11:13 AM

Whitening vs. Bleaching: What to Know Before you Undergo

White teeth look healthy and a pretty smile usually brings a return smile from those we meet. So if you have been thinking about whitening your teeth, but just don’t know much about it, let me remove the mysteries for you.

Whitening is defined as removing stains so the teeth are clean and as white as they can be. Bleaching is defined as altering the natural color of the teeth, and making them whiter by the use of bleaching agents.

This information alone can help you understand the advertisements for whitening toothpaste, mouthwash and chewing gum. These are merely stating that they have been shown to remove stains from the surface of a tooth.

Bleaching is analogous to frosting a piece of clear glass. Bleach and peroxide penetrate the enamel of a tooth and give it a frosty white appearance. This appearance can remain indefinitely if bleaching agents are used regularly. However, if bleaching is a one-time experience, then the teeth will lose the frosty white appearance over time (usually around 6 months) and the natural tooth color will return.

Be careful though, as teeth are bleached they become more porous and this can cause sensitivity to cold air and water. Many dentists recommend toothpastes that reduce sensitivity for their bleaching patients. Other than the sensitivity, there are usually no other side effects when used as directed. The temptation to exceed the recommendations for bleaching however, can lead to chemical burns on the gums and oral tissues.

The difference between the bleaching kits available at the drug store and those used in the dental office is the concentration of the bleaching agent. The higher the concentration of bleach, the quicker the result, and the higher the incidence of sensitivity. In the long run, over the counter bleaching reaches the same results as the professional bleaching, but it may take several months to achieve the same whiteness as the one hour bleaching in the dental office.