You Have White Teeth, I Have Mine
The idea of beauty is a tough thing to pin down. While it’s subjective, and based on individual perception and experience, our ideas around beauty often derive from things like societal norms, cultural values, and public opinion. Cosmetic innovation in the last 50 years now allows for safe, affordable treatments that skew the classic idea of beauty toward a more conventional, altered aesthetic. The expectations brought on by this new aesthetic lead many dental patients to ask about the colour of their teeth. Are they too yellow? Too brown? Do they look natural? How white is too white?
Responding to these questions can be tough; everyone has their own idea of what looks good. Some people like the natural look that some brown or yellow in the teeth brings out. Others are set on the images they see in magazines and on the Internet: flawless, treated teeth that seem to sparkle in the light.
The natural colour of human teeth occurs across a range of grey-ish yellow shades. Over time teeth darken naturally. The extent to which this happens depends on staining from things like tobacco, and certain foods and drinks. Skin tone also impacts the appearance of people’s teeth, with darker skin and makeup making teeth look brighter.
How Colouration Happens
How do teeth start to colour? What sets the process in motion? The easiest answer is that as we age our teeth become more yellow and shiny. Why? The enamel on our teeth wears down and exposes more of the dentin- the soft, yellowish material at the heart of our teeth. This natural erosion aside, there are other environmental factors that affect the colour of our teeth:
· Medical sources like antibiotics. Tetracycline, for example.
A range of safe, affordable treatment options are available for those who are unhappy with and want to remove the stains on their teeth.
Surface whiteners are usually toothpastes or chewing gums that use special abrasives to remove surface stains. The word “abrasives” sounds destructive, but in reality these materials are quite fine and don’t cause excessive tooth wear. With this in mind, surface whiteners are minimally effective and shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for professional cleaning.
Most bleaches use peroxide to change the colour of the tooth. Keep in mind that everyone’s teeth are different and respond to bleaching in different ways and at different rates. In general, teeth of a yellow shade respond the best to bleaching treatment.
There are a range of in-office and take home bleaching products available. Both do the same job if properly applied. In-office treatments work best for those with limited time (and patience). They tend to be stronger, and require a certain expertise in application to avoid contact with saliva glands and other tissues. Take home products come in different concentrations geared to the severity of staining, tooth sensitivity and a person’s willingness to keep a tray in their mouth for long periods of time.
Where in office and take-home treatments go, the base colour of your teeth will determine the number of treatments needed. For those with teeth shaded yellow, expect one to two treatments. Take a look at Example A. This is an example of of mostly yellow staining in the teeth that was treated with one round of take home bleaching.
Those with brown and grey-shaded teeth should expect a minimum of four to five treatments; the good news is that they don’t all have to happen in one place. For example, two treatments could happen in-office and two could happen at home. Treatments can also be spread out over three to six months. This is recommended for best results.
Take a look at Example B. This shows an example of teeth shaded brownish/grey that needed two office treatments and two to three months of regular bleaching at home to get the desired result.
What about Veneers?
Sometimes it’s useful to forego a full whitening treatment in favour of veneers or other porcelain restorations. In these cases the teeth still need to be bleached first. This preserves the tooth structure and reduces the amount of preparation needed for the veneers. The lighter the teeth at the start of the procedure, the less porcelain thickness is required during the smile makeover procedure.
It’s important to note that most patients report almost no sensitivity after their whitening treatments. We take special care to consider a patient’s tooth history and match materials and their strengths appropriately. Most in-office patients report mild to moderate sensitivity that disappears a few hours after treatment. Others report extended sensitivity to cold that disappears within three days.
The need for more treatments beyond the initial course depends on the extent to which you smoke, drink things like coffee, tea and red wine, or have a heavy diet of coloured foods. Beyond these immediate factors, annual treatments serve most patients in good stead.
Teeth whitening isn’t for everyone, but it is an excellent option for people who want to reclaim a tarnished smile, or want greater control over their appearance. What matters most is that patients can satisfy their idea of beauty (or someone else’s) to an extent that has only recently become available. If you’d like to learn more about your options for teeth whitening, please get in touch.