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Teeth Whitening – What To Know About The Popular Cosmetic Dentistry Trend

57% of Americans cover their mouths when they laugh due to insecurity over their teeth, while one in two will always often try to smile with their mouth closed, according to one study conducted by OnePoll. For those who are insecure about the color of their teeth, whitening can sound like the best option — especially when it comes to the accessibility of at-home whitening products. From the options out there to the risks to be aware of, here’s what you should know about one of the most popular cosmetic dentistry trends.

Understanding Tooth Discoloration

For those with discolored teeth, whitening methods can offer an easy solution. However, it’s important to note that teeth can become discolored for several reasons, and there are two types of discoloration to be aware of. Extrinsic discoloration, or stains that affect the outside of the teeth, can come from foods, beverages (such as coffee/tea/red wine), foods with dyes, and tobacco, according to Healthline. Healthline further goes on to explain intrinsic discoloration, which occurs from within the tooth itself. These types of stains may occur due to medication use, tooth trauma, or aging, to name a few potential causes. While it’s important to consult with a dentist in order to determine which treatment is best for you, the American Dental Association (ADA) notes that whitening treatments can be effective on both extrinsic and intrinsic staining, though it’s necessary to keep in mind that only natural teeth can be whitened, not tooth-colored restorations.

A Variety Of Whitening Methods

For those looking to get a whiter, brighter smile, there are a variety of options in regard to teeth whitening. According to Healthline, there are three general categories of whitening methods — including those that are administered by a dentist, those that are dispensed by a dentist for at-home use, and those that you can get over the counter or made at home without a dentist (such as whitening toothpastes, strips, etc.). Regarding the difference between over the counter options and professional treatments, Healthline explains that unlike products administered by a dentist, OTC whitening products have no carbamide peroxide or much less than those that dentists use, meaning that OTC products may not work as effectively (or take longer) on intrinsically discolored teeth. With that in mind, discussing the topic with a dental professional is essential in order to determine which whitening method is best for you.

While teeth whitening by a dentist or over the counter products are popular, DIY teeth whitening methods have also gained traction and are popularized via social media. Oil pulling, or pushing/pulling coconut oil through the teeth, is just one popular dentistry trend that is said to make teeth whiter. However, it’s important to realize that no scientific studies have proven that oil pulling whitens teeth. Activated charcoal is another popular trend that claims to whiten teeth, though is also not scientifically proven to do so. While speaking with a dentist is always ideal regarding topics like DIY whitening methods, it’s equally as important to ensure that the information you’re reading online about oral health is from a trusted source, and can help greatly in deciphering fact from fiction. Confirming that the information you’re reading is written by doctors and healthcare professionals is just one way to avoid getting misinformed, and can give you a better idea as to what to expect at dental visits, too.

The Risks To Be Aware Of 

According to the ADA, tooth sensitivity is a common adverse effect of over the counter or dentist-dispensed, tray-based whitening, “which can be more prevalent with higher concentrations of active agents but is typically mild and transient.” Risk of temporary sensitivity is also associated with all forms of bleaching, while other risks of teeth whitening include gingival irritation (which can result from contact with peroxide-based gels when strips or gel-based products are used). The Dental Health Society further highlights the risks associated with whitening trays and strips via misuse/overuse. If not used as directed, the chemicals in the gel can be harmful to the teeth and can lead to tooth decay (as well as sensitivity and gum irritation). The Dental Health Society also points out that the peroxide in teeth whitening bleach can damage the cells of the gums, and can also damage “the nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues of the tooth.”

A sparkling white smile is idealized by many, and due to the benefits of teeth whitening methods (such as accessibility via at-home options), there’s no question as to why whitening has become so popular in the dentistry world. That said, it’s important to understand that there are a variety of whitening options out there, and the risks that can be associated.


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