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Just To See You Smile! The Right Way To Whiten

Mar 30, 2016 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Lisa J. Gotto

Are you happy with your smile? When it’s time to post a new profile pic are you grinning from ear to ear, or are you smirking, trying to hide teeth that just aren’t as white as they could be?

Perhaps, you have thought of trying one of those over-the-counter whitening treatments? Maybe you’re thinking of seeing your dental care professional about your issue, but you’re just not sure how to proceed.

Well, let’s first take a look at why your teeth may be darker in the first place. The toothy truth is some individuals are just genetically pre-disposed to having darker teeth.

“Underlying color from teeth comes for the inner material of the teeth, called the dentin,” says Dr. Katy Ehmann of Ehmann Dental Care of West Annapolis. “Some people’s dentin is naturally darker due to family and genetic traits.”

There are also individuals who may have been exposed to certain antibiotics while in utero, or while in the womb, that we now know affected the color of their permanent teeth.

“This was an unfortunate side effect from taking antibiotics in the Tetracycline family (TC),” Dr. Ehmann says. “When the permanent teeth erupted as a child, they could be very grey and dark in color and have lines and banding across all the teeth. This type of discoloring is the hardest to bleach out, but can be improved with frequent bleaching for longer periods of time.”

A course of action for individuals in this category who do not see results from more traditional whitening treatments is covering the color up with composite bonding, veneers, or crowns. Dr. Ehmann says the advent of new, thinner dental materials can help block the underlying color and provide a very natural-looking, brighter smile in these patients.

The Usual Suspects

For most of us, the culprits making our teeth look less than pearly-white are age and diet related, and if you combine any of those factors with poor dental hygiene, you will surely be creating a recipe for a dingy mouth.

A primary dietary culprit is acid. “Acids that are introduced into the mouth can etch the surfaces of the teeth and make them prone to staining,” says Dr. Scott Finlay of Scott Finlay DDS & Associates of Annapolis. Staining is then the result of whatever foods are consumed after acid has etched the teeth. Typically, beverages like coffee, wine, orange juice, and the fluids produced as a result of gastrointestinal reflux are acidic.

“Disappointedly, white wine can stain teeth as easily as red wine because of the acidity,” Dr. Finlay adds.

Happily, staining of this nature is something dental professionals can address in the office and you can help minimize with proper dental hygiene.

“Stains typically are adhering to the plaque that accumulates on teeth. Keeping your teeth clean, will reduce the appearance of these disfiguring stains,” Dr. Finlay states. Regular use of an electric toothbrush like a Sonicare is highly effective for keeping stains at bay, he adds.

And if you just can’t brush, a thorough water rinse will help buffer the acidity in the interim. Of course, adding regular dental cleanings to this regimen is the gold standard for white teeth.

First Things First

To make sure you get the white smile you want, you should note that all the whitening in the world won’t fix teeth with underlying issues, so providing a healthy basis for whitening should be addressed first.

“Some teeth may appear lighter on the outside, but may be very thin, worn, and eroded and at risk for breaking,” Dr. Ehmann says.

If you have tried at-home whitening methods, but have had to stop due to extreme sensitivity, something else could be going on.

“Sensitivity should never be ignored,” Dr. Finlay states. “It is always an indication that something has deviated from ideal.” While there may not be a need for immediate treatment, it should be evaluated by a dental professional to rule out or diagnose any underlying cause. “Sensitivity that lasts for a few seconds, typically suggests a reversible condition,” Dr. Finlay adds. “Sensitivity that lingers several minutes can be the indication of a more serious problem.”

If sensitivity and having to do repetitive daily treatments is a concern, you may want to try an in-office treatment like Zoom™. “We see consistent whitening results with minimal sensitivity,” offers Dr. Ehmann of the Zoom treatment.

“If you whiten in the office, we take care to protect your gum tissues from the gel, which can be difficult with at-home products. Our whitening gel, while stronger, is formulated with desensitizing agents.”

Another upside of in-office whitening is most teeth will maintain their color and not have to be professionally whitened for many years—a 15 to 30 minute at-home follow-up gel treatment once or twice a year is recommended.

So smile—and remember good oral hygiene is the key to creating the perfect profile pic!


If you are trying over-the-counter whitening products, keep these factors in mind: Teeth will only lighten to a certain degree and that isn’t always predictable, and teeth won’t lighten indefinitely, so it is always prudent to talk to your dental professional to determine what method of treatment will work best for you.