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Dentistry Ohio

'Living' Article January 2013- The Science of Tooth Whitening

Tooth Whitening:

In a perfect world smiles would be shared without care, as freely as a flower shares its fragrance.  And yet among Americans the most commonly desired cosmetic enhancement of any type is whiter teeth.  Indeed a study sited within the Journal of the American Dental Association shows that 81.8% of our population wishes they had whiter teeth. 

And so it is that across the last decade there has been quite an explosion of options available to Americans to address this issue of tooth whitening.  The problem is that many people have found their whitening experiences to be unpredictable, with rapid rebound and increased sensitivity. 

The November issue of ‘dentaltown’ magazine has a very nice article summarizing the science of tooth whitening.   Let’s take a look at some of these details.

Why do teeth get darker over time in the first place?  There are two primary factors that account for tooth coloration.  During formation there are pigmented molecules that are trapped internally within the tooth structure.  But more important are external pigments from the foods and beverages that we consume that slowly penetrate into the microstructure of the tooth surface and over time become genuine internal stains that can’t be brushed away. 

How does whitening work?  Pretty much all whitening products ultimately work by breaking down into good old hydrogen peroxide.  The peroxide becomes a source of unstable ‘free radicals’.  Through a series of oxygenation reactions the free radicals percolate into the tooth surface and break up the long-chain color molecules that are then able to diffuse back out to the surface.  For this chemical process to successfully unfold the peroxide whitening gel must be fresh, potent and rich in free-radicals.  Success also is dependent on how long the gel remains in contact with the tooth surface. 

Refrigeration of whitening gels is critical!  Unstable free-radicals begin to break down and loose potency immediately after manufacture unless they are kept cold.  Generally speaking dental offices and patients are quite good at honoring this refrigeration requirement.  The weak link in this chain is the manufacturers and the modes of shipping.  In many cases these products are stored in hot warehouses for weeks and ultimately shipped in freight trucks that get very hot during summer months.  Even the local UPS or FedEx trucks are often an additional heat challenge to the gels.  Some manufacturers counter these problems by adding stabilizers to the gel.  The problem is we need the gel to be highly unstable for good whitening success.

Did you find yourself focusing on this issue of tooth color as you turned your calendar to the New Year?  If so I would suggest you do your homework.  Be aware that over-the-counter solutions will always require patience on your part.  You will get whiter teeth but progress is slow.  These products simply lack the fresh, potent, free-radical rich punch you need. 

Even in your dental office setting you may want to address these issues concerning the freshness and potency of the gel.  Make sure you’re confident that the office staff understands these issues surrounding the science behind tooth whitening.  You too can soon be sharing a whiter smile!


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