What’s a person’s most attractive physical feature? Their smile, of course.
That said, what else could it be in a survey conducted by the American Dental Association, Crest and Oral-B, and written about here by a dentist, right? But seriously: ask around and you’ll find that a great smile is indeed widely admired and something we desire for ourselves.
So what makes for a great smile? One of the most common characteristics these days is whiteness, and you don’t have to look far to find products and services to help you achieve it. They’re everywhere: from dental offices to mall and airport kiosks to drugstore aisles stocked with home bleaching kits. Nor do you have to strain your ears to hear messages about how a super-white smile can boost your self-esteem.
But we humans sometimes have a funny tendency to think that if a little of something is good, a whole lot is even better. Hence, some people wind up with blinding white smiles, even in spite of the backlash against it.
But there is, in fact, such a thing as too white. For instance, if the teeth are bleached so much that the smile becomes the sole focal point of the face and therefore distracting, it’s too white. Also, crowns, bridges and composite fillings aren’t sensitive to the bleach, so if you whiten your natural teeth too much, the surrounding restorations will appear darker or discolored in contrast. At that point, you can either wait for your teeth to naturally darken again – for tooth whitening must be repeated over time; it’s never a one-shot deal – or have your restorations replaced, which can run up to thousands of dollars, depending on the number and type of restorations.
There are concerns beyond the cosmetic, though, such as the increased tooth sensitivity that can follow bleaching and the potential for damaging the soft tissues of the mouth. Those with mercury amalgam (“silver”) fillings should also take caution, as research has shown how the peroxide typically used for bleaching can increase the amount of mercury released from the restorations.
For some people, these reasons are enough to look for other means of brightening the smile or ensuring that it doesn’t darken so fast. But others feel that the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Whether you have your teeth whitened professionally or use a home kit to bleach them yourself, it’s a good idea to consult with your dentist beforehand for guidance.
Having your teeth whitened by a dental professional generally leads to more aesthetic results. As suggested by Dr. Gordon J. Christensen in an article for the Journal of the American Dental Association, the dentist and patient should first work together to determine the most appropriate shade to whiten to, ensuring that it will blend well with any existing restorations for an optimal cosmetic result. Another benefit of having your dentist do the whitening is that he or she can help minimize the risk of adverse events, as well as provide care should there be excess tooth sensitivity, painful gums or other problems caused by the bleaching process.
That said, in these tough economic times, many people will opt for home bleaching kits. Here, it pays to do your research, for as a Consumer Reports product review has shown, the effectiveness of home kits can be hit or miss, and it doesn’t necessarily depend on price. (In fact, the fanciest kit they tested – one which uses trays and a blue acceleration light – did the worst job of whitening the teeth compared to other products.). You can learn more about CR‘s findings via the video accompanying their blog post “Tooth Whiteners: Who Can Safely Use Them and How Often?” which also includes a helpful “bottom line” summary of the factors you should consider when making the choice to whiten or not:
With so much still unknown, we think you should use tooth whiteners cautiously, probably no more than about twice a year. And don’t use whiteners if front teeth have caps, crowns, dentures, veneers, or white fillings. Whiteners work only on natural teeth. Your best bet is to prevent stains in the first place. Go easy on coffee, tea, and red wine; don’t smoke; and brush your teeth after meals. Soft drinks – colas as well as clear sodas – can also contribute to staining by eroding tooth enamel.