Teeth whitening, also known as dental bleaching, has become one of the most common procedures in dentistry since the 1990s. A person can get white teeth either from a professional dentist or by purchasing an at-home kit. Cosmetic dentists are capable of whitening the teeth to a far greater degree than home methods, however, the costs associated with the procedure are generally higher.
Human teeth are naturally white when they come in during childhood. As people age, teeth become darker due to alterations in mineral structures within the teeth. Calcium deposits coalesce and leave portions of the teeth with less calcium than others. In addition, enamel solidifies, preventing new minerals from entering a tooth on the surface. Other elements such as antibiotics, food and tobacco will all stain the teeth as well.
There are three basic methods that enable a person to get white teeth. These include laser bleaching, bleaching gel and natural bleaching. Each of these options result in different levels of whitening and also feature different negatives and positives as far as its effects on other facets of teeth.
Laser bleaching is usually conducted in dental offices. It uses light to give a person white teeth. The concept uses high energy to excite peroxide molecules within the tooth. This gives teeth the appearance of being overall white. Traditionally, dentists used arc lamps and infrared lasers to perform this function, however, these provide the disadvantage of uncomfortable heat for the patient. The most modern equipment uses an argon laser, a device which uses argon gas to make the beam. This produces no extra heat and is much faster than other methods, usually taking approximately one hour at an office.
Gel bleaching can be conducted with either high or low concentration gel, depending on the patient's needs. The concept uses an oxidizing agent placed on the teeth in thin plastic trays. Usually the process takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes and permeates every angle of each tooth. One problem with bleaching gel in creating white teeth is the side effect of chemical burns. Many of the high concentration gels contain carbamide peroxide, which mixes with saliva and forms hydrogen peroxide. This will burn the gums and other tissues within the mouth.
Some more natural methods to whiten the teeth include additives to toothpaste. Many companies include silica, calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate or aluminum oxide in the composition. These materials simply remove stains by grinding off foreign deposits. In this way, these materials do not actually alter the color of the teeth.
Very traditional ways of teeth whitening include methods developed by ancient Egyptians and Romans. They found that a combination of pumice and vinegar whitens teeth naturally. Urine can also be used to bleach teeth. Nitric acid was used during medieval times, however, it caused a number of problems such as overall damage to teeth.