Smiles For Seniors: How Whiter Teeth Can Help You Look And Feel Younger

As you age, your teeth tend to show it first. Decades of chewing and grinding, smoking, taking certain medications and drinking dark liquids like coffee, tea and cola can take its toll on your smile. Also, teeth naturally yellow as you get older.

But is whitening safe and effective for older adults? Here are some of the most common questions that older adults ask about teeth whitening.

Are over-the-counter whiteners effective for older teeth?

It's not a question of whether whiteners will work on seniors' teeth, it's that they may not be effective on any teeth. Products like whitening mouthwashes are difficult to use with enough frequency to make any difference, and if you do use them at the required frequency, it may cause irritation to sensitive gum tissue.

Some treatments, like trays that you put a whitening agent in and leave for an hour or two each day, may deliver better results. These usually contain a hydrogen peroxide product that acts as a bleach. However, they can also be irritating to delicate gums.

And some whitening products, like toothpastes, can actually have a very fine grit designed to remove stains from tooth enamel. The problem is that they can also grind off some enamel in the process, and many seniors actually experience thinning enamel as a result of age and aggressive teeth brushing over time.

Are in-office treatments too harsh for seniors' mouths?

Most dental offices use a product that contains carbamide peroxide in 10 percent or 15 percent concentrations; carbamide peroxide breaks down into hydrogen peroxide when applied to teeth. The product is placed in a special tray or painted on teeth and exposed to a bright light to speed up the process. In the dentist's office, special care can be taken to protect your gums and the soft tissues of your mouth. 

There are additional benefits to the use of carbamide peroxide. It was originally used as an antiseptic to help gums heal from gingivitis, and it can also help stop decay in small cavities in the teeth. In general, under the supervision of a dental professional, this won't damage your gums or cause irritation. If you are especially sensitive, your dentist can treat the problem immediately in the office before it worsens.

Are there alternatives to chemical whiteners that will brighten teeth?

There are many reasons why you might not want to try or continue to use chemical whiteners. In addition to gum irritation or damage, sometimes chemical whiteners simply aren't effective. If you have thinned enamel, sometimes the dentin layer of the tooth can show through, which makes it look yellow. There is no way to bleach teeth in order to eliminate this issue.

Alternatives to whiteners are more expensive and time consuming, but also can be more permanent. These include:

  • Veneers. Thin layers of porcelain or a composite resin material are made to cover your teeth. These veneers can be made to be a few shades lighter than your teeth, but if you do this, you must have all the teeth in your smile covered. An additional positive benefit of veneers is that they can correct gaps or crooked teeth that you may have had your whole life, so that your smile in your later years can be the best you've ever had.
  • Crowns. Crowns, also called caps, cover the entire tooth and are more likely to be recommended if you have significant decay or enamel loss. 

For more information, contact Dr. Robert Petrtyl or a similar dental professional.