Tooth enamel, which forms the outer surface of your teeth, is somewhat translucent. Much of the color of teeth comes from this translucence, which comes from how the phosphorus and hydroxyapatite crystals present in your dental enamel interact with the light. As you age, this enamel thins. It's quite natural and is largely attributed to daily wear and tear over the years. The trouble is that this results in teeth that look decidedly yellow. Even if you're an older person or a senior, is it ever too late to start whitening your teeth?
The Next Layer
Thinning enamel can make older teeth look yellow because the reduced enamel leads to increased translucence, with the next layer of the teeth becoming more prominent. This layer is the substance that comprises most of a tooth's overall structure and is called dentin. Your tooth dentin has a yellow hue, and the prominence of your dentin is in direct relation to the thinness of your enamel. So is it just a case of purchasing an at-home whitening kit and following the manufacturer's instructions?
There are risks associated with whitening your teeth at an older age. This is exclusively due to the relatively worn-down nature of your enamel. Whitening gels contain a bleaching agent, which in most products is hydrogen peroxide. This bleach enters the microscopic pores in your dental enamel, where it encounters the stains that are residual pigments left behind by the foods and drinks you've consumed. The bleach neutralizes these pigments, and the teeth appear whitened. This process can be too intensive with diminished enamel.
Tingling or Discomfort
Unless your enamel is strong and healthy, at-home whitening can trigger strong sensitivity. The process should make healthy teeth tingle a little, yet it shouldn't inflict outright pain. This is a risk when an older person tries a teeth whitening product for the first time. For the sake of your own comfort (and to receive optimal results), you should make an appointment at a cosmetic dentistry clinic.
At the Dental Clinic
A dentist can use desensitizing gels to ensure your comfort during whitening. You'll also receive a rubber dental dam to protect your gingival tissues during the process. A dentist will start with a light buffing of your teeth to remove surface stains. The required whitening gel will still contain hydrogen peroxide, but this can be at a lower intensity to minimize discomfort. The gel can then be activated with an LED light. Light-activated whitening speeds up the process. You can then use a whitening toothpaste at home to preserve your results.
There's no cut-off age for teeth whitening, but if your dental enamel has worn down over the years, it's best to receive professional treatment.