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Teeth whitening involves removing stains that have changed the overall color of the teeth. There are different processes that can be used depending on the level of discoloration. Most readily available treatments use a chemical method to achieve results. 
Tooth bleaching uses a concentrated hydrogen peroxide gel in order to whiten teeth in a dental office. This gel is applied to the teeth and then exposed to a bright light or laser. The energy from the light causes the peroxide to oxidize and release oxygen atoms into the tooth enamel. The oxygen particles bond with the staining agents, allowing them to be removed without difficulty. Depending on the level of discoloration, the process may need to be repeated several times to get the desired results. 

An at home version of tooth bleaching is also available. Here, the patient fills a dental tray or applies a chemical directly to the teeth. This chemical is usually carbamide peroxide, which functions in a similar way to hydrogen peroxide. Carbamide peroxide does not require activation with a special light. The process can take as little as one hour, or may need to work on the teeth overnight. 
In instances where the teeth are stained to the point that bleaching cannot change the color significantly, porcelain or resin veneers can be used. A veneer is a very thin piece of material that is attached to the front of a tooth. The veneer covers the discoloration and any other imperfections in the tooth providing a healthy looking smile. 
All teeth whitening methods are vulnerable to staining over time with normal use. It is important to receive regular dental cleanings and follow all guidelines for good oral hygiene in order to get the most out of the whitening treatment. 

By Guy Levi, DDS
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