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If you're searching for an effective whitening toothpaste to improve your smile it's important to understand how most whitening toothpastes work and why there are limits to their effectiveness. Learning about the ingredients and qualities of the best whitening toothpastes can help you sort through the overwhelming number of choices available on the market and find the one toothpaste that will be most effective for you and your particular dental condition.
All toothpastes contain different ingredients that work together in tandem to remove surface stains from your teeth. This type of stain is referred to as an 'extrinsic' stain by dental professionals, and is by far the easiest type to remove from your teeth. A few brands of quality toothpaste intended for whitening also contain bleaching agents that improve the color of your teeth far beyond what a simple surface-level cleaning can do. Our teeth have a porous structure and pigments from food can find their way through these pores to discolor teeth from the inside, just as such pigments can stain a white shirt. Bleaching agents, such as the various forms of peroxide, work to remove these pigments from within your teeth. However these bleaching ingredients are more commonly found in whitening gels and strips than in toothpastes.
The substances most commonly used in regular toothpastes to improve the color of your smile are varieties of silica and baking soda. These two ingredients are called 'abrasives' and are intended to polish clean the surface of your teeth, removing extrinsic stains from the top layer of your enamel. Abrasives are a common ingredient found in all toothpastes advertised as 'whitening', but they are only superficial in their effects. A more powerful and effective toothpaste must include a bleaching agent like peroxide to bleach your enamel and dentin whiter in addition to ridding the surface tooth structure of stains using abrasives.
Care must be taken to brush correctly when using a toothpaste with abrasive ingredients. Silica and baking soda can remove an excessive amount of enamel if overused or used incorrectly, damaging the structure of your teeth. Do not brush too hard when using whitening products, and be sure to use a soft-bristled toothbrush for best effect. A popular home remedy for yellow or discolored teeth is to brush with baking soda instead of toothpaste, but this method can prove counterproductive if you brush too hard and wear away too much enamel. Toothpastes that feature strong abrasives use limited amounts of these ingredients to help avoid such damage.
The inner portion of a tooth is made of a substance called dentin, and this material is naturally yellow-toned in color. As pigments from food leak through the pores in enamel the dentin can become even more discolored. This type of stain is referred to as an 'intrinsic' stain by dentists. Excessive abrasion from brushing too hard or from using baking soda to brush can remove enough enamel to reveal this yellowish layer of your teeth. Enamel cannot be replaced once it is lost, so take care to follow the directions of any toothpaste you use, especially whitening ones that include abrasives. Don't let this scare you away from using whitening products though, you can safely achieve a whiter shade of teeth through proper use of an ADA-approved whitening toothpaste.
The peroxide that is used in professional teeth whitening services by dentists, as well as in over-the-counter whitening gels and a few quality toothpastes, passes through the pores in the enamel and bleaches the dentin beneath to a whiter color. When brushing your teeth with a toothpaste that includes peroxide the whitening agent has a short amount of time to work, so the toothpaste is best used as a way to maintain the brighter smile a whitening gel provides. However such a toothpaste used by itself can be effective in whitening the color of your teeth by several shades, given repeated use and enough time to work. Be patient when using such a toothpaste and you will see results in two to four weeks time.
For faster results you can buy bleaching gels which contain the carbamide peroxide form of peroxide in a much higher concentration than any toothpaste that includes it. Some gels go as high as 30% peroxide, far above the ADA recommended concentration. If you use such products it is vitally important to make sure that you follow the directions carefully, as such a strong concentration of the whitening chemical can hurt your gums if they are exposed to it. Peroxide also has the side-effect of temporarily increasing tooth sensitivity in many people, resulting in pain and discomfort when eating or drinking hot and cold foods. Bleaching toothpastes that feature peroxide use much lower concentrations than gels do, making them far less likely to induce this side-effect.
While all toothpastes include ingredients that whiten teeth by removing surface extrinsic stains, and some few toothpastes also bleach the inner intrinsic stains away, all varieties of toothpaste are beneficial to your dental health. Common toothpastes and whitening pastes alike use ingredients such as fluoride, sugar alcohols and foaming agents.
Fluoride is an ingredient known to prevent tooth decay. Since cavities are gaps within the structure of enamel which can reveal the yellow dentin layer of your teeth, it is cosmetically beneficial to use products that include fluoride to prevent cavities and maintain the surface of your teeth. Xylitol is a kind of sugar alcohol found in many toothpastes which is used to aid in remineralization and prevent plaque, which is a type of biofilm created by bacteria within the mouth. Plaque buildup can result in difficult to clear away stains, called dental calculus or tartar, on the surface of teeth which require professional cleaning to remove. Foaming agents are used to help disperse the toothpaste and its active ingredients throughout the spaces between teeth and remove food particles.
Regular and proper use of an ADA-approved toothpaste, whether it is advertised as 'whitening' or not, can help prevent cavities and plaque buildup, helping you keep up the appearance of your teeth and smile. For the best whitening results however, consider using a peroxide whitening gel in conjunction with a quality bleaching toothpaste.