You don’t have to look far to find a special offer for tooth whitening - many dental clinics on the Costa del Sol promise pearly white teeth for bargain prices. It can seem very tempting. However, before you part with your money, it’s worth considering if it’s actually the best option for you.
Tooth whitening has its limitations, as any good dentist should tell you, and that’s what we’re going to look at in this article.
Understanding why your teeth are discoloured
There can be numerous reasons why your teeth are not as white as you would like them to be. The first is simply your genetics - teeth come in 28 naturally occurring shades, ranging from butter yellow to grey. It’s extremely rare to find pure white natural teeth; the dazzling smiles we see in toothpaste adverts and on Hollywood movie stars are usually produced artificially.
While your base tooth colour is genetically determined, your shade will change as you go through life due to external and internal factors. Staining to the enamel (the tooth’s hard outer surface) comes from consuming food and drink with vivid pigments, such as red wine, coffee and curry. Tobacco is also a major culprit when it comes to discolouring the enamel.
However, not all stains are purely on the surface; some come from within. If there has been internal damage to your tooth such as deep decay or a blow to the tooth then it may discolour due to the pathology.
In addition, over time the dentine inside your tooth can naturally start to show through. The dentine is the sensitive tissue that lies just below your enamel and it is naturally darker and more yellow in colour. If your tooth enamel has worn thin, due to trauma, exposure to certain medications or decay, then this layer may become visible. Also, as you get older your dentine gets darker, thus your teeth may look significantly discoloured with ageing, through no fault of your own.
Whitening is not a magic wand
Unfortunately, if you have thinning enamel, whitening may not be the best solution for your problem - in fact it could make it worse. The chemicals used in whitening treatments can cause sensitivity for those teeth which have very thin enamel layers.
The potential of teeth whitening to cause damage has led to the phasing out of the whitening lamp (traditionally used to accelerate the bleaching process). Studies have found that the additional heat can cause the teeth to become dehydrated, resulting in more sensitivity, and its actual benefits for the results are minimal.
Whitening also doesn’t change the colour of crowns or fillings so if you have had previous work done to your natural teeth this might not be a good option for you.
Putting negatives to one side, it’s also important to be realistic about the results tooth whitening can achieve. You can expect to go a few shades lighter, but the result will depend on your starting colour. If you have naturally greyish teeth, for example, you’ll lighten up a little but you won’t suddenly obtain an ice white smile. In addition if you have uneven or patchy tooth colour, for example white spots, whitening will not even the colour and could actually make the differences more apparent.
Exploring other options
If you don’t like the colour of your teeth, there are other options besides whitening. First and foremost, if you have staining to your enamel seek out a professional clean. Most surface stains can be removed in this way, taking you back to your original colour.
If your natural colour is not pleasing to you, or if you have dentine showing through, you can reliably change the shade of your teeth with porcelain veneers or crowns. While this can be a bit more of an investment in money and time, with advances in technology, ultra-thin veneers can sometimes be fitted in as little as two visits. With porcelain you are in complete control in choosing the shade you desire.
The additional benefit of veneers and crowns is the opportunity they offer for improving other aesthetic aspects of your smile. For example, if you have chipped, misaligned or uneven teeth, this can all be fixed at the same time, at no extra cost.
Says Ocean Clinic’s Dentist Nina King: “While we do whitening here in the clinic, we’re doing less and less of it as it often doesn’t reap the rewards promised. Patients have high aesthetic expectations and we find a more comprehensive approach using porcelain for veneers or crowns is often a better way to give patients what they are really looking for.”
To find the best treatment option for you, contact Ocean Clinic for a no obligation consultation. And to see how good your smile could look, follow our dentist @drninaking on Instagram.