How Bright Should You Whiten Your Teeth?

When it comes to teeth whitening, many people assume the brighter the better. However, this is not always the case. While having a bright smile may seem like the ultimate goal of teeth whitening, it is also important to remember that a natural appearance is just as important. Ideally, you want your teeth to be bright but not so bright that they are almost glowing. So how do you find this perfect balance?

For starters, it is essential to understand the basic anatomy of your teeth to understand their coloring. There are three main layers of teeth, including the enamel, dentin, and pulp layer. The enamel is the outermost layer and is somewhat translucent, meaning that the underlying layer can be seen through it. This underlying layer is known as the dentin layer. Finally, below the dentin layer is the pulp layer. 

All three layers of your teeth affect its coloring. In most cases, enamel tends to be a light yellow to grayish white. Dentin is a yellow color and will darken with age, making your teeth look darker overall. The pulp layer is generally not visible, unless infected. When the pulp becomes infected, it can cause the tooth to become dark grey or black. Unfortunately, pulp infections cannot be treated with teeth whitening and require a root canal. 

Furthermore, permanent teeth are not naturally white. Only baby teeth are truly white because they are highly calcified and have dentin that is very light in color. Once the primary teeth are lost, the permanent teeth erupt as a darker color due to the density and color of the dentin layer. Additionally, teeth are naturally one of four different colors. These are expressed on a shade guide as A, B,C, or D: 

natural shade guide for teeth whitening
  • Reddish Brown (A)
  • Reddish Yellow (B)
  • Gray (C)   
  • Reddish Gray (D) 

Each of these four colors have varying levels of darkness and lightness. This range of color allows you to determine what your current tooth shade is. Once you know your current shade, you can look towards the lighter shades to select a color that is both bright and natural. Although this color is not white, even lightening your smile by 2-3 shades creates the illusion of a whiter smile. 

When deciding how bright to whiten your teeth, here are some additional things to consider: 

pretty blonde smiling
  • Dental restorations, such as fillings or crowns, will not be affected by teeth whitening procedures. This means that they will retain their color even if the teeth around them become brighter. In these cases, it may be best to choose a color that blends well with the color of your restoration while making your teeth look brighter. Alternatively, you can also have your restoration replaced after your teeth have been whitened. 
  • Certain stains, especially those that are darker, may still be noticeable after whitening your teeth because they are hard to remove. This may mean that the lighter you go, the more the stain will stick out. In these cases, you can use veneers to cover the teeth affected by dark stains. 
  • How dramatic you want your results to be. Most teeth whitening procedures are able to lighten your teeth by 2-7 shades. For a more subtle whitening 2-3 shades is enough, while more dramatic results can be obtained by 4-7 shades. However, when deciding how bright to go, remember that it is easier to get another whitening treatment than it is to remove excess whiteness. To obtain a white smile while still looking natural, cosmetic dentists recommend choosing a shade that is not whiter than the whites of your eyes. 
Gerard J. Lemongello DMD

Dr. Gerard J. Lemongello Jr. graduated from the University of Florida College of Dentistry and has been in private practice since 1987. His focus is on cosmetic and comprehensive restorative rehabilitative dentistry. He is a member of the American Dental Association, Florida Dental Association and Academy of General Dentistry, and is an accredited member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.    

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