The Theory of Teeth Whitening

Lately, I have been complimented by my patients on how white my teeth look. I really hate that I’m starting off this post with that sentence, but it’s something that I’ve been hearing. I’m always asked if I whiten my teeth. Yes. Pretty often? Not really, I’m very lazy about it. Have I done in-office/professional whitening? Nope. I don’t have time to get it done, even if I want it, just like how I want to get my nails done or go to the hair salon. I just don’t have the time for it. So what’s my secret? A good power toothbrush and flossing.

I’ve always had theories about teeth whitening. Whether teeth whitening works or not, or whether teeth are whiter because it was professionally done or someone has good home care, I still find some people say that their teeth aren’t white enough. We can blame it on an array of things on why teeth aren’t staying white, but the truth is in these theories I have: Home care, Lighting, Misalignment, and Complexion. I believe these three things have a lot to do with whether or not teeth whitening is working.

Home Care. Plaque is to blame for everything. If enough of it stays on the tooth surface, between teeth, and underneath the gums, it will increase the chances of teeth not staying white for long. How do we prevent this? Brushing and flossing! Super cost-effective, easy to do. The problem? Compliance. Now I’m not saying all people aren’t compliant with their home care, I’m just saying… how many people show up in your dental chair with periodontal disease and cavities? Whitening toothpaste/rinses? Honestly, I feel that it’s a marketing ploy to get people to buy toothpaste and cosmetic rinses. Read labels carefully on the back of toothpaste, peroxide (which makes teeth white) isn’t an active ingredient. It’s the coarseness of the toothpaste that is actually whitening your teeth. The coarseness is made to remove plaque and stain. Also, an electric toothbrush will help remove even more plaque than someone will with a manual toothbrush (unless they actually brush well with a manual brush). I used to prefer one brand over the other, but a preferred brand won’t necessarily work effectively for the individual who needs it.

Lighting. It actually matters if you care about how white your teeth are because you could be fooled by the lighting you’re standing in. The most important factor influencing the color perception is the nature of the surrounding light in the room, its type, power and the input angle. Consider the lighting in your bathroom. Is it a soft white light, soft yellow light, is it bright, is it dim, what color are your bathroom walls? It all depends on how the light reflects in the room, it will also reflect on your teeth and sometimes it can make your teeth not seem as white as you think. Here are some photos of the girl (aka me) who is pretty lazy about teeth whitening. Btw, these photos are UNFILTERED to show that the color of my teeth differs in all kinds of lighting.


Misalignment. Teeth are always shifting. When teeth are crowding into each other or away from each other, they create shadows or make a tooth appear to look darker or different than the rest. Something as simple as putting teeth back into alignment through orthodontic treatment will help improve this aspect of having a brighter smile because teeth are moving back to where they should be and it will help improve home care.

Complexion. I don’t think enough studies are done on this theory I have, but I feel a person’s complexion may determine how effective teeth whitening is on that individual because of an inverse relationship between skin tone and teeth color. The lighter someone’s complexion is, the more that individual will believe his or her teeth aren’t white enough whereas someone with a darker complexion will find better results from teeth whitening because it aesthetically stands out.

Teeth whitening will always be a thing because it does help boost patients self-esteem and it shows how they feel about their teeth or smile, but the more we educate our patients on daily plaque control it will help improve the appearance of their teeth and gums. We should always aim for more conservative options to help patients achieve a whiter smile they want before considering an “instant” option like in-office whitening or over the counter whitening. Patients need to understand the etiology of why teeth become dull in color. I don’t oppose teeth whitening in any way, but we also need to help patients make realistic expectations about how white they want their teeth and how to maintain it.

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