This post was created in conjunction with Dr. Michael Letham, who offers teeth whitening as a treatment at his surgery in Melbourne, Australia. We’ve included a short bio about him at the end of the article.
What are over-the-counter (OTC) whitening products?
Teeth whitening is one of the most in-demand cosmetic treatments in dentistry.
Currently, there are a lot of teeth whitening solutions available on the market. You can choose from teeth whitening trays, ampoules, whitening strips, LED devices, whitening toothpastes, and various natural methods.
However, when it comes to teeth whitening, most people rely on over-the-counter (OTC) teeth whitening products.
OTC products — such as toothpastes or whitening kits — are those that you can buy online or in stores. The alternative to OTC products is professional whitening treatment administered by your dentist.
It is important to note that OTC teeth whitening products can only work to a certain extent to address teeth discolouration. There are some stains that they definitely cannot help, in any way.
In this article we’ll be looking at the different types of teeth staining, intrinsic and extrinsic, and which whitening methods are suitable for treating each.
Types of Stains
When it comes to teeth discolouration or stains, there are two types – intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic stain is a type of discolouration present underneath the tooth enamel. The stain forms when stain-causing elements manage to work through the surface of the teeth and build up within the tooth enamel.
For such kind of intrinsic stain, most OTC whitening products may not work as effectively, if at all. This is because the carbamide peroxide that is used in most OTC whitening products can only reach so far beneath the enamel to bleach coloured substances. With intrinsic stains, the staining elements are settled into the enamel much deeper.
If you want effective teeth whitening for intrinsic stain, you will need to see a cosmetic dentist to determine which particular kind of whitening procedure would be most effective.
There is another kind of intrinsic discolouration that happens to some, and it is due to nerve damage. Teeth can turn grey and die after a serious mouth injury, which is why it is crucial to see an emergency dentist straight after sustaining the injury.
OTC whitening products cannot reverse the appearance of this problem. Even professional teeth whitening treatments may fail in turning grey teeth white again.
This kind of intrinsic discolouration is not hopeless, though. Cosmetic dentists just use different dental treatments. Most of the time, the treatment options include root canal, filling, and the application of a crown or a dental veneer.
Extrinsic discolouration or stain is a more common type of staining that happens to teeth. It includes surface stains mostly due to the frequent consumption of coloured beverages such as colas, coffee, tea, and wine. Smoking is also another leading cause of extrinsic staining.
OTC products can be used to remove some extrinsic staining, but their effectiveness, depends on the concentration of bleaching agent included, and other factors such as your age.
Typically your dentist can dispense higher strength bleaching agent than is contained in OTC products, and the techniques used are more effective.
If you want to tackle tooth whitening safely and effectively, visiting your dentist is the best choice you can make.
Other Reasons Why OTC Whitening May Not Work
Over-the-counter whitening solutions may not work for other reasons.
For instance, if you have sensitive teeth, a DIY approach using teeth whitening products on the market can do more harm than good. It may weaken your teeth’s composition, which may result in everything from brittleness to your teeth actually becoming more prone to staining.
Refusing to change your lifestyle can also render OTC whitening products useless.
Make Any Teeth Whitening Treatment More Effective and Long-Lasting
Before getting any type of whitening treatment for the teeth, make sure that your teeth are clean. Try to get an oral prophylaxis a few weeks prior to the whitening procedure. This will ensure better results. At the same time, it can even minimise tooth sensitivity during and after the treatment.
More important than that is keeping up with daily oral care.
Brush your teeth thoroughly using a whitening toothpaste, use a fluoride rinse, and as much as possible, avoid teeth-staining foods and habits.
About Dr. Letham
Dr. Michael Letham is the owner and dentist at 24/7 Dental and Bayside Smiles. He graduated from Sydney University in 2000 with Honours, receiving the R Morse Withycombe Prize for Proficiency in Clinical Periodontics (gum treatment). Striving to provide a modern, holistic approach to dental care that is tailored to each individual’s requirements, Mike’s focus is on being thorough and meticulous whilst being caring and compassionate.