To the naked eye, our skin appears to be impermeable. Light doesn’t pass readily through it and it appears to be waterproof, but we know that the skin is actually anything but impermeable. It is commonly known that skin acts like a sponge – easy enough to believe based on what we know about hand lotion. But what if we told you that even your smooth, hard teeth also had permeable pores?
How It Works
Yes, your amazing teeth are made of dentin encased in a very hard protective layer called enamel. Enamel protects the bulk of our tooth (the dentin) from pain caused by temperature change and chewing. The dentin houses the nerve and blood supply of our tooth but doesn’t protect against sensitivity. In fact, tooth sensitivity is often the result of exposed dentin due to gum erosion. Sensitive toothpastes use what we know about dental pores to deliver relief via numbing or temporary plugging of the pores and should be used regularly for maximum effect.
In the 1980s, dentists began noticing that patients being treated with peroxide for gum disease were seeing their teeth whiten with each subsequent application. The process was not harmful to the teeth, though chemical burns were possible if too much product was left on the gums and other soft tissues. Once the peroxide was modified into a gel and gum barriers were applied, patients were seeing positive results. The pores allowed the bleaching agent to penetrate the enamel and do its work on the dentin – typically the source of tooth discolouration. After some refinement, an exciting new cosmetic service was born.
Is It All About Dentin?
No. Dentin is just one of two contributing factors where the shade of your teeth is concerned. Dentin typically darkens with age and is more noticeable on larger teeth. Dentin can also be stained by some foods and beverages that enter the pores in the enamel.
Surface stains on your enamel are another way that teeth can begin to look discoloured, even if the dentin behind it is a lighter shade. This is because plaque and tartar can develop on the teeth over time and cause further discolouration and staining.
When plaque accumulates on the teeth, it is not immediately visible since plaque is a mostly clear, transparent film of bacteria. When plaque is not readily cleaned away by your toothbrush, it collects around the base of teeth and irritates the gums. Over time, minerals and saliva can calcify the plaque, turning it into a very hard, porous substance that cannot be removed with a toothbrush. Instead, this material must be scaled away by a professional hygienist during a preventative maintenance appointment.
Calcified plaque, called tartar, is easily stained by foods you eat, beverages you drink, and cigarettes – if you partake. This can cause teeth to become yellow or brown, regardless of the colour of the dentin behind them.
What You Can Do
If you are thinking of whitening your teeth, a call to your dentist’s office before you begin may save you time and money in the end. If you haven’t been in for a routine dental checkup, schedule your cleaning before you begin using any whitening process. This will ensure that your teeth are smooth and free of tartar and surface stains. Now you can see what you’re really working with. This is a good opportunity to discuss your interest in tooth whitening with your dentist, who can help you understand what is possible for your teeth, and what is the best way to get there.
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Clinical or DIY
Due to the popularity of whitening services, it has become more accessible and affordable than ever to whiten your teeth at home or at the dentist – but not all whitening products are as effective as others. Strips can burn the gums as product seeps from behind and whitening pastes and gums don’t offer enough bleaching agent to be effective. Many clients spend money on over-the-counter whitening solutions before turning to their dentist for a professional strength product.
Your dentist’s products offer a higher concentration of bleaching solution, and gum tissue can be protected by their professional gum barriers. Sensitivity is caused by dehydration of the tooth – a commonality among whitening solutions. Your dentist offers a rehydrating solution to keep you comfortable following your treatment.
If you are considering whitening a tooth which is turning a gray after having had a root canal performed, speak to your dentist before you invest in whitening systems. In situations where a tooth is discolouring this way, your dentist may recommend internal bleaching, as surface bleaching will not offer the desired result.
If tooth whitening isn’t for you, talk to your dentist about cosmetic services which will change the shade of the teeth – like veneers or bonding.
If you have questions about this or other services offered by our general dentist, contact our clinic today.
SOLEA® - DRILL & NEEDLE FREE DEntistry
The miracle we’ve both been waiting for is here: Solea. Now available to you, Solea is a powerful dental laser that replaces the dental drill in the majority of procedures in our practice. It’s fast, precise and there is no vibration, or noise.