Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Does Bleaching Really Work?

The answer to that question is complicated, because the answer is sometimes.

Discolored teeth occur due to several factors:

1) Teeth are made up of several layers of material. The overlying material is enamel, which is inorganic, consisting of crystalline rods. Enamel is what makes the teeth appear white. The middle layer of the tooth consists of an organic material called dentin. Dentin also makes up the majority of the tooth roots. Dentin is darker and yellower in color than enamel, varies in color due to genetics, and darkens with age or trauma to the teeth. In some patients, the enamel layer is thicker, preventing the darker dentin from showing through. This results in whiter appearing teeth. In other patients, the dentin layer is thinner, and the dentin shows through resulting in a darker and yellower appearance to the teeth.

2) Tooth enamel is crystalline in nature. As a person chews, and subjects the teeth to outside forces such as acids and temperature extremes, small microcracks , as well as small pits and pores, occur in the enamel layer. These cracks and pores accumulate food debris and food stains. This results in not only discoloration, but also blocks the light transmission causing the teeth to appear darker.

This leads us to a discussion of how bleaching agents work. All bleaching agents, whether professionally applied or over-the-counter, consist of peroxide solutions. When applied to the teeth, these peroxides break down into oxygen, which penetrates the tooth enamel and dissolves food debris and stains trapped within the enamel pits, pores, and cracks. This action causes the enamel to appear whiter.

So, will bleaching work for me? It depends. If you have relatively thick enamel and your underlying dentin color is light, you will achieve wonderful results. On the other hand, if your enamel layer is thin, or your dentin color is darkened due to age, trauma, or genetics, bleaching will not be very effective. So maybe I just need to bleach more? Not necessarily, since use of more bleach in situations like this results in the enamel becoming more translucent, rather than whiter. Also, since over-bleaching often results in the enamel layer increasing in translucency, the teeth begin to appear bluish. Bluish, clear enamel is the telltale sign of someone who overused over-the-counter bleaching agents.

If you fall into the category where bleaching will not be as effective, do not be discouraged. You can still achieve the smile of your dreams through the use of ceramic crowns or veneers. Give us a call for a consultation!

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