If you take a look around the toothpaste aisle of any drugstore in the United Stated, it's not hard to see that Americans have become obsessed with obtaining pearly white teeth. In fact, a study in 2013 found that almost 90 percent of orthodontists nationwide have had patients who specifically requested tooth whitening treatments. But between mouthwashes, toothpastes, and even chewing gums that claim to give you that smile you've always wanted, how do you know what really works? If you break it down, there are two types of discoloration: stains on the surface of the teeth and those below the enamel. The first are mostly caused by smoking and the absorption of food or beverages on the enamel surface. The others are related to the optical properties of the enamel and the underlying dentin, and how they interact with light. A number of things, including tooth decay, excessive fluoride ingestion, and aging can alter the intrinsic color of your teeth. So how do you remove the stains and get below the enamel? We talked to Dr. Gerard Kugel, a dentist at the Boston Center for Oral Health and Dr. Gianluca Plotino, a private-practice dentist in Rome to get to the truth.
Professional bleaching procedures
Professional bleaching procedures are the best and safest way to achieve a whiter smile. For one thing, dentists can see if you have any cavities or decayed fillings – bleaching agents can cause excruciating pain if they get into cavities. They can also gauge the level and type of discoloration you may have and then design the appropriate procedure that best fits your time and habits. For example, they may send you home with a custom-made tray system if you don't want to stick around for in-office bleaching. Some dental clinics also offer light- or heat-activated treatments that supposedly cut down the necessary bleaching time. "However, there is conflicting evidence on the effects of bleaching lights on tooth color change," says Dr. Plotino. Dentists can also help you plan for the inevitable whitening rebound, where your teeth become a tad duller a few weeks after you bleach them. While on that subject, our experts said that power toothbrushes, such as Sonicare, are better than manual toothbrushes at maintaining bright teeth after bleaching treatments.
Credit: Getty Images