Tooth whitening or tooth bleaching procedures attempt to lighten a tooth’s color in either of two ways: by chemical or mechanical action.
Working chemically, a bleaching agent is used to carry out an oxidation reaction in the enamel and dentin. The agents most commonly used to intrinsically change the color of teeth are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. A tooth whitening product with an overall low pH can put enamel at risk for decay or destruction by demineralization. Consequently, care should be taken and risk evaluated when choosing a product which is very acidic
Tooth whiteners in toothpastes work through a mechanical action. They have mild abrasives which aid in the removal of stains on enamel. Although this can be an effective method, it does not alter the intrinsic color of teeth.
Microabrasion techniques employ both methods. An acid is used first to weaken the outer 22–27 micrometers of enamel in order to weaken it enough for the subsequent abrasive force. This allows for removal of superficial stains in the enamel. If the discoloration is deeper or in the dentin, this method of tooth whitening will not be successful.
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