Teeth whitening is one of the most popular cosmetic dentistry treatments offering a quick, non-invasive and affordable way to enhance a smile. Universally valued by men and women alike, whitening (or bleaching) treatments are available to satisfy every budget, time frame and temperament. Whether in the form of professionally administered one-hour whitening sessions at a dental office or cosmetic spa, or home-use bleaching kits purchased at your local drugstore, solutions abound.
Virtually everyone who opts for a teeth whitening solution sees moderate to substantial improvement in the brightness and whiteness of their smile. That said, it’s not a permanent solution to discoloration and requires maintenance or “touch-ups” for a prolonged effect.
In this article we break down everything related to teeth whitening, including the process of tooth discoloration, what causes staining, the various treatment options available, and their associated risks and costs.
Bleaching vs. Whitening: What’s the Difference?
According to the FDA, the term “bleaching” is permitted to be used only when the teeth can be whitened beyond their natural color. This applies strictly to products that contain bleach — typically hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide.
The term “whitening” on the other hand, refers to restoring a tooth’s surface color by removing dirt and debris. So technically speaking, any product that is used to clean the teeth (like a toothpaste) is considered a whitener. Of course, the term whitening sounds better than bleaching, so it is more frequently used — even when describing products that contain bleach.
The bleach preference for in-office whitening, where time is limited, is powerful and fast-acting hydrogen peroxide. When used in bleaching teeth, hydrogen peroxide concentrations range from approximately nine percent to 40 percent.
By contrast, the bleach of preference for at-home teeth whitening is slower-acting carbamide peroxide, which breaks down into hydrogen peroxide. Carbamide peroxide has about a third of the strength of hydrogen peroxide. This means that a 15 percent solution of carbamide peroxide is the rough equivalent of a five percent solution of hydrogen peroxide.