These are two terms often used interchangeably, however, they have two very different meanings.
Tooth bleaching is the “cosmetic process of using chemicals to remove minor discolourations from the teeth, or to lighten them” (Hatrick and Eakle, 2016). The most common chemical used in bleaching solutions is Carbamide Peroxide, which has a pH close to neutral. This chemical, mixed with other added chemicals for flavour and consistency, penetrates into the enamel and lightens the tooth. Tooth bleaching can be achieved through a variety of different methods including: professional in-office treatment, take-home custom fit trays, or a variety of over the counter methods. On the other hand, tooth whitening often refers to restoring the tooth surface to its natural colouration by removing surface stains and debris. This is often achieved by adding abrasive agents to toothpastes or other similar dentifrice type products.
Both tooth bleaching and tooth whitening do not come without risks, and it is important to understand these risks so that you can make an educated and informed decision regarding your cosmetic desires.
Firstly, professional bleaching is only prescribed once the patient has been cleared of any active dental decay, and informed of alternative restorative procedures that may assist the patient in achieving their desired aesthetic outcome. Often times, tooth bleaching can provide a more profound result, as it penetrates into the enamel to lift away stain rather than removing surface stains. Professional bleaching products come in a variety of concentrations to manage transient tooth sensitivity that may occur. However, if you suffer from extreme tooth sensitivity, bleaching agents may not be for you.
Similar to professional dental bleaching products, abrasive agents added to tooth pastes can add to tooth sensitivity, as well as worsen oral conditions such as gum recession. It is important to be aware of any pre-existing dental concerns such as these, prior to pursuing either professional bleaching or whitening toothpastes sold in local stores that are intended for daily use.