Just about every dental product advertised today seems to make some sort of claim about whitening teeth and certainly toothpastes are no exception. Advertisements for teeth whitening toothpastes saturate every medium.
There is validity to some of the whitening claims made by the manufacturers of teeth whitening toothpastes but the process by which these products achieve their effect may be different from that which you'd expect. Certainly teeth whitening toothpastes can be the best choice for some people in some circumstances. But before you can make a decision about what is best for you, you will need to know more about how teeth whitening toothpastes work.
The primary mode of action of teeth whitening toothpastes is one of abrasion. The formulation of the typical whitening toothpaste will be such that it includes minute, mildly abrasive particles (usually aluminum oxide, dicalcium phosphate dihydrate, hydrated silicas or calcium carbonate). The scrubbing motion of the bristles of a toothbrush in combination with the presence of these small particles creates an action that can have an effect where it scours debris off the surface of teeth. So, as opposed to peroxide-based teeth whiteners where the whitening effect is produced by a chemical change that occurs within a tooth, whitening toothpastes produce a whitening effect solely by way of removing accumulated debris off a tooth's external surface. For this reason, teeth whitening toothpastes are sometimes referred to as "nonbleaching" whitening products.
The formulations of some teeth whitening toothpastes do include peroxide compounds, however only at low levels. Studies have suggested that a whitening toothpaste with an added peroxide compound will only deliver a 1% (or less) exposure of hydrogen peroxide to a tooth's surface. Because of this low level of peroxide exposure and the relatively brief exposure time teeth have to toothpaste in general, the whitening effect of the peroxide additives found in the formulations of whitening toothpastes is considered to be negligible.
On a comparative basis, teeth whitening toothpastes typically are not considered to be the most effective type of tooth whitening products available, primarily because their effect is only one of removing superficial debris as opposed to creating a true internal color change as is the case with peroxide-based whiteners. However, there can be circumstances when a whitening toothpaste is the best choice. Here is an example of when this could be true.
Some people may find that they are, for the most part, perfectly content with the color of their teeth. With time however, typically beginning some weeks or months after their most recent professional dental cleaning, they will notice that their teeth have begun to take on a stained appearance. In most cases the stain is only found on a few teeth or just a grouping of teeth. Often the staining will be dark and quite noticeable in some areas and almost unnoticeable in other regions. This type of tooth discoloration is surface staining. And this is precisely the type of staining that a tooth whitening toothpaste is intended to address.
Tooth surface staining is only superficial in nature. Its presence has to do with debris that has accumulated on the surface of the affected teeth. The debris itself either has an inherent color or, more likely, the debris is relatively neutral in color and has become stained due to exposure to chromogenic agents such as colas, coffee, and tobacco products. Surface stain forms in those regions where a person's oral home care has been ineffective.
The mildly abrasive nature of the particulate substances incorporated into the formulation a whitening toothpaste when combined with the scrubbing action of a toothbrush can often remove surface staining. Even in those cases where the existing build up is too heavy for a whitening toothpaste to provide a solution, initiating the use of one of these products immediately after a professional dental cleaning may keep surface staining from ever forming.