We tend to be more self-conscious about the appearance of our tooth shape and color. The appearance of the tooth tends to affect how a person smiles and conduct himself in the public. Studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between low self-esteem and tooth discoloration. It is thus not surprising that people with discolored tooth tend to seek ways to make their teeth brighter. However, some are skeptical about the safety of teeth whitening.
Teeth whitening also referred to as teeth bleaching is a treatment modality that involves bleaching of your teeth to make them lighter. It lightens the existing color of teeth by several shades. It is a procedure that should be done by a dentist or under the supervision or recommendation of a dentist.
HOW DO TEETH BECOME DISCOLORED?
Tooth discoloration refers to abnormal tooth color, hue or translucency. Normal tooth color varies according to race, gender and geographic region. Females generally have slightly whiter teeth than males, partly because females’ teeth are smaller. Baby teeth are generally whiter than the adult teeth. Tooth can become discolored due to the following reasons:
- Extrinsic Discoloration: These are tooth stains located on the outer surface of the tooth structure. These are common and it may be a result of various causes, such as;
- Poor oral hygiene
- Gingival bleeding
- Tobacco chewing habit
- Mouthwashes e.g. chlorhexidine
- Eating habit e.g. tea, coffee stains
- Intrinsic Discoloration: These are tooth stains which are located on internal surfaces of teeth. They occur due to defect within the tooth. Intrinsic discoloration may need to be professionally bleached to make the teeth whiter. They can be due to systemic or local causes such as;
- Enamel hypoplasia
- Medications e.g. ciprofloxacin, tetracycline, minocycline
- Dental fluorosis
- Childhood illnesses
TEETH WHITENING OPTIONS
There are several methods and products that are safe for teeth whitening, however, the method or products to be used are dependent on the causes of tooth discoloration and presence of any oral conditions such as tooth fracture, receding gums, sensitive tooth etc. Generally, professional teeth whitening is done by the dentist using mostly carbamide peroxide to whiten the teeth. This product when broken down gives off hydrogen peroxide (the active ingredient for teeth whitening) and other bye products. This is considered a safe method of whitening the teeth.
There are three major methods for whitening the teeth and these include;
- In Office Treatment – This is the most appropriate & safest means of whitening teeth as it is administered and monitored by a dentist. It is termed In-office because it is done within a dental clinic. This process involves the use of a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide to whiten the teeth. This procedure can be done within an hour or a few days depending on the cause of the tooth discoloration and product used. It is also more beneficial as it gives a better treatment outcome within a shorter time. In- office treatment is recommended if you have any oral condition such as receding gums, sensitive tooth, broken tooth etc.
- At Home Treatment – This is a whitening procedure in which your dentist dispenses a product for you to use at home. Usually, your dentist will make a custom-fit tray for you at the clinic which fits your mouth and dispenses a gel for you that you will put in the tray at home and after which you will wear the tray for a certain time set by your dentist. You may have to wear the tray for a few weeks as prescribed by your dentist to whiten your teeth. Your dentist will determine if it is safe for you to use at home.
- Over The Counter (OTC) Treatment – This refers to the use of whitening products that can easily be sourced from the pharmacy or supermarkets. Unlike the products administered by a dentist, these locally sourced products do not contain carbamide/hydrogen peroxide, or, has very little concentration of it. For your safety, always check the constituent of any whitening product you buy, ensure it is endorsed by Nigerian Dental Association (NDA) and contact your dentist about the product if it contains hydrogen/carbamide peroxide. Examples of OTC products include whitening toothpaste, whitening strips.
For list of oral products approved for use in Nigeria, kindly visit https://nigdentalasso.org/products-endorsed-nda/
SIDE EFFECTS OF TEETH WHITENING
Teeth whitening is safe. However, there is possibility of having a few side effects which tends to diminish after a few days. The side effects include teeth sensitivity and irritated gum.
- Teeth sensitivity-Your teeth may become more sensitive following teeth whitening. You may experience this on your first or second treatment, and it may diminish with time. Your dentist may recommend treating sensitivity with products that contain potassium nitrate and sodium fluoride gel.
- Irritated gums- You may also experience gingival irritation. This is when your gums become irritated. This can happen because of contact on your gums with the whitening product. This side effect should go away after your treatments.
MAINTAINING YOUR WHITENED TEETH
Generally, in order to maintain the whitened tooth, the following instructions are important;
- Maintain good oral hygiene. You are to brush twice daily (In the morning before eating and last thing at night before sleeping) with a fluoride containing toothpaste and a medium bristle toothbrush.
- Avoid eating colored food (palm oil containing food, red wine)immediately after the procedure for about one week or as prescribed by your dentist.
- Avoid acidic drinks (soft drinks), coffee, tea after the procedure for about a week or as prescribed by your dentist.
- Always rinse your mouth with clean water after eating.
- Regular dental visit (6monthly) for follow up and possibly repeat whitening procedure.
As long as you stick to dentist-approved methods, whitening your teeth is considered safe. Make sure to use the method that fits your needs and always follow the directions for the product. Contact your dentist if you experience any side effects.