In most cases, the natural colour of teeth is within a range of light greyish-yellow shades. Teeth naturally darken with age and their appearance can be affected by the accumulation of surface stains acquired from the use of tobacco products and the consumption of certain foods or drinks.
In addition, the perception of the colour of teeth is severely affected by skin tone and make-up. Independent of the real colour of their teeth, people with darker skin or who use dark makeup will look like they have brighter teeth.
Although teeth are not naturally meant to be completely white, many Canadians want a brighter smile. Responding to this desire, a wide range of "whitening" options has become available to consumers. These over the counter products fall into two main categories: surface whiteners and bleaches.
These products use special abrasives to improve the product's ability to remove surface stains. Most products in this category are either toothpastes or chewing gums. Because the special abrasives in these whitening products are often only finer versions of what is used in regular toothpastes, they are likely to cause excessive tooth wear. The effectiveness of these products is limited to surface stains and should not be used as a substitute for professional cleaning, or whitening.
Most bleaching products are peroxide-based and are actually capable of altering the colours of the tooth itself. However, not all tooth discolourations respond to tooth-whitening treatments. Individuals contemplating tooth-whitening should consult with a dentist to determine the cause of the tooth discolouration and to determine whether a whitening treatment will have the desired result. This step is especially important for patients with fillings, root canal treatments, crowns and/or with extremely dark stains on the anterior teeth.
A number of different whitening techniques and products are available to patients. Your dentist will use one of these two methods to whiten your teeth:
- Vital whitening is done on "living" teeth and can be used to whiten your teeth if they have become stained by food or tobacco, or if they have become dark with age.
- Non-vital whitening is done on teeth that are no longer "alive." If your tooth has changed colour because of a root canal, non-vital whitening can lighten your tooth from the inside out.
The method that will work best for you depends on the number of teeth that need to be whitened, and on how badly they are stained (or discoloured)
Whitening should be done only under a dentist's care. Tooth-whitening used under controlled dental office conditions may be safe and effective.
Home-use tooth-whitening systems are available to the general public, either from a dentist or from various retail outlets. Clinical studies support the safety and effectiveness of home-use whitening gels when used appropriately. Tooth sensitivity and irritation to soft tissues can occur during whitening treatment, but these effects are transient.