nerd with bright teeth
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Have you ever met someone for the first time and, as you go to shake their hand, they smile and you must resist the urge to shield your eyes because their teeth are like a solar eclipse?

It makes me want to just go and punch their dentist.

These days you only have to open up your spam folder after a long weekend to see that we are a society obsessed with youth, power and status. And one of the fastest ways to communicate an image of vigor, wealth, and glamour is through a gleaming, white smile.

If you have less than pearly whites and are considering a tooth bleaching visit to the dentist, please consider the following information before you end up with less-than-human teeth that glisten unnaturally in black light.

Why Are My Teeth So Yellow?

There are a number of reasons why teeth become stained, and this actually determines whether or not they will be more or less responsive to whitening. There are two basic types of discoloration, so let's begin there . . .

Extrinsic discoloration occurs on the outer layers of a tooth and affects enamel.
This can be related to aging, where teeth may darken to a yellow, brown, green or grey hue. Yellowed teeth actually tend to be the most responsive to chairside bleaching procedures. A diet that includes copious amounts of coffee (me), red wine (my wife), cola products (me again) and darker colored fruits and vegetables (I should probably eat more of those) can also affect your pearly whites. A chronic tobacco habit can do a number on your mouth (and lungs), and while bleaching can remove the stains on your teeth, it wont do much for the ones on your fingers.

Intrinsic discoloration occurs when the dentin beneath the surface of the enamel is impacted.
This can occur via trauma (say, breaking a fall with your face), tretracycline antibiotics that were taken during tooth formation, or an overexposure to fluoride. Unfortunately, this type of staining is more resistant to whitening procedures. Meaning, you won't see much of a difference if your discoloration is beneath the surface of your tooth enamel. Understanding the cause of tooth discoloration can help you set realistic expectations from a whitening treatment at the dentist office.

(Read more about tooth stains)

What Can My Dentist Do For Me?

Dental consumers generally fall into two camps; one sect tends to obsess over their image and chase after the elusive "Hollywood Smile"- with the same fervor they have towards acquiring Louis Vuitton luggage. The others are looking for a more natural, less blinged-out appearance.

The problem occurs when what you imagine you want is different from what you actually picture.

Think of it like painting a room. My wife will start with an article for bedroom makeovers from 'This Old House' magazine and at least 25 different color chips taped all over the room. Two days later, those paint chips have migrated to different walls. She tells me that the color changes at various times of the day, depending on the location and intensity of the sun, and that the furniture/blinds/curtains and even where the dog decides to nap, also changes what the walls will look like. It's essential to consider the room prior to making a huge decision like changing the wall color.

Teeth are no different; hair color (and make-up) can accentuate the white (or yellow) of a person's teeth. Don't believe me? Look at yourself in the mirror and smile big. Now cover your face in Noxema or some super-white facial mask and repeat the process. See how yellow your teeth look by comparison? Put on a mud mask and smile for the mirror and you'll see a vast whitening of your teeth occur.

You didn't "do" anything to your teeth, you just changed the surrounding colors. In much the same way that the "cerise" couch my wife insisted on putting in the bonus room would "play off" the brown accent wall. Ultimately, things never end up looking the way they do in the magazines. Those pearly whites your favorite movie star is sporting could be an illusion in much the same way. They could also be photoshopped or airbrushed to suit the publicity shot.

nerd with bright teeth As providers, dentists are generally people pleasers; we want our patients to be happy (and then go tell all of their friends and family about how amazing we are). So when a patient comes in saying they want a smile that you couldn't pick out of a snowstorm, the dilemma is whether to give the customer what they want, even though it may not produce the most attractive results, or to explain the bit about the cerise couch and the brown accent wall.

The bottom line is: Professional bleaching can lift the shade of the natural tooth, however, for those intent on a movie star finish, the process of bonding (essentially fusing a high-density plastic onto the enamel) would be necessary to achieve that.

Am I More Of A 'Summer' or 'Fall'-
Picking A Color That Will Look Good On Me?

portrait tooth shade guide If you're wanting a natural improvement, it's good to go in understanding how to pick a color that will look good. There are 16 shades that are part of the international lexicon of dentistry; A, B, C, D with a sub category of 1 through 4.

As a rule of thumb, I try and keep tooth color within the same shade range as the whites of the eyes. Any whiter than that and you'll draw everyone's eyes to the mouth like a spotlight. The goal should be to make your smile 'invisible,' harmonious with the rest of your face, so that others aren't shocked by the color, but impressed by the smile and the overall face. My wife tells me it's a lot like blue eye shadow - do you want to draw attention to the eyes, or just look like a throwback from the 80's?

Earlier I mentioned chair side bleaching. If you're unfamiliar with that term, it simply refers to any tooth whitening procedure that is only available via a dentist office. You can learn more about our whitening process here. Just don't expect me to leave you with a "Ross Gellar" stellar glow. Teeth should look natural and not detract away from your smile and your personality by being overly yellow -- or overly white. Leave the glistening bright white for the toilet bowl!

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