A Makeover For the Darkened Smile

With the ever growing popularity of teeth bleaching, I find that discolored, yellowed or darkened smiles still are one of the more prevalent smile complaints. There are many reasons for teeth not be a natural bright hue. Today’s cosmetic dentists have a variety of procedures to turn back the clock to a more youthful smile. This article continues a series featuring various types of problem situations and how these can be addressed. This month’s focus is the Makeover for the Darkened Smile.

Tooth Whitening Becomes Necessary Because……

Whether it is one discolored tooth or a uniformly yellowed or darkened smile, its easy to pick out when teeth are not as bright as they should be. The reasons why teeth become discolored are numerous. The first of the reasons are situations that someone is born with or develop in childhood. These include drug- or mineral-induced stains, genetic abnormalities or other congenital problems.

The second set of reasons are environmental causes. Realize that your 28 pearly whites have been bombarded for decades by everything you’ve eaten or drank almost all of your life. The guilty attackers include colas, teas, coffees, red wines, tobacco products and other stain-producing foods. Even with routine professional teeth cleanings, these stainers have a cumulative effect on your teeth’s overall whiteness.

A third reason is age-related. The older a tooth becomes the more it darkens or yellows. Yes, this is the unfortunate side of nature. A fourth reason is situational for specific teeth. Here are some examples: A tooth whose pulp is dead due to trauma, may become gray or blackened over time. Another example is teeth associated with old silver fillings or metal-containing restorations. Over time these restorations may irreversibly stain teeth internally or around the gumline.

The Solution? A Smile Makeover

In combating many of these common cosmetic dental problems, cosmetic dentists have various solutions at their command that can address all of the above. The types of treatments selected will vary, depending on each individual person’s problems and needs. Routinely, some discoloration may be due to just plaque or tartar build-up. Plaque and calculus can cause a yellowing stain on teeth, and if left untreated decay may result leaving a darker discoloration. Professional cleanings can assist in minimizing the stain build-up from the food stains mentioned above, such as red wines and tobacco.

Professional cleanings, however, are not the answer to every type of darkened smile. In-office or home bleaching may address other mild types of discolored smiles. In particular bleaching tends to be more effective on staining caused by food, drink and tobacco and the yellowing of aging teeth. In-office bleaching allows you to “jump-start” the whitening process with a quicker end result. A gentle bleaching gel is placed on your teeth and a light source is applied. Depending on the degree of darkness and the lightening you want to attain, this procedure may achieve your desired lighter shade in one visit. Sometimes one appointment may not be enough, and follow-up appointments may be needed.

“Home bleaching” takes place outside of the dental office, either while you sleep or at your leisure. A custom-fitted, clear plastic tray is made in the dental office. A gentle bleaching gel is placed in the tray, and the tray is fitted snugly over your upper or lower teeth. Optimal results are usually achieved in about 14 days. Home bleaching procedures allow more flexibility and control over the whiteness achieved.

You’ll find numerous other whitening kits at the neighborhood drug store or on infomercials. However my best advice would be to consult your dental professionals for what will work best for you. Unwanted side effects of these over-the-counter kits may include accelerated tooth-related and/or gum-related problems or having teeth of mismatched colors. Don’t fall victim to using the product that merely is most convenient and cheapest to obtain. Asking your dentist if you are a candidate for bleaching may save you from wasting money, time and heartache.

If the staining or discoloration is too dark or deep within the tooth for bleaching, then the next option would be veneers or non-metallic, tooth-colored restorations. Veneers are thin, yet durable shells of porcelain that are custom-made to fit over the front and biting surfaces of teeth, to permanently mask the discoloration. Non-metallic crowns would be used if there is extensive decay or breakdown of the tooth structure.

Great Progress Made in Recreating the Beautiful Smile

The great news is that certain darkened smile concerns that could not be addressed fully 10 or even 5 years ago can now be solved. One example of such a dental problem is drug-induced stains, such as tetracycline. This shows as a heavy discoloration of the teeth (gray or black) with or without stripes. Esthetically correcting such a strikingly noticeable smile has perplexed dental professionals for decades. Fortunately with advancements in dental materials and techniques along with infusing dental artistry, this dilemma can be addressed with consistency and beautifully natural results. A technique article I wrote that was published in the Journal of the American Dental Association discussed this complex problem, and uncovered a conservative solution that concludes in such a natural end result.


Questions & Answers: Q: I have tried to bleach my teeth several times to whiten my dark teeth but within several weeks the darkness returned. I realize I now need porcelain veneers. How do I determine who is qualified to help me achieve the best natural results?

A: Great question! Undergoing any advanced cosmetic dentistry such as porcelain veneers is quite an investment. However, if done correctly the results can be fantastic. Recreating a natural-appearing smile takes artistry in developing the right color, contour, length and size of the veneers. This takes expertise on behalf of the cosmetic dentist as well as the dental laboratory being used. Not all dentists and labs are equal. Seek out a reputable cosmetic dentist professional and ask them to show you before and after photo examples of similar cases they have corrected.

Dr. Wynn Okuda is an award winning international leader in cosmetic dentistry. He is one of only 280 dentists in the world to be accredited by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Dr. Okuda turned the dental profession on it’s head nearly a decade ago , replacing pain, fear, & discomfort with the Dental Day Spa system. His offices for cosmetic, restorative and implant dentistry are located in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Dr. Okuda has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, American Spa, Shape Magazine, Better Homes & Garden, Health & Fitness Sports Magazine, New Woman, and dozens more!

Dr. Okuda is the founder of “Give Back a Smile”, a charitable foundation of the A.A.C.D. which helps survivors of domestic violence throughout the nation to restore their smiles and lives. He has assembled nearly 1,000 cosmetic dentists nationwide to help fight against domestic violence.