You may already be familiar with some of the basic approaches to whitening your teeth - using over-the-counter products or professional services from your dentist (in-office treatments or custom-fitted trays for at-home use). However, what many people fail to understand is that the results aren't going to be the same for everyone - even if the dentist is the same, even if the whitening product being used is the same.
Many people might assume that bleaching teeth is simply a matter of applying repetitive or strong-enough whitening agents to the teeth. That is simply not the case. When you whiten teeth, only the outer shell of the tooth - the enamel - is affected. The enamel is a translucent layer. That means it's not solid and it's not clear. Light is somewhat scattered as it passes through the enamel, but the color of the underlying tooth remains visible to some degree. That's one very important reason why the tooth whitening process and the results you can expect aren't the same from one person to the next. The color of the core of the teeth can vary substantially from one person to the next. The thickness of the teeth and the enamel, along with other factors, can also influence the outcome.
How Can I Tell what Color my Teeth are?
Unfortunately, you really need a trained eye to do that. Dentists, especially those who are reputable cosmetic dentists, are well versed in "shade management" of your teeth. Even when you see the components of their shade management system, you would be unlikely to determine which of the colors is closest to your own color - that's where the well-trained eye becomes important. Understanding what shade your teeth actually are has an influence on many aspects of cosmetic dentistry - not just tooth whitening - so experience in shade management is important.
How Does the Dentist Tell which Shade my Teeth are?
In cosmetic dentistry, shade management continues to get more sophisticated, with more systems continually emerging. We'll provide a brief explanation of how the "classic" system (from Vita) might differ from most people's assumptions. The basis of the classic system is a set of 16 ceramic teeth in different shades. Instead of being the simple light to dark scale that you might imagine, it is considerably more complex. An untrained eye might even assume that some of the samples are the same color. In the classic system, there are four different categories of teeth (A, B, C, D), and four variations within each category (A1, A2, A3, A4, etc.)
The four alphabetic categories pertain to hues - the undertone of the tooth, with A being brown hues; B, the yellow hues; C, the grey hues; and D, the reddish-grey hues. The numbers within the alphabetic categories refer to the chroma - the intensity of the hue. Cosmetic dentists often share this classic guide (or a similar one) to help illustrate what color your teeth are, as well as to help you understand what results you are likely to achieve with their tooth whitening services.
Why is Shade Management and Experience Important?
Discussing both the natural color of your teeth and your aspirations for your smile are very important. What is possible to achieve in brightness may be beyond your preference. It might result in an unnatural look that doesn't suit your skin tone and hair color, for example. By the same token, what you want to achieve may not be possible to achieve because of the (underlying) shade of your teeth. For example, the C shades of teeth are more difficult to whiten than others. Ask your cosmetic dentist for an explanation, using a shade management guide that shows the colors on ceramic teeth - not on paper. A cosmetic dentist can also explain what other options besides tooth whitening might exist to help you achieve the smile you want. Porcelain veneers are one option, and shade management systems are used to determine the appropriate color of those as well.
How Fast can my Teeth be Whitened?
In-office whitening procedures are faster than other methods, because stronger whitening agents can be used. When using these products, as well as potentially using ultraviolet light to accelerate the process, care should be taken to protect your gum tissue. Otherwise, irritation and long-term radiation damage could occur. While your goal may be whiter teeth, you've probably encountered at least one person who had teeth that were too white - perhaps almost a shade of blue. To avoid this, an experienced cosmetic dentist will carefully control the speed of the tooth whitening process if you are receiving an in-office treatment, helping to ensure that you're not embarrassed by an unnatural appearance. Many working professionals want to improve their smiles, but don't want their bright, white teeth to become a point of discussion during business meetings. Other professionals may want fast results - perhaps for an all-important new job interview. Your dentist can work with you to develop a plan that delivers results that are aligned to your preferred timeframe.
This information provides only the basics of why the results of tooth whitening can vary from person to person. Shade management systems used by cosmetic dentists are expanding in number and type, offering greater degrees of sophistication. In addition to the color of your teeth, there can be other factors about your teeth that influence whether you will be happy with the outcome from the whitening process. An experienced and caring cosmetic dentist will take the time to explain the color of your teeth, the best process for your situation, and other cosmetic dentistry options that are available to you. A discussion of your preferences is an important part of the decision-making process. Never be afraid to ask questions, including questions about the extent of the dentist's experience with addressing situations similar to yours.