What is the Difference Between Whitening and Bleaching?

According to the FDA, the term “bleaching” is permitted for products that can whiten teeth beyond their natural color. This applies to products that have active ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. On the other hand, the term “whitening” is used to describe the process of restoring teeth to their natural colour. This involves removing stain and debris from the tooth surface. These typically include cleaning agents such as mouth rinses and toothpaste. However, the term “whitening” sounds nicer and therefore most “bleaching” products with active ingredients are called “whitening”.

Causes of Tooth Discolouration

The crown of a tooth is made up of two mineralized layers. The outside layer is enamel. It is a white, heavily mineralized, porcelain-like, external layer. The inner layer is dentin. It is yellowish, less mineralized, supporting layer. Over time the enamel breaks down and many micro fractures can form in the outer layer. These micro fractures pick up stain, debris, pigmentation, and start to show the yellow dentin support layer. The amount of staining that picks up over a lifetime can be influenced by foods (curry, coffee), drinks (red wine), habits (smoking, teeth grinding) and medications (Tetracycline). There is also a genetic component to the colour of your dentin that affects the colour of your teeth.

How Bleaching Works

Whitening (Bleaching) products contain an active ingredient called hydrogen peroxide or carbide peroxide. Whitening involves activating the peroxides to release oxygen molecules that go into the enamel micro fractures to breaks down the stain pigmentation molecules. This release of oxygen can occur over time or rapidly. Custom Take Home Whitening Treatments involve oxygen release over a time period of a few hours. Laser Whitening, such as Zoom, involve rapid release of oxygen in a few minutes. This is accomplished by using a high intensity light source. The main side effect of bleaching is that your teeth can become sensitive to cold during the treatment. This is because the micro fractures and your natural enamel pores are open during treatment. These micro fractures and pores will remineralize over time. Special toothpastes can help reduce sensitivity by accelerating this remineralization process.

Please talk with your Third Street Dental Dentist if you are interested in making your teeth whiter. We have many customizable solutions to help you brighten your smile!