The human tooth is composed of a layer of enamel over a layer of dentin. Enamel is semi-transparent and whiter than the darker, less-transparent dentin.
As a person ages, the enamel can become thinner due to wear. Because the enamel is semi-transparent, as it thins, more of the darker colored dentin becomes visible. It is also possible for the enamel to lose its porosity or for the tooth’s mineral structure to alter, both of which can make the tooth darker in color.
Among younger patients, whitening procedures are usually needed due to staining. Many different foods and beverages can stain your teeth, including red wine, coffee, some sports drinks, most dark-colored sodas and tea. Smokers and users of smokeless tobacco products are at special risk of stains, especially near the gums.
Stains can also be the result of skipping appointments with your dental hygienist. If plaque is not removed, it will eventually form a hard, calcified deposit on the teeth. This is called calculus or tartar, and it may be brown, gray, yellow or black.
Although there are non-prescription whitening products that can be used at home, they are not nearly as effective as professional whitening methods. Any benefits will be short-term, and many products can actually do more harm than good. Long-term use of many whitening toothpastes, for example, can wear down the enamel and allow the darker color of the dentin to be more noticeable.
A professional whitening procedure typically starts with a thorough examination. We will want to know about any sensitivities or allergies you might have, examine the soft and hard tissues in your mouth and make note of any fillings. X-rays are sometimes taken to provide more information about any irregularities in the teeth.
Whitening procedures normally lighten the teeth from two to seven shades. The degree of whitening achieved varies from patient to patient.
After a whitening procedure, there are several things you can do to protect your dazzling new smile.
Rinse your mouth or brush immediately after drinking or eating.
Use a straw when drinking beverages that could stain your teeth. Anything that can stain your clothes will stain your teeth as well.
Fight plaque through effective brushing and flossing.