We all want bright, white teeth, but our foods and drinks are conspiring against it. That morning cup of coffee. That evening glass of red wine. That handful of raspberries. They all leave stains on the enamel layer of our teeth.
At Sullivan Dental Center, we offer both in-office and at-home teeth whitening that will whiten your teeth up to eight shades, giving you back your bright white smile.
What Causes Teeth stains?
Our tooth enamel color is like our skin color — everyone’s is just a little different. Some people have naturally darker enamel, while for others their enamel is more porous and prone to staining. As we age, our enamel thins and begins to show more of the dentin, the tooth layer under the enamel. This is why older people often have teeth that are more yellow.
These are the reasons our teeth become stained:
- Food— Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, soy sauce, even dark chocolates have natural pigments in them that can stain the enamel of your teeth.
- Drink — Coffee, tea, red wine, cranberry and other dark juices, and cola soft drinks all can stain your teeth.
- Cigarettes — Nicotine leaves yellow stains on your teeth.
- Fluorosis — If a child has too much fluoride, it can cause this condition, which stains the teeth. This staining is in the dentin layer of the tooth, not the enamel.
- Drugs — Heavily used as an antibiotic in the 60s and 70s, tetracycline permanently discolored the teeth of many children. Like fluorosis, this staining is in the dentin layer.
- Genes — The enamel on some people’s teeth is darker than others. Also some people have enamel that is more porous and stains easier.
Teeth Whitening Before and After Photo
Zoom teeth whitening and 4 porcelain veneers by Dr. Frank Sullivan.
intrinsic vs. extrinsic Teeth stains
Staining that occurs in the enamel layer of our teeth is known as “extrinsic” staining. This staining responds very well to teeth whitening efforts.
When a tooth is stained in the dentin layer, the layer beneath the enamel, this is known as “intrinsic” staining. This happens from drug reactions, fluorosis, and from tooth trauma, and the teeth usually turn a grey color. Unfortunately, teeth whitening doesn’t have much affect on intrinsic stains. The peroxide gels simply cannot penetrate deeply enough. For intrinsic stained teeth the solution is to cover them with porcelain veneers or, in the case of a single tooth or two, a porcelain crown.
How does teeth whitening whiten teeth?
Day in and day out we eat and drink things that leave stains on our teeth. It’s not all at once, like a stain on a shirt. These stains build. When you eat a handful of blueberries, for instance, the deep blue pigment in the berries penetrates the enamel of your teeth, which is porous. Your saliva rinses away most of the pigment, but a little bit may remain. Over time the stains build until your teeth become dingy and dull.
Teeth whitening agents (usually hydrogen peroxide) remove these stains similar to how detergent removes stains in clothes. The bleaching agent penetrates the enamel, just as the stain did, and it breaks down the stains. They are then washed away when we rinse. At Sullivan Dental Center our teeth whitening programs whiten our patients’ teeth from three to eight shades.
How Does Teeth Whitening Work?
Would teeth whitening work on my teeth?
This is a question of the type of staining. If your teeth have a grey tint due to a reaction to tetracycline when you were eight, teeth whitening won’t have much effect on those stains in the dentin layer. But if your staining is due to foods, drinks, or cigarettes, you’re a perfect candidate for our teeth whitening procedures.
teeth whitening Options
At Sullivan Dental Center, we offer the following teeth whitening programs:
- In-office Zoom! teeth whitening
- At-home teeth whitening
They both end up with roughly the same amount of whitening, but the time required is dramatically different — our Zoom! in-office treatment takes about one hour, while our at-home whitening takes about 30 minutes a day for two weeks.
Here’s how we whiten teeth at Sullivan Dental.
Zoom Teeth Whitening
Our Zoom! in-office teeth whitening begins with a cleaning of your teeth and gums. Then we place a protective barrier over your lips and gums to avoid contact with the whitening agent. Next, we paint the hydrogen peroxide whitening gel onto your teeth, and we activate the gel with a special light. The gel is left on the teeth for 15 minutes and is then removed. This process is repeated three or four times. After the gel is removed for the last time, we apply a sensitivity-reducing fluoride paste/gel to your teeth. Our Zoom! in-office whitening can whiten your teeth up to eight shades in around one hour.
If you opt for in-home whitening, we begin by taking impressions of your teeth to use for the creation of customized whitening trays. These custom trays will ensure a tight, yet comfortable fit to maximize the contact between your teeth and the whitening gel. When your trays are ready, we provide you with syringes of carbamide peroxide gel (a much weaker strength than our Zoom! in-office gel) and give you thorough instructions on the home whitening procedure. At home, you syringe the whitening gel into the bleaching trays and then fit the trays onto your teeth. The custom trays keep the gel on your teeth and not leaking onto your gums. You wear the trays for 30 minutes to one hour every day for one to two weeks, depending on the degree of whitening needed.
Why shouldn’t I just use over-the-counter whitening products?
There are many teeth whitening products at the local drug or grocery store, but they have drawbacks versus how we can whiten your teeth at Sullivan Dental Center.
- The bleaching agent isn’t professional strength — We use professional strength hydrogen peroxide gel in our Zoom! whitening treatment, and caramide peroxide in our at-home gel. These both have far stronger bleaching agents than are available over the counter. Why? It’s too easy for people to burn their gums if they used these higher strength gels at home.
- They aren’t consistent — For our Zoom! in-office whitening, we carefully protect your lips and gums. Then we paint each individual tooth with the bleaching gel. The entire surface of each tooth is completely covered, so you know the whitening will be consistent and thorough. Our at-home whitening uses custom trays that we create from dental impressions of your teeth, so they fit precisely. This ensures the whitening gel achieves the best contact with your teeth. One-size-fits-all trays from the drug store or strips that you lay on your teeth can’t even come close.
- It’s easy to burn your gums — With poorly fitting trays or flimsy strips, it’s easy to get the whitening agent on your gums with over-the-counter products. Even though the strength is not as strong, these can still hurt quite a bit when contacting your gums.
Does teeth whitening make my teeth sensitive?
Teeth whitening has been used for a couple decades now and there hasn’t been a single case of tooth damage. But because the teeth whitening agents penetrate the enamel of your teeth, your teeth can be a little sensitive to hot and cold foods and drinks for a brief period of time, but this passes quickly in a day or two. Still, if you have particularly sensitive teeth, be sure to tell us as we can desensitize your teeth with potassium nitrate or calcium phosphate before we perform the whitening.
How can I keep my teeth white longer?
You could give up all the foods and drinks, such as red wine and raspberries, which are staining your teeth. But what’s the fun in that? Your teeth will become stained again. But that’s the time to come see us at Sullivan Dental Center and we’ll whiten them again in an hour! Or, if you used our at-home trays, we can provide you with some new whitening gel to use for maintenance.
Your home hygiene also makes a difference. Use a whitening toothpaste with ADA approval, and brush for two minutes twice daily. And don’t forget to come see us for your twice-yearly professional cleanings and exams. We use a coarse polishing agent to scrub stains off your teeth and keep your smile bright and beautiful.
Schedule a consultation
For more information on our teeth whitening treatments, don’t hesitate to contact us! Call Sullivan Dental Center today at 225-635-4422 to schedule a consultation and find out more about the services we offer.