How does tooth whitening work?

teeth whitening

A white, bright smile is an instant confidence booster. Not only does it make you look years younger, it also conveys a message of health and vitality. Only thing is … most people are not able to achieve a Hollywood-white smile with simple brushing and flossing. Teeth whitening can help you get the brighter, whiter smile you desire, but how exactly does it work?

How tooth whitening works

There are countless tooth whitening kits and treatments on the market, and they all work in a similar way. A whitening gel is applied to the teeth to open the pores of the teeth ever so slightly. Yes, teeth are porous! That’s how they become stained – staining materials like coffee, red wine or tea seep into the pores of the teeth and get stuck there, causing the teeth to appear darker. Staining materials can also stick to the surface of teeth.

The second active ingredient in the whitening gel – hydrogen peroxide – is then able to soak deep into the pores of the teeth. The whitening gel penetrates all the way into the enamel and dentin to bleach stains away.

Hydrogen peroxide destroys stain molecules

Hydrogen peroxide works to remove stains from teeth by causing an oxidation reaction in the molecules that make up the stains. The oxidation breaks up the molecules of the stain, which are then reabsorbed by the body. With no more stains darkening the appearance of your teeth, the smile appears whiter and brighter.

What does the LED light do in the tooth whitening process?

Not all whitening treatments involve the use of an LED light. At-home kits typically do not include an LED light, though some products are starting to include them, as an LED light improves the results of the whitening process.

Applying an LED light to the tooth while the whitening gel is applied speeds up the oxidation process that breaks up stains. That leads to more stain removal during each stain removal session. A typical LED tooth-whitening session can lift the color of the teeth by 6 to 8 shades.

I wasn’t born with bright-white teeth. Can tooth whitening help?

Tooth whitening treatments, whether at-home or in-office, cannot make your teeth whiter than their natural shade. This is because they work only to bleach stains, not change the chemical composition of your teeth. If you’re unsatisfied with the natural color of your teeth, veneers may be your best option to achieve a whiter smile.

Can tooth whitening cause sensitivity?

Temporary tooth sensitivity is a common complaint in people who are in the process of whitening their teeth. Some people seem to be sensitive to the peroxide used during the bleaching process. If you know that you are sensitive to peroxide or that tooth whitening has caused you temporary sensitivity in the past, it may be helpful to take an OTC pain reliever before your tooth whitening appointment or shortly thereafter. Most cases of tooth sensitivity from whitening only last a day or two before returning to normal.