For most of us, teeth do darken (usually to a more yellow shade) as we age. Tobacco, foods, beverages and tartar deposits can stain your tooth enamel. (Enamel is what covers your tooth. Dentin is what lies between the enamel and your nerve and it is what gives your tooth its color.) Anything that thins, wears down, or erodes your enamel can allow more of the dentin color to show through. (For teeth with amalgam or metal fillings or with crowns that contain metal under the porcelain, those can affect how color reflects through your tooth as well.)
If you don’t like the color of your teeth, what can you do?
Bleaching (in the dental office or at home) is the most common. Bleaching (or whitening) will not change the shape of your teeth nor will it change the color of any fillings or crowns that you already have. So if you don’t like the shape or arrangement of your teeth this may not be the best choice for you. If you have fillings or crowns, you may need to plan to replace them once you get your natural teeth to the color that you want.
Should you do in-office or home whitening? It depends on your situation.
The pros of in-office whitening is that the dentist can customize the bleaching to your specific needs and wants (moreso than a kit bought off the shelf). The cons are:
- Most in-office bleachings require more than one treatment.
- The cost is higher than take home because of the chair time and professional supervision that is needed.
- We need to protect your teeth and gums while applying the material—this means your teeth end up very dry and look very white just after the treatment. As your saliva rewets your teeth, the “whiteness” appears to fade. (Similar to how your jeans look darker when they’re wet coming out of the washer than they do once you’ve dried them.) This wet environment is the norm for our teeth.
- Sensitivity (especially to cold) is common after any bleaching.
The pros of take home whitening are:
- You can do it at your convenience (for anywhere from 30 minutes at a time to overnight). There’s less time spent at the dental office.
- Less expensive than In Office Whitening
- It’s often stronger than what you can buy off the shelf.
The cons are that you can waste material if you overfill the tray (which can also cause sore gums) and that your teeth can become sensitive (especially to cold).
Learn more about tooth whitening here: Teeth Whitening
If you don’t like the shape and color of your teeth or if whitening isn’t giving you the results you want, you may need to consider a different cosmetic option.
White fillings can be used on front or back teeth. White fillings are bonding a tooth colored material onto your tooth and can also be used to cover discolorations, repair chips, and fill gaps. They usually only take one visit to complete. (If you have multiple teeth that need this treatment, you may need more than one appointment.) Learn more here: Cosmetic Tooth Bonding
The dental lab can do much more to mask out severe discolorations than can be done with whitening or bonding. However, if you’re only doing some teeth, you do want to whiten your other teeth to a shade you like before you have the lab-made restorations done. It’s much easier to match the crown shade to your teeth than it is to get your teeth to lighten to match what the lab made. There are two types of restorations commonly used for this: veneers and crowns.
Veneers are thin shells that cover the front of your teeth. They can change the color and/or shape of your teeth as well as closing gaps or covering badly stained teeth. There are at least two appointments involved since the veneers are usually made at a dental lab. Sometimes teeth do need to be cut down to allow space for the veneer—and it is hard to get a temporary to stay in place for a veneer preparation. Learn more about veneers here:
All ceramic crowns have no metal underneath. (Metal often causes a gray coloration at your gumline.) They are used mostly for front teeth but new materials are said to work well on back teeth too. They do take two visits at the dental office. The first one is to cut down your tooth to create space for the crown and to make a temporary crown for you to wear while the dental lab makes your all ceramic crown. The second visit your crown is tried in and if all looks good and fits well, your crown is cemented into place. (Every once in a while the color or fit will be off and a third visit may be necessary.) Learn more about Crowns here: Crowns & Bridgework
So if you don’t like the color of your smile, ask your dentist what possibilities might work best for you! If you don’t have a dentist, we’ll be glad to invite you into our dental family.
*Note: The information in this article is not intended to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professionals.
Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who sees both adults and children.
1612 Cooper Foster Park Rd.
Lorain, OH 44053