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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why do teeth get discolored?
A: There are many factors that can affect the appearance of your teeth. There are some people who are born with teeth that are naturally more yellow than others. Teeth will also become more yellow and grey with age. This occurs because over many years the enamel (the hard, white outer layer of a tooth) starts to wear down, becoming more transparent, and allowing the yellow color of the underlying layer of tooth structure (dentin) to show through. Furthermore, there are many other ways that teeth can discolor or stain over time, which can be broken down into extrinsic and intrinsic staining. Extrinsic stains appear on the surface of teeth as a result of years of consuming coffee, tea, red wine, colas, highly pigmented foods, and tobacco use. The accumulation of tartar (hardened plaque) will also cause teeth to become discolored. Superficial stains can easily be removed by brushing, flossing and dental cleanings. Deeper stains will need bleaching. Intrinsic stains occur when the actual tooth itself discolors. Tetracycline use during childhood will likely result in a dark yellow and brown banding around the teeth. Excessive ingestion of fluoride results in fluorosis, which is evident due to white spots that develop on the teeth. Finally tooth trauma can result in a color change due to damage to the nerve.
Q: Do whitening toothpastes, rinses, flosses, and chewing gums actually work?
A: Over the counter whitening products are relatively ineffective at best, and some of these whitening pastes can be very abrasive and actually cause damage to the enamel. Brushing with whitening toothpastes removes the extrinsic stains by mechanical means; little to no change in color actually takes place. Only bleaching agents, such as carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, intrinsically whiten teeth. These agents must remain in contact with the enamel for a certain period of time to actually be effective. Even toothpastes that claim to have these agents are not very effective because they have a minor concentration of peroxide and are not in contact with the enamel for long enough to have an effect.
Q: What is the difference between over the counter whitening agents (whitening strips and preformed trays) and custom trays made in the dental office?
A: The importance of a custom fitted tray cannot be over-emphasized; it allows for maximum patient comfort, reduces side effects, and maximizes efficacy. The over-the-counter versions may be ill-fitting and clumsy, or may not cover all the desired tooth surfaces.
Q: Do I need to visit my dentist for a cleaning and check-up before whitening my teeth?
A: Yes. It is very important that a dentist performs an examination and diagnosis in order to identify existing cavities, abscessed teeth, and other pathological problems, before whitening. Your dentist can also identify which teeth have restorations or problems that will not whiten. A cleaning may be necessary so that tartar, plaque and extrinsic stains can be removed so that whitening solutions can reach the tooth surface. A detailed history along with x-rays and examination should also help to determine if someone is more prone to have sensitivity.
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List of Questions

  1. Why do teeth get discolored?
    There are many factors that can affect the appearance of your teeth...
  2. Do whitening toothpastes, rinses, flosses, and chewing gums actually work?
    Over the counter whitening products are relatively ineffective at best, and some of these whitening pastes can be very abrasive and actually cause damage to the enamel...  
  3. What is the difference between over the counter whitening agents...?
    The over-the-counter versions may be ill-fitting and clumsy, or may not cover all the desired tooth surfaces.  
  4. Do I need to visit my dentist for a cleaning and check-up before whitening my teeth?
    Yes. It is very important that a dentist performs an examination and diagnosis in order to identify existing cavities...