We all want a smile that looks white and healthy. In fact, according to a 2012 survey from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, “when respondents were asked, ‘what would you most like to improve aboutyour smile?’ The most common response was whiter…brighter teeth.” Whiter teeth can enhance your appearance and give you increased confidence, especially since “virtually all Americans (99.7%) believe a smile is an important social asset.” While the vast majority of people seem to agree that having a white smile is important, we often don’t think about why they’re this color. At our Houston dental office, Dr. Craig Armstrong and our team are here to help patients learn more about their teeth and take better care of their smiles. In the following blog, we answer the questions, why are teeth white, and what can you do if they appear less than pearly?
To explain the color of your smile, you first need to understand the basics of tooth structure. Teeth have different layers that give them the appearance you see on the outside. The outer layer, known as enamel, contains a component of calcium, which tends to be white in color. If you’ve ever taken a calcium supplement or seen a calcite rock, it was most likely close to white, like the hue of your smile.
However, not all enamel is created equal. Some people are born with whiter, thicker enamel, so they may simply be blessed with great-looking teeth. This is not necessarily an indication of how healthy teeth are – it’s just genetics. Live Science explains: “an abnormal tooth color is considered any color other than white or yellowish white, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.” While it may not be entirely desirable, having an off-white or yellowish shade of enamel is unfortunately somewhat typical.
Furthermore, beneath the enamel lies the dentin. This denser material makes up the majority of the tooth. Dentin is naturally a bit more yellow than enamel. If the whiter enamel erodes over time, more of the yellow dentin can show through, causing the teeth to lose some of their white lustre overall.
Of course, no matter how white (or off-white) your teeth are naturally, they can become stained over time. Understanding this type of discoloration can help you prevent it. Essentially, there are two types of stains:
- Extrinsic stains come from exposure to substances outside of the enamel. Even the best cared-for teeth often end up with stains from dark-colored foods and drinks. As a report published in the journal Dental Update explains, “dietary chromogens [substances that can dye other materials] and other external elements deposit on the tooth surface or within the pellicle layer [the film on top of the tooth] either directly or indirectly to form extrinsic discoloration.” Basically, just like a stain on a white sweater, the particles from dark foods and beverages bind with the enamel and color it. Tobacco products can also create extrinsic stains. In some cases, these stains can go deep below the surface of the enamel, “entering the [dentin] via tooth defects such as cracks on the tooth surface.” this makes them more difficult to treat.
- Intrinsic stains are discoloration that comes from within the tooth. This type of discoloration occurs from the inside of the tooth out, beginning in the dentin. As Live Science describes, “numerous medications can cause intrinsic stains on teeth,” including “the antibiotics tetracycline or doxycycline…prescription-strength mouthwash containing chlorhexidine…the acne-fighting drug minocycline…chemotherapy” and “even some relatively common drugs, such as antihistamines, antipsychotics, and blood pressure medications.” In addition, “getting too much fluoride is not good for your teeth color,” since “fluorosis, which results from excessive amounts of fluoride, may cause faint white streaks or brown spots on teeth.” Injuries and illnesses may also lead to intrinsic staining.
Surface (extrinsic) stains can typically be removed during a routine dental cleaning, but more complex intrinsic stains may require more power.
Dental Damage and Discoloration
There are other conditions besides staining that can affect the color of your teeth. For example, if your enamel wears down too much due to trauma, acid erosion, or other factors, you could develop a cavity, which creates a dark spot on your tooth. Dr. Armstrong can remedy this with a dental filling. More extensive decay or damage might require a crown or bridge. If you notice dark discoloration that looks like a streak or hole, it’s important that you come in for an examination as soon as possible. Left untreated, caries and infections tend to worsen, potentially threatening your entire tooth.
Our Teeth Whitening Options
Due to hereditary factors, stains, cavities, or other issues, your teeth may not be quite as white as you’d like. Fortunately, Dr. Armstrong and our team can help lighten your smile.
You probably see whitening treatments everywhere – at the grocery store, in the spa, and online, to name a few. Although over-the-counter whitening options can remove some discoloration, they often have only very limited effects. If you want a brighter smile, the safest, most effective method is a professional in-office whitening.
Dr. Armstrong can help you find a whitening treatment that fits your needs and lifestyle. Furthermore, since whitening treatments often cause mild, temporary sensitivity and irritation, it’s ideal to work with a dentist who can monitor your symptoms, relieve any discomfort you encounter, and ensure that the rest of your mouth remains healthy throughout the process. An in-office whitening offers quicker, more profound results so you get more return on your investment, both financially and medically. Since professional and home treatments both have the potential to cause discomfort or other side effects, it’s always better to complete it in a safe, professional setting.
At our Houston dental practice, Dr. Armstrong usually performs teeth whitening in two appointments. First, we take impressions of your smile, which we use to create a personalized set of plastic whitening trays suited specifically to your teeth. Next, we refine these trays to fit your mouth precisely, then use them to apply an advanced whitening solution. We’ll then send you home with these trays, where you’ll continue whitening at home, according to Dr. Armstrong’s exact instructions. You’ll continue using the customized whitening trays until you are satisfied with your results.
As an even more lasting, dramatic alternative to teeth whitening, Dr. Armstrong and our team also offer porcelain veneers. These are thin, porcelain prosthetics applied to the front of your teeth. Since they cover the outer surface of your teeth, porcelain veneers correct virtually any cosmetic problems with your smile, simultaneously whitening and straightening their appearance. If you decide to proceed with porcelain veneers, you can choose the exact color of veneer you want for your smile. Like teeth whitening, porcelain veneers usually require two appointments, but the process is a bit more intensive, since Dr. Armstrong will need to take an impression of your teeth, custom-make the veneer pieces, modify your existing enamel, and use a special cement to bond the porcelain veneers to your teeth.
Keeping Your Teeth the Color You Want
Of course, as they say, prevention is the best medicine. While it’s true that some people are born with whiter teeth than others, properly maintaining your enamel can help you avoid staining and discoloration. Taking good care of your teeth can also help you preserve the results of whitening.
To keep your teeth looking youthful and white, Dr. Armstrong recommends brushing gently with a soft toothbrush twice a day, flossing at least daily, and seeing your dentist every six months for a cleaning. You should also pay attention to what you eat, making sure to limit acidic foods (which can wear down your enamel) and dark-colored substances such as wine, coffee, tea, dyed candies, and chocolate (which often lead to extrinsic staining).
Do You Want a White Smile?
Dr. Armstrong and our team can help! Contact our Houston dental office today to learn more and schedule an appointment.
Original Source: https://www.craigarmstrongdds.com/cosmetic-dentistry/teeth-white-2/