Flashing A Smile

When you look in the mirror, do you like your smile? When your pearly whites become discolored, it can affect your looks as well as your confidence. But with the advances in cosmetic dentistry, there are several ways to correct the problem and turn your smile from dingy to dazzling. For information, The Saturday Early Show turned to Dr. Jeff Golub-Evans, president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and a cosmetic dentist in private practice in New York City.

Types of discoloration:

  • Genetic: Some people are born with dark teeth.
  • Aged teeth. Smokers and drinkers of red wine, grape juice, and coffee all stain their teeth. As we get older, our teeth absorb stains, because they get worn and more porous. This is the easiest discoloration to correct.
  • Environmental: Although it makes our teeth stronger, Fluoridated water causes discoloration.
  • Medicine. The antibiotic tetracycline will also cause discoloration. If someone took this when they were a child or had a mother who took it while they were in the womb, their teeth will be discolored. This antibiotic only darkens teeth during the tooth's developmental stage.
Whitening methods:
  • Bleaching works on "aged tooth" or "genetic discoloration," stained, yellow or brown teeth. This is the most conservative way to brighten a tooth. A whitening solution is used and applied for a period of time, depending on discoloration and method used. The whitening solution works by penetrating your enamel and bleaching it, as well as the tooth's underlying layers. The common element in bleaching solution is peroxide.
    • Over-the-counter at-home bleaching products use the mildest solutions, and the tray is not custom molded to your teeth. You follow the directions for each product. Cost: about $75.
    • Professional home bleaching involves using a tray fitted to your mouth by a dentist. It's available in light, medium, and very strong. Trays can be worn overnight or for an hour each day. Cost: anywhere from $300 to $1,000.
    • Laser bleaching. Laser light is used to accelerate the whitening solution. Bleaching occurs in about 80 minutes. Cost: anywhere from $500 to $2,500.
    • In all cases, the degree of color change depends on how discolored your teeth are, how strong the solution is and how your teeth respond to the solution. There can be a dramatic change.

    Drawbacks to bleaching:
    • You don't know what color you are going to end up with
    • Increase of tooth sensitivity to cold and hot
    • Gum irritation
    • Discomfort from wearing a tray
    • While the laser-activated bleach is faster, the down side is that you can make your teeth more sensitive.
    • Bleaching will reverse itself in six months to a year.
    • Your crowns or filling don't bleach; replacements would be needed.
    • Too much bleaching can make a tooth too brittle and too ensitive.

  • Veneers. Porcelain veneers are another way to whiten your teeth. This is perfect if your teeth are discolored because of genetics, medical or environmental reasons.

    The procedure is done in the dentist's office. Your tooth is roughed up. The discolored tooth is then covered with glazed porcelain. The porcelain is then bonded to your tooth. The veneers come in various colors so your dentist can control the color and match them to your existing teeth perfectly. You can use this in conjunction with bleaching as well.

    The results last from 10 to 15 years.

    Drawback to veneers: Greater expense, from $600 to $2,000.

  • Whitening toothpaste. These products are designed to help maintain a brighter smile. The paste is only on your teeth for a short amount of time so it does very little to whiten your teeth. Also, because of the concentration of peroxide, it obviously can't do the job bleaching or veneers.

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