Do you have plenty to smile about?

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By Dr. Jennifer Wallace

Have you always wanted a brighter smile? Well you aren’t in the minority. It’s one of the most popular concerns among patients I talk with these day. Many ask, “Dr. Wallace, how can I get my teeth whiter?”

A recent survey I read had these staggering statistics: Fifty percent of people consider the smile the first facial feature they notice and yet 80 percent are not happy with their smile. Your smile — simple, straightforward, and most important, sincere — can attract more than admiring looks. A smiling face tells people that you’re an outgoing and intelligent person worth getting to know.

How white should your teeth become? Well that depends on a few factors. Bleachers should aim for a color that matches the whites of their eyes. If you bleach your teeth a whiter color than the whites of your eyes, this color will cause your teeth to become your focal point (the place people’s eyes go to first and keep being drawn back to).   If the color of your teeth is a brighter white than the whites of your eyes, this  will not only cause your teeth to look fake, but it may make your skin look dull or washed out next to the very bright white of your teeth.

Well, there’s no reason for those closed-lipped smiles in holiday, vacation or Facebook pictures anymore, due to being self-conscious of dingy teeth, because there’s an app for that! Well, not actually an app, but there are options.  Some people want an instant and dramatic change, while others prefer more gradual whitening such as the type that results from a whitening toothpaste or gel. Surface stains and internal discoloration can be caused with age of course, but as a dental professional we take into consideration habits such as tobacco use, drinking coffee, tea, colas or red wine, and eating pigmented foods such as cherries and blueberries. The accumulation of plaque and tartar deposits, prior trauma or even exposures with the antibiotic tetracycline during childhood tooth development, can also affect the overall color of a tooth to appear gray or brown.

There are many reasons for whitening your teeth, including:

• The boost to your confidence and self-esteem that comes from a great smile

• A younger appearance

• A special event such as a wedding, job interview or class reunion

• To make a positive first impression on others

• To simply reverse years of everyday staining and yellowing.

Whitening is safe as long as people follow the directions and use a product that carries a seal of approval from the American Dental Association. While whitening can occasionally change tooth color nine or more shades, the majority of people who whiten their teeth see a change of between two and seven shades. Each procedure has its advantages and disadvantages. Laser whitening and other in-office bleaching procedures, for example, may produce the most dramatic results, but obviously cost more. Final results depend on your natural tooth color, any prior dental work you have, how stubborn any stains are and the treatment you choose. Keep in mind that a change of just two or three shades can make a noticeable difference in most smiles.

Whitening products work mainly in one of two ways. The first is a “non-bleaching” approach to abrasively help remove surface stains. Drug store whitening toothpastes have polishing agents that provide additional stain removal that regular mild abrasion toothpastes do not. A professional cleaning by a dentist or hygienist also uses abrasion and polishing to remove most external staining caused by food/tobacco and is always recommended before starting any whitening procedures. The second approach to whiter teeth would be those bleaching procedures offered by your dentist to actually change your natural tooth color, usually anywhere from five to seven shades brighter. In-office whitening procedures like Zoom rely on hydrogen peroxide in concentrations of 25% that is applied by a dental professional in a careful, controlled ‘all at once’ application. At-home tray whitening bleaches contain an active ingredient called carbamide peroxide. Both hydrogen and carbamide peroxide professional bleaching techniques help to remove both deep and surface stains. However, after several months or a year of eating and drinking normally (coffee, tea, soft drinks, wines, berries, and red sauces), your teeth can become slightly discolored again and develop new stains. It’s a good idea to plan a maintenance whitening regimen with your dentist to protect your new smile.

Everyone responds differently to different whitening procedures. Some people respond well to whitening toothpastes, while people with gray teeth or other serious discoloration may require porcelain veneers or bonding to achieve the smiles they’ve always wanted. Only your dentist or hygienist can determine what’s right for you.

Dr. Wallace practices at Palmetto Smiles of Beaufort and can be contacted at 843-524-7645 or www.palmettosmilesofbeaufort.com.