So You Want Whiter Teeth?

doctor choosing color tone from shade guide smiling female patient's teeth

Who doesn’t love a dazzling, white smile? Tooth whitening is one of the most requested dental procedures done every year.

Over time, drinking coffee, red wine, smoking cigarettes, and simply aging can stain our teeth, as can certain medications such as tetracycline.

If you’re looking to spruce up your smile there are many options available. The following are some tips to help you choose the best tooth whitener for you!

How does Teeth Whitening Work?

Tooth “whitening” is defined as any process that will make teeth appear whiter. There are two ways this is commonly done: bleaching and non-bleaching whitening products. Often the terms “bleaching” and “whitening” are used interchangeably, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states the term “bleaching” can only be used when a product contains bleach. A product is considered simply “whitening” when it removes food or debris from the teeth without bleach.

Bleaching products contain peroxide (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) and these products remove both surface and deep stains on teeth and can cause teeth to become even lighter than their natural shade.

What’s in Bleaching Products?

The active ingredient in tooth whiteners available from dentists or drugstores is peroxide (hydrogen or carbamide). Hydrogen peroxide is the actual bleaching agent, while carbamide peroxide breaks down into hydrogen peroxide.

The bleaching products you can get from a dentist are much stronger than those purchased over-the-counter. Whiteners used by dentists may have as much as 35% to 45% peroxide while the store-bought whitening kits such as whitening strips or trays usually have just 7% peroxide. Other ingredients in both dentist-dispensed and OTC whiteners include glycerin, carbopol, sodium hydroxide, and flavorings.

Let the Dentist do the Whitening

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends if you choose to bleach your teeth you consult a dentist first. A dentist can come up with the best whitening options for you and supervise a treatment plan to avoid complications.

Professional whitening can be done in a dentist’s office in about an hour. The procedure involves the application of a tooth whitening gel containing between 25% to 40% hydrogen peroxide, and then aiming a special heating lamp at your teeth for three 20-minute intervals, with reapplication of the gel between intervals. Some dentists may also use a laser, which is reported to accelerate or activate the whitening process. A protective barrier is used during the whitening procedure to keep your lips, gums, and tongue away from the whitening gel so it stays in place on your teeth. For optimal results, the dentist will usually give you whitening trays molded for your teeth so you can follow-up at home with bleaching solutions.

Whitening At Home

Over-the-counter teeth whitening kits have become popular since they are inexpensive and easy to use. They contain lower amounts of peroxide than the whitening products used by dentists, but some people can have good results though it will take more time. OTC whitening kits and products include whitening trays, strips, rinses, and toothpastes.

The American Dental Association still recommends dentist-supervised whitening as being the safest for your tooth enamel. The products used by dentists are also more effective at getting rid of deep stains. If you do choose to purchase whitening products at the drugstore, look for the American Dental Academy seal of approval. The ADA seal means products are held to a higher standard than required by law, and they have been evaluated and are found to be safe and effective.

Whitening Trays

Tooth whitening trays are one method of whitening your teeth at home. Dentists recommend dentist-dispensed take-home whitening kits because they contain a higher percentage of bleach for better results.

The dentist will take custom molds of your teeth and create fitted application trays made of flexible plastic. Fitted trays ensure bleach stays in close contact with the teeth for best results, they prevent saliva from diluting the bleach, and they minimize the amount of bleach that can leak out and possibly irritate the gums. Over-the-counter trays do not fit the teeth precisely, leading to leakage of bleach and sensitive gums.

Tooth bleaching products are either stored in syringes and added to trays before use, or pre-loaded into the trays. A dentist can also adjust the bleach concentration and give you a desensitizing agent to use before or after application. Kits often provide enough gel for one two-week treatment per year, plus enough for a few touch-ups in between.

We love our patients and love to help them form healthy dental life that will last them a lifetime. For more information call us today to answer all of your questions so get an appointment.