Teeth Whitening Kits: Nothing But the Tooth

All those years of tea, smoking, red wine and raspberries will come back to bite you. Teeth have a nasty habit of discoloring at a rate proportional to your age. Now we’re not talking “I discovered my toothbrush at 11” here. Discovering the science of tooth whitening after you’ve lost them is sad. All those with dentures- stop reading. No, we’re talking the average, two kids, one dog and one cat people here. Regular, over-the-counter tooth whitening candidates.

Its not pearly grays or the mellow yellow that make the flash on the camera go off – it’s the pearly whites. If your smile makes your shirt look bright, consider a tooth whitening kit.

So, how do you really know if you need kit? Don’t rely on relatives – they lie. “It’s nothing darling, just a mild discoloration. You’re beautiful just as you are.” (Permission to retch here.)

There are various independent tests that you can perform to assess your tooth color situation:

* The organic test: first catch your chameleon. Place firmly against the teeth (no biting). Smile and hold for approximately three minutes. Remove chameleon and check color. Discard (gently) after use.

* DIY doesn’t work. The stuff you use to streak your hair – hydrogen peroxide – may be an ingredient of your tooth-whitening kit but the term “bottle blond” refers strictly to hair. Don’t use it on your teeth! You may learn the meaning of the phrase “your teeth are OK but the gums will have to come out.”

* Or… dramatic pause… you can buy a tooth whitening kit.

If you believe advertising, you absolutely need, must have, and can’t live without a whitening kit. You’ll get that promotion, seduce the prom queen, catch Mr. Right, etc, etc.

These ubiquitous kits come, broadly speaking, in two forms: whitening strips and help-me-get-it-in-my-mouth gel holders.

Being inherently irresponsible, you can’t buy the super-saturated with active ingredients kit such as your dentist is licensed to use on your teeth. If you want the full Monty you have to have the in-office treatment at your dental surgery. Depending on your financial and/or tooth color status, you may even be advised to go for the caps, crowns, laser treatment or veneer bonding options. All this information is available from you friendly dentist so we won’t repeat it here, except to point out that the cost of chair-side whitening may leave you with little to smile about.

The real tooth-whitening bazaar happens at home. The home kits are where it’s at, financially speaking that is. Clutching your $xx.99, you casually stroll into the drugstore and browse until you build up the courage to ask about the tooth-whitening kits. No really, it’s OK – nothing to be embarrassed about – we’ve seen worse.

Questions rattle around in your head. Will the assistant recognize me again? Do I really need this? Is it safe? Will it work? Definitely, yes, maybe and maybe.

Teeth are not what they may seem to the unaided eye. A healthy enamel covering is porous with microscopic holes that trap material that can become, with optional extra staining, discolored. The active ingredients in over-the-counter kits contain active ingredients with fancy names such as hydrogen peroxide in buffer gel solution and carbamide peroxide. These are the chemicals that bleach the non-enamel substances trapped in the pores of enamel.

If your tooth discoloration is caused by yucky stuff trapped in your enamel pores, whitening kits can help.

If however your discoloration stems from the enamel itself being discoloured, whitening may not work. So-called intrinsic stains caused by OD’ing on antibiotics or fluoride as a child are largely impervious to whiteners, as are dead teeth from which the nerve has been removed.

Other conditions that are contra-indicated for tooth whitening kits are cavities or caries and fillings in the front teeth. The first condition may cause mega-pain and the latter may leave the filling material a totally different color in your whitened smile.

Assuming that you don’t have the suggested contra-indicators, you are still in the running to buy a kit and now a perplexing array of brands lies at your disposal. Choices, choices.

Teeth come in a variety of off-white shades and we quote from a well-known color chart: “A (reddish brown); B (reddish yellow); C (gray); and D (reddish gray)”

Things to look for in a kit are: the duration of the treatment – some of them go on for days with a two hour interval between treatments – a real test of how serious you are about getting two shades whiter. Some require you to sleep with a bite plate and gel so hold off on the romantic evening. Bottom line… read the instruction and make sure you can live with the treatment before selecting a kit. Read the fine print. These things are not guaranteed to work under all circumstances. Some people have minimal results, (probably the reddish gray types); others come away smiling.

One contra-indication for using a tooth-whitening kit is pregnancy. The prospect of having a baby may make you beam but stick with the horsy yellow until confinement is over. Whitening your choppers may make junior a bit slow.

Another no-no is when you’re the sensitive type that can’t bite robustly into an apple without wincing, check with your dentist first. In fact, check with your dentist anyway. Whitening kits have come a long way in buffering the active ingredients to lessen sensitivity but some people are naturally prone to the condition. Try brushing with toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate to help soothe tooth nerve ending.

If you do find a tooth-whitening kit that that does it for you, don’t forget to take some “before” photos. The manufacturers will take the after ones and make you smile… all the way to the bank.