, and routine oral hygiene.
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