It may seem that teeth whitening is a modern-day desire, but history proclaims the opposite! In fact, whitening solutions were seen as early as in ancient Egypt! At this time, whitening was considered a sign of wealth and beauty, but teeth whitening was very primitive at the time. A mixture of both pumice stone and wine vinegar were used to whiten the teeth. Later, in the 1600s, barbers were the dentists of the time and would use a file to remove staining and acid to whiten the teeth. While it may have produced a desirable effect in the moment, it damaged the protective enamel of the teeth and left their patients with added tooth sensitivity and susceptibility to decay. Since the ‘80s, teeth whitening has become highly available to the general public both through over-the-counter whitening options as well as in dental clinics where clinical strength whitening can be administered. While over-the-counter products do offer the advantage of convenience, many patients do not have success with non-clinical whitening systems.
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Sensitive Teeth and Gums After Whitening
One side effect from teeth whitening can be increased sensitivity of the teeth. This is because when bleaching agents act on the outside of the teeth, they do so by travelling through miniscule holes on the surface of the enamel. While the enamel can stain with smoking or other surface stains, stains that do not resolve with professional cleaning will typically see more success by using a product that acts on the inside of the tooth (the dentin). As the bleaching agent travels past the enamel it eventually reaches the surface of the dentin and lightens its colour.
This is effective because enamel is mostly transparent and offers a window into the inside of the teeth. When dentin is whiter, it is shown through the enamel. As the dentin is bleached, it also experiences a slight dehydration of its structure and responds by tightening around the inner chamber of the teeth resulting in pain/sensitivity. While this is a natural process, too much dehydration of the dentin can be uncomfortable.
Teeth whitening provided by your dentist will also offer a rehydrating treatment in the form of a varnish for the teeth to minimize any potential discomfort following whitening – something not offered along with over-the-counter alternatives. Similarly, despite the fact that peroxide has been used to treat the gums, too much for too long can result in discomfort due to chemical burning of the soft tissues. A common complaint of over-the-counter products is that it is difficult to prevent the gel from coming into contact with the gums. Clinical strength whitening options offer the ability to use a gum-barrier to prevent pain associated with whitening as well as custom-fit whitening trays.
Reasons for Teeth Discolouration
If you are unsure as to why your teeth are discolouring in the first place, there are a few possibilities to consider:
If you are a smoker, it’s affecting the colour of your teeth. A multitude of ingredients, including tar particles, enter your mouth as smoke is drawn in. These particles settle on the teeth and contribute to a yellow/brown appearance. If the health risks associated with smoking aren’t a good enough reason alone, avoiding a yellow smile may be another motivation to dump the habit.
If you drink coffee or tea as well as pigmented beverages like red wine or sodas, your teeth are being exposed to stainers. These drinks are acidic on the teeth, weakening the enamel while the pigment goes to work on the surfaces of your teeth. Consider consuming dark, carbonated and sugary beverages with a straw to attempt to bypass the teeth, or consume them only with a meal to help counterbalance the acidic pH and staining power of these liquids.
Nutrition and Maintenance
Your best defense against yellowing of the teeth is consuming a diet that discourages the growth of plaque bacteria, and cleaning the teeth regularly to remove plaque before it has a chance to turn to calculus. Plaque and calculus are easily stained by coloured drinks, and when it turns to tartar, effective removal requires a dental professional to avoid damaging the enamel.
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