With cavities and periodontal disease less of a concern, more dental patients have turned their attention to improving their overall appearance with teeth whitening. Cosmetic treatments have become the most common service requests from dental patients, with more than ten million Americans spending $1.7 billion a year on teeth whitening products and services. Teeth whitening refers to “any procedure that changes the shade and appearance of teeth without using restorative materials” (1). This includes products dispensed by dental professionals and over-the-counter products.
Studies have shown patients who feel good about their physical appearance tend to adjust to illnesses better and experience shorter recuperation times.
The semi-clear, but hard outer layer tooth surface consists of enamel, which provides protection for the dentin. In 1951, a study revealed that radioisotope-labeled hydrogen peroxide could penetrate enamel to the dentin pulp. Hydrogen peroxide makes up the main ingredient in many tooth whitening products (1, 2). Other whitening products contain carbamide peroxide.
The tooth enamel is made of hydroxyapatite crystals. The formation of microscopic hexagonal rods makes the tooth enamel porous. The teeth change color due to the penetration of staining agents into the enamel, which makes it a challenge to clean the otherwise harmless stains from the tooth surface.
Causes of Teeth Discoloration
The success of teeth whitening treatments has as much to do with the type, intensity and location of the discoloration. The diagnosis performed by the dental professional represents the most important aspect of addressing tooth discoloration issues. The dentist’s evaluation determines if the discoloration lies in the enamel surface or is a deeper staining, which affects the tooth’s structure.