White Out!

Dr. Okuda shines light on teeth whitening. 

We all love Wine Wednesday, but let’s face it: Red wine, coffee, black tea, pick your poison, and your pearly whites can go from bright-and-light to dull-and-just-plain-drab.

Honolulu cosmetic dentist Dr. Wynn Okuda is no stranger to teeth bleaching, porcelain crowns and any other treatment needed to maintain a million-dollar grin. (P.S. If you haven’t visited Dr. Okuda, we advise you do. It’s more dental spa than stale medicinal setting). To shine light on the do’s and don’ts of teeth whitening, we sought Dr. Okuda’s 411 for brightening up.

Q. What teeth-whitening procedures have you experienced the most success with?

I just saw a new patient with gum burns from using over-the-counter whitening strips. For this reason, I always recommend teeth bleaching [to be] supervised by a dentist. However, for milder cases, at-home bleaching works well, or for darker-stained teeth, a combination of in-office and home bleaching will help.

Q. How often should we whiten our teeth? 

To keep up the bright smile, once every year is optimal … I am able to provide [patients] with take-home bleaching trays and a touch-up kit, if needed.

Q. How much is too white? Is there such a thing? 

Absolutely: If a person uses bleach too often, it could make the teeth whiter than a person wants. The problem with that is, once [teeth are] bleached, you cannot reverse the whitening effect. In addition, too much bleaching can weaken the enamel to a point where cracks start to develop. 

Q. Once you’ve had your teeth whitened, how do you make it last?

You can maintain the bleached color by using whitening-formula toothpaste or your home-touch-up kit, provided by your dentist—also, limiting your consumption of heavy pigmented foods (such as coke, red wine, coffees, black tea, etc.). Finally, avoid consuming too many acidic foods, as they allow uptake of stains [more easily].

Q. What are some common teeth-whitening enemies?

All [heavily] pigmented foods—like red wine, curries, coke, coffee, black teas, etc.—will reduce the whiteness of teeth. 

Q. Do at-home remedies—such as hydrogen peroxide, oil pulling, brushing your teeth with charcoal—really work? Are they safe?

These are not common dental remedies, as they have not been researched to date, so it is unknown if these remedies will help or hurt your teeth long-term.

Q. Does drinking coffee or soda through a straw really help?

Yes, it does. Anything to avoid direct contact of the front teeth is helpful.

Q. What are other ways one can prolong whiteness?

All toothpastes help remove surface stain through the action of mild abrasives. “Whitening” toothpastes have special chemical, or polishing agents, that provide additional stain-removal effectiveness. Unlike bleaches, these products do not change the color of teeth, because they can only remove stains on the surface. A big tip: Be sure to rinse your mouth with water right after eating or drinking these heavy pigmented foods/liquids. That will help prolong whiteness of teeth.

Q. What are some of the most common misunderstandings about teeth whitening? Is it healthy? 

One of the common misunderstandings is that bleaching can be successfully done at any age. Bleaching results are most successful between ages 20-40. Beyond age 40, teeth become naturally dark, due to aging, and are only moderately affected by bleach. Some stains can be liberated from teeth; however, they won’t get as white as [patients] younger than 40.  


 Photo courtesy The Pearl Girls, thepearlgirls.com

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