Often these words are used interchangeably but in actuality they are describing 2 completely different processes.
Whitening: This process uses an abrasive compound to “scrub” stains off of the enamel of your tooth. While this can brighten the look of your teeth, it is merely an exterior treatment and doesn’t actually change the color of the tooth itself. Think of it as a car wash for your tooth. You’ve basically washed and scrubbed off all the dirt so your car looks shinier but it’s still the same original color.
Bleaching: This process uses some kind of bleaching agent like hydrogen peroxide to actually penetrate the tooth and physically change the color to a whiter shade. Bleaching systems can vary in the concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. Most over the counter bleaching systems contain 10% hydrogen peroxide compared to the 25-40% contained in professionally applied systems.
When it comes to toothpaste, “Whitening” toothpastes can brighten your smile but it can also be harmful to your tooth enamel and has been shown to dull the shine of restorations such as crowns and fillings. Following an in-office bleaching treatment, a “Bleaching” toothpaste can be useful in maintaining the level of whiteness that the in-office treatment was able to achieve.
The best analogy I’ve heard is that whitening is like washing your hair. You get the everyday dirt off and your hair looks shinier. Bleaching comes in every few months when you go to a professional to get your hair dyed to the color you want.
Finally, it is important to remember that the effectiveness of either treatment largely depends on your habits. If you’re a smoker that drinks coffee in the morning, soda for lunch and wine at dinner, your outcome is going to be completely different from a non-smoker that only drinks water.
If you’d like more information about the in-office bleaching treatments offered at Dee for Dentist, just let us know and we’ll be happy to talk you through it.