Chemicals and Teeth Whitening

Dental bleaching, also known as teeth whitening, is a procedure used by dentists to restore teeth to their natural looking colour. Many techniques exist to achieve this, and the request for a client to have their teeth whitened will be the single most frequent request a dentist will hear in any given year. Driven by the desire by the population to show off white teeth, the market demand for white teeth is staggering. In the United States alone in 2010, approximately $15 billion was spent on this one cosmetic procedure. Historically, the Romans were known to use urine and goats milk in an attempt to whiten and keep white their teeth. There are a few ways in which a dentist can whiten a client’s teeth:

  1. Whitening brush
  2. Bleaching strips
  3. Bleaching pens
  4. Bleaching gel
  5. Laser bleaching

What Chemicals Are Used in the Whiteners?

Usually one of two agents is used in tooth whitening substances; carbamide peroxide and hydrogen peroxide – the same substance used to bleach hair. When carbamide peroxide is used in the mouth, it is broken down and turned into hydrogen peroxide in any case, which is the active whitening ingredient. Tooth whitening is basically the controlled application of these two substances to a patient’s tooth by a dentist, tailored to fit the patient’s particular and individual needs. Before starting, the dentist should:

  • Clean the teeth
  • Check if any repairs are needed
  • Check the gum and surrounding area is clean and healthy looking

Whitening sessions can be carried out at a person’s home or office, if it is deemed more suitable to do so, as the dentist does not need any particular equipment that is kept in his practice. Usually, the dentist will gently clean a person tooth with pumice, then securing a protective barrier on the gums. Hydrogen peroxide paste or strips are applied to the tooth, left for a few minutes, rinsed off and repeated if necessary. The peroxide’s oxidising agent penetrates the tiny gaps in the enamel of the stained tooth, and breaks down deposits that have accumulated there.  One of these applications alone can achieve four to six shades of whitening.

Natural Alternatives

A few recognised natural products can aid the restoring of teeth to their natural shade. A natural acid compound known as malic acid is known to whiten teeth effectively. Apples, celery and carrots are known to help whiten teeth, by stimulating extra saliva, which is the body’s liquid of choice for cleaning teeth. The rough flesh acts as a rough scrub, helping to clean and remove debris. The juice of green apples has been shown to contain quantities of malic acid.