Tooth whitening (termed tooth bleaching when utilizing bleach), is either restoration of natural tooth shade or whitening beyond natural tooth shade, depending on the definition used.
Restoration of the underlying, natural tooth shade is possible by simply removing surface (extrinsic) stains (e.g. from tea, coffee, red wine and tobacco) and calculus (tartar). This is achieved by having the teeth cleaned by a dental professional (commonly termed “scale and polish”, see debridement and polishing), or at home by various oral hygiene methods. Calculus is difficult to remove without a professional clean.
To whiten the natural tooth shade, bleaching is required. It is a common procedure in cosmetic dentistry, and a number of different techniques are used by dental professionals. Many different products are also marketed for home use. Techniques include bleaching strips, bleaching pen, bleaching gel, and laser tooth whitening. Bleaching methods generally use carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. There are claims that carbamide peroxide is less effective than hydrogen peroxide, but also has fewer side effects. Common side effects of bleaching are increased sensitivity of the teeth and irritation of the gums. Occasionally individuals develop an unhealthy obsession with tooth whitening akin to body dismorphic disorder, termed “bleachorexia”.
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