I Want White Teeth

Most everyone I know wants whiter teeth.  People have been searching for whiter teeth since Roman times. The ancient Gauls used urine as a mouth wash.  Urine contains urea, which whitens teeth.  Luckily for us, modern dentistry has definitely improved on the delivery system to get a brighter, whiter smile.   Information on whitening is the most common inquiry I get from my patients at Great Smile Dental.   Let’s explore the topic of whitening.  (After all the dark and gloomy posts on gum disease, tooth decay, heart attacks and sleep apnea, it was time for something fun– or at least what I call fun!)  The great thing for me in doing this blog is I get to read a lot, and learn about new science and products.  Which is exactly what happened in doing the research for this post.  I thought I knew “all” about whitening and bleaching, but found out I did not.  There’s more than I had expected. So much for whipping off this blog and going back to gardening. *sigh*  Until I have more concrete information on new professional whitening, (which, incidentally, is very exciting) today’s post will discuss over-the-counter whitening toothpastes and  mouthwashes, and stain.  Stay tuned for part II on bleaching.
Today’s post will be in a Q & A format.  If you still have an unanswered question, Facebook message me at Barbara Tritz RDH, or leave a comment here!

1. Why do people want to whiten their teeth?
       For a better looking smile! Whitening is an affordable way to enhance self esteem,  improve confidence, and significantly improve appearance.  It truly makes you look younger.

2. What’s the difference between whitening teeth and bleaching teeth?
      Bleaching refers to products that can take your teeth beyond their natural color.  Whitening products remove stains and debris.

Teeth shade guide
found here

3.  Do whitening tooth pastes and mouthwashes “whiten” your teeth?
      Any toothpaste that removes surface stain, dirt and debris is technically a “whitener”–  it’s semantics, and a pretty dirty play on words.  People purchase these toothpastes and rinses to get whiter teeth, with the idea (or hope) their teeth will lighten up a shade or two.  I called Crest, Listerine and Colgate to ask what in their mouth rinses will “whiten”.  Colgate’s phone service was so poor their machine hung up on me,  Listerine’s professional could not answer my question and is having another Listerine professional call me back (still waiting on that ;] ) and Ashley from Crest says the ingredient in Crest 3D Whitening mouth rinse that keeps stain from adhering to teeth is sodium hexametaphosphate. It places a barrier on the tooth surface to prevent future staining.  Both the Crest and Listerine people say there is hydrogen peroxide in their rinses as well.  In professional “take home trays” from your dentist, you place carbamide peroxide gel in your trays and wear them for six to eight hours, so I asked both ladies how they could claim their mouth rinse, used for one minute daily could cause  any tooth color change to possibly take place. Silence… No answer from either of them.

4.How does toothpaste remove surface stains?
      Toothpastes have many ingredients in them designed to remove stain and debris.  In years past charcoal, sand and salt were used.  Hydrated silica, which is a derivative of sand, and calcium carbonate, a refined chalk, are still used in toothpastes of today. The industry has relied on abrasives to remove the surface crud.  New technology in toothpastes have changed how they work.  Instead of being similar to soap, toothpaste is now similar to laundry detergent in it’s actions.  This will damage tooth structure much less, be more efficient and work more quickly.  Solvents now go into teeth, and break the stain molecular bonds and lift the stains off. This technology is improving the quality of tooth paste and will reduce toothbrush abrasion in the future.

5. What’s the difference between the surface stains and the stain within the tooth?
 Extrinsic stains are on the surface of your teeth. These can be polished or removed by your favorite dental hygienist.  Extrinsic stains can become intrinsic stains.   Intrinsic stains are those that absorb into the tooth and change the color of the tooth.  Bleaching with peroxide or carbamide peroxide will lighten these teeth. More on bleaching in another post so stay tuned for that one!  Note the little experiment I did with three virgin teeth below.  These three molars were kindly donated by a patient after he had his wisdom teeth removed by an oral surgeon.

Left to right: one tooth soaked in lemon juice for 24 hours,  one untouched, and one soaked in Coke Zero for 24 hrs each.
Notice the frosty color of the tooth on the left-  that’s eroded enamel from the acidity of the lemon juice, and note also the brown, intrinsic stain of the rightmost tooth from the cola. **

**Side note:  Remember Kissability (Not really a Homemade DIY Fix)?  This is why you shouldn’t use lemon juice in those recipes. All the light/bright colored spots on that tooth on the left are spots with no enamel left. Without enamel your teeth are sensitive– the Sensodyne commercials are correct. There’s nothing protecting your teeth at that point, so you would need crowns or other serious restorative action to make your mouth comfortable again.

6. Why do teeth get darker or yellower?
      Whatever stains your carpet will also stain your teeth.  Tea, coffee, cola (see above), wine, mouthwash (yep!), chocolate, licorice, tobacco, and aging are all modern day culprits.  Medications such as tetracycline (an antibiotic), minocycline (another antibiotic), childhood diseases, infections, or trauma to baby teeth can all affect the color and development of permanent teeth.

7.  How do you prevent staining?
      Good oral hygiene on a daily basis. Get all the plaque off!  My secret is dry brushing.  No toothpaste, no water.  Brush until your teeth feel and taste clean and smooth- not fuzzy, or like you have little sweaters on your teeth.  Then use toothpaste for that minty fresh breath feeling.  Toothpaste makes your tongue slightly numb so you really can’t tell if your teeth are clean when you’re done brushing.  Wet baking soda is also an excellent stain remover.   Clean teeth won’t stain. Use a straw if possible when drinking tea, sodas or juices.

After I do a little more research we’ll explore bleaching.  Go enjoy the last rays of summer sunshine!

Keep smiling,
Barbara

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31 Responses

  1. Thank you for the helpful information. I am very happy and grateful that you shared this with us.
    Thanks for sharing and please keep us informed with new information when possible.

  2. Robbie Hardy says:

    Barbara, I liked reading numbers 6 and 7 because it's so common to wonder why our teeth are darkening or yellowing. My family and I always wonder. The tip of dry brushing isn't something I've ever tired before, but I now plan on trying that tonight. If it works I'll be having my wife and kids do the same thing.

  3. Zab Clement says:

    Very informative content! It is just by this time i understand what my dentist has been telling me all the time. Great post!

  4. Does natural ways of whitening really help? I had been doing it for over a month on a regular basis but didn't see any positive result. Then finally i had to see a dentist and treated there for whitening. Am glad as i can flaunt my smile unlike before after all it is the smile that tells about ones personality. 🙂

  5. Nimita,
    "Natural whitening" does not work, unfortunately. It needs to stay in contact with the stain molecules for a long time to break them down. That's why Peroxide does the best job. Glad you found a dentist to whiten your teeth. Teeth do look better whiter, and that makes you look more youthful! Fabulous! Keep smiling and keep reading for more helpful hints.
    Barbara

  6. Steph Smith says:

    The picture showing the effects that lemon juice and coke have on teeth are pretty gross, but it's an eye opener. I stopped drinking soda except for special occasions, and I've noticed a lot of benefits because of it. I know dentists hate it, but now that I know just how bad it can be for teeth, it's just another pro of quitting the drink.

  7. Steph,
    Thanks for the comment. The photos, while enlightening, don't even begin to show the full effects of the cola or the extensive damage the lemon juice did to the enamel! So, after eating or drinking something with low pH – rinse with water or even better- a baking soda and water to raise the pH right away. And when that's not an option, pop a xylitol mint in your mouth! Xylitol is magical. Hope this is helpful.
    Thanks for stopping by!
    Barbara

  8. Jessy Shaw says:

    Wow, that is really interesting what you said about those toothpaste companies. I have heard similar things from dentists over the years and that the toothpaste will protect your teeth from stains but it doesn't get rid of them. I think that if you really want whiter teeth, it's best to look into cosmetic dentistry. I have tried all the home remedies but I think I might talk to my dentist here in Dubuque, IA and see what they can do. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Robbie,
    Thank you for your comments – I appreciate that you took the time to write. My apologies for missing this! Glad you liked #6 & 7. Teeth are rather like sponges. That's why they get darker with age. The key is to keep stain from adhering, that'll keep them whiter.
    How'd the dry brushing technique work? Teeth feel cleaner? Thanks again for reading.
    Barbara

  10. Jessy,
    So glad you learned something! The best way to whiten teeth is with bleach trays from your dentist. It's faster, stronger and while it costs more initially, you'll have the trays for life and can purchase more refills from your dentist as needed. I wrote a blog post on bleaching and how to get the best results. Check that one out if you have more questions.
    Keep smiling!
    Barbara
    PS- there are Tritz relatives just outside of Dubuque! What lovely rolling country you have there!

  11. Gus Chiggins says:

    Thanks for sharing these helpful tips! I had no idea that people used to intentionally use sand, and salt on their teeth to clean them. I heard that some Native American tribes had some grit in their bread. This was because they used sandstone tools to grind the corn they grew. I wonder if their teeth were helped, or hurt from these particles.

  12. Uday Singh says:

    Good on you, Barbara, for sharing this with the rest of us, at least now I can be assured that getting teeth whitening done at a dental clinic is the best way to go.

  13. Zab Clement says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about teeth whitening. I really want to undergo teeth whitening especially this Christmas season,

  14. Hey Uday,
    Hope you've gotten that whitening by now! It is safe, and about the coolest thing dentistry has to offer! Glad you stopped by to read and comment!
    Barbara

  15. Zab,
    Good to see you again! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment. Have you scheduled your whitening yet?
    Barbara

  16. Thank you for this information. It is hard to find an accurate comparison and pros and cons list of the whitening methods. I appreciate how you really went into depth with this post and gave the advanced answer but also simplified it so anyone could understand. Some of the stuff out there is so heavy with jargon and advanced terminology.

  17. Quinn,
    Thanks for your kind words. That's my goal- make dentistry simple and understandable. Hope you got to stop by my post on Bleaching – that'll tell you how to really whiten teeth. Let me know what you think!
    ~Barbara

  18. Zab Clement says:

    Yes Barbara! It feels good!

  19. YEAH!! Hope you love your smile! Bleaching really makes your teeth look younger. Thanks for the update.
    ~B

  20. Jacqueline says:

    Thanks to share with us useful tips.

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