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The Science of Teeth Whitening

If you find yourself searching for “teeth whitening near me,” but want to know the basics of teeth whitening, then you’ve come to the right place! Over time, due to our daily lives, our teeth can go from bright and shiny to dull and yellow. Having a shining set of pearly whites can grant a huge boost of confidence and is actually pretty affordable depending on your budget. Many dentists offer teeth whitening services such as professional bleaching, while some may just recommend certain brands of at-home whitening care. In order to better understand the science behind tooth whitening, it is meaningful to learn about the tooth as a whole and what it is primarily made up of.

What Are Your Teeth Made Of?

Starting with the most visible part of your tooth is the enamel. It serves as the outermost layer of your teeth and is made up of about 95% minerals, such as calcium. The role of enamel is protection—it protects the inner layers of teeth from potential harm such as the acids that cause cavities, or hot foods. And fun fact: enamel is the hardest substance in the human body! Underneath the enamel is a layer of materials called dentin, which makes up the bulk of your teeth. Dentin is a yellowish tissue that supports the structure of the tooth and surrounds the next layer of the tooth: the dental pulp. The dental pulp is the innermost part of the tooth and its role is to provide vitality to the tooth or to support its strength. The pulp consists of blood vessels, nerves, and tissues, and it is also tasked with housing the cells that produce dentin. 

How Do Teeth Become Yellow?

Now that we got the basic anatomy of our teeth out the way, there are two primary ways that your teeth can become more yellow over time. The first is the wearing down of that crucial enamel, which in turn exposes the yellow-colored dentin. As your enamel becomes thinner over time, your teeth will appear more yellow due to the natural color of dentin. The second way that your teeth can become yellow is through staining of the teeth, primarily extrinsic strains. This is also commonly referred to as surface stains and is due to consuming foods and beverages that contain chromogens. Chromogens are intensely pigmented chemical compounds that produce a colored end-product. Because they attach to your enamel, it’s best to limit foods and beverages that contain high amounts of chromogens. These include coffee, tea, berries, red wine, and pasta sauce. In addition, some of these foods contain high acidity levels which can leave the teeth vulnerable to further discoloration. 
Many people ask the question, “If I don’t want my teeth to further yellow, then should I just cut out these common staining foods?” Just because these foods and beverages have the highest potential of yellowing your teeth does not mean you have to give them up completely. Some people commonly drink beverages through straws to avoid harming their teeth, for example. Enjoying foods in moderation is key, and as long as you have a proper dental routine and see your dentist yearly, then there isn’t much to worry about. 

How Does Teeth Whitening Work?

If you ever feel uncomfortable about whitening your teeth at home, then speak with your dentist about their teeth whitening services. At-home teeth whitening practices have become very popular due to their ease of use and results. Commonly, at-home teeth whitening kits such as whitening strips and whitening trays use hydrogen peroxide to bleach the previously mentioned yellow dentin. Other methods include using a whitening toothpaste, which is an abrasive treatment to remove the surface stains on your enamel. There are multiple avenues for whitening your teeth at home and each has its own specific method of whitening to your desire:
Whitening toothpaste: Did you know that no toothpaste has the power to actually change the color of your teeth? What it can do is help remove or lighten those surface stains discussed earlier. But keep in mind that just about every toothpaste on the market helps in removing surface stains as well because brushing your teeth is an abrasive technique. Whitening toothpaste commonly contains ingredients that only change the color of your enamel, not the tooth itself. Be careful with whitening toothpaste and always talk to your dentist, as they may have a specific recommendation. Keep in mind that it’s always best to have a toothpaste that contains fluoride to ensure that your enamel stays healthy during the process.  
Whitening strips: Teeth whitening strips contain hydrogen peroxide, which is the same ingredient that you can bleach your floors with (but at a much lower concentration.) The peroxide is used to bleach the color from your teeth in order to restore them to their natural white color. Many dentists recommend avoiding whitening strips due to some containing chlorine dioxide, the same acid that is used to disinfect swimming pools. If you’ve ever used whitening strips, then you may be able to attest to how sensitive your teeth feel a few days into the process. Over-the-counter whitening strips have the potential to damage your enamel, so it’s always best to check with your dentist before starting the process.
Whitening trays: Whitening trays are the common alternative to whitening strips and may be the safest option on the market. Most come in sets that are ready to use and contain a gel that is similar to the gel on whitening strips. We recommend using Opalescence Teeth Whitening Trays, which combines hydrogen peroxide with potassium nitrate and fluoride. Potassium nitrate is used to reduce sensitivity and strengthens your enamel while fluoride works to increase the durability of your enamel. Overall, these trays are great for whitening at home while safely keeping your teeth comfortable and improving your oral health. 
As your local family dentist, we always receive questions about our teeth whitening services and how families can keep their teeth shining yearly. Contact us today so that we can discuss your options for keeping your teeth shining and healthy.
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