If ugly stains on your teeth have you smiling with your mouth closed whenever possible, you're probably ready to explore your dental whitening options. But before you commit to one strategy or another, it pays to understand the benefits and limitations of each. Here are four helpful things to bear in mind while looking for the best way to whiten your teeth.
1. Home Remedies May Not Help (and They Might Even Harm)
Many people with discolored teeth try to save money by using over-the-counter tooth whitening kits or even home remedies such as hydrogen peroxide or lemon juice. But these approaches can prove ineffective at best and damaging at worst. Home whitening kits use a relatively weak concentration of peroxide that can't remove stronger stains -- and the "one size fits all" trays may irritate your gums. Lemon juice weakens the tooth enamel over time, making you vulnerable to far more worrying dental problems than mere discoloration.
2. Professional Whitening Can Work Wonders (But Not for Everyone)
Professional tooth whitening differs from the do-it-yourself methods in several significant ways. Your cosmetic dentist has access to a much stronger and more effective form of hydrogen peroxide than home kits can provide, yet at the same time, your gums are protected against irritation, thanks to a special substance the dentist applies to them beforehand. The stronger solution provides much faster and more dramatic results, especially if laser light is used to accelerate the chemical reactions. You might achieve whitening results in a single session that you could never enjoy from a lifetime of home whitening applications.
Professional whitening is a cosmetic procedure, but that doesn't mean that everybody who wants a brighter smile should have it done. For instance, if you already have dental work colored to match your natural teeth at some previous point, then you may find that the whitening process leaves this dental work looking dingy by comparison. If you have unusually sensitive teeth, the whitening process may not be for you. Pregnant or lactating women should also pass on tooth whitening just as a smart precaution.
3. Can't Remove Stains? Cover Them Up
Some tooth stains simply won't come off even after a professional whitening session. This is especially true if you're over the age of 40 and have been collecting ever-deepening stains for decades, or if you've developed cracks or pits in your teeth that attract and hold staining agents. If professional whitening hasn't worked for you, or if you just aren't a good candidate for it, then you can always cover those stained surfaces with veneers. Veneers are thin resin or porcelain "shells" shaped to fit over the visible sides of your front teeth. Your cosmetic dentist shaves a tiny bit of tooth enamel off of the teeth and then cements the veneers into place. This leaves you with naturally white-looking teeth with no signs of cracks or other damage.
If you have a severely darkened tooth that is also crumbling or in need of root canal therapy, you'll want to bypass the veneer in favor of a permanent crown. Crowns can be color-matched to produce a realistically bright effect, but they also help reinforce a weakened tooth instead of simply covering one side of it.
4. Lifestyle Changes Can Keep Your Teeth Whiter
Once you've gone to the trouble of having your teeth professionally whitened, it's important to remember that those results aren't permanent. Whatever you did to stain those teeth before could stain them again unless you make some lifestyle changes. The most surefire way to minimize tooth staining, of course, is to eliminate items such as coffee, tea, red wine, and other known staining agents. But if you hate the idea of depriving yourself of your favorite things, then rinse your mouth and brush your teeth immediately after consuming these products.
Have you been somewhat lax in your dental hygiene? Even a routine dental cleaning can polish away many surface-level stains from tooth enamel, so don't put off those scheduled examinations! Between dentist visits, maintain a steady regimen of brushing and flossing to keep your teeth as clean as possible. With luck, you'll require fewer or less drastic whitening procedures going forward.
As you can see, different tooth whitening options make sense for different kinds of teeth (and the people who own them). Talk to your cosmetic dentist about the pros and cons of various whitening methods as they apply to your particular situation.