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Teeth Whitening: Will it Work for Me and What are My Options?

If you’re considering your options and trying to decide whether to do teeth whitening at home or have it done professionally by a dentist, this article will help you better understand the advantages of professional teeth whitening.

While some people are able to get a decent outcome using at-home products, the advantages of professional teeth whitening are numerous and there are some important health risks involved in using at-home teeth whitening products.

As a general rule, if you keep a strong solution of peroxide on your teeth, your teeth will become whiter. Higher percentages of the whitening solution can be applied to the teeth for a shorter period of time to get good results. If you keep the tooth whitening gel on your teeth too long, it will dehydrate the teeth, increasing tooth sensitivity.

This can cause pain and other dental problems which is one of the reasons why at-home products may not always be the best option. If a patient leaves the lower percentage solution on the teeth too long, pain and sensitivity in the teeth can lead to pain when you eat certain foods. And it’s much more likely that patients will misuse the at-home whitening systems than that the professional treatment will go awry.

Most people whose permanent teeth have come in can be a candidate for teeth whitening. Your dentist can help you determine how your teeth will respond and the best option for you. If they recommend at-home whitening, make sure you look for products with the ADA Seal of Acceptance and then use as directed.

If you have dental work such as veneers, crowns or implants, you may not be able to use whitening products, or do a whitening procedure as the teeth whitening products do not work on porcelain or bonding materials. But if your natural teeth are stained for whatever reason, there are some options available to you.

What teeth whitening treatments are available?

  • Have your teeth cleaned by a dental professional to remove external staining caused by food, drinks or smoking.
  • You can use a whitening toothpaste that can help remove surface stains between dental visits.
  • To go a step beyond basic cleaning, you can use a whitening gel or whitening strips.
  • You can choose to bleach. These products are available over-the-counter (OTC) or by visiting your dental professional who will suggest a bleaching gel to work on more stubborn stains or yellowing.
  • Your dentist can create a custom mouthpiece for at-home bleaching. There are different kits available, so use as instructed to achieve the best results.
  • If you have more permanently stained or damaged teeth, your dentist may recommend veneers or bonding to fix irregular or damaged teeth or to achieve specific results.

What teeth whitening treatment should I use?

First and foremost, it is important to have a conversation with your dentist before trying any OTC product on your teeth. Various whitening techniques work better for specific causes of teeth stains. If your teeth are yellow, they may respond best to bleaching, while brown or gray teeth may not. If your teeth are striped or mottled from tetracycline or too much fluoride, they may not react or whiten evenly even when bleached.

Bleaching is also not recommended if you have tooth-colored fillings, crowns, caps or bonding in your front teeth — the materials used to make these products are not recommended to be bleached, thus the color of the restorative material will not change. If you have some natural teeth and some veneers or crowns, bleaching can lead to an uneven look, and the unchanged color of your dental work may stand out in your newly whitened smile.

Your dentist then has the opportunity to ensure you are not at increased risk for sensitivity or root damage. Also, brushing at least twice daily and flossing every day can help remove stains that darken your teeth.

Whitening toothpastes and mouthwashes help remove stains only on enamel surfaces. Today, many of these whitening products have very miniscule amounts of hydrogen peroxide, the active whitening ingredient, but not enough to remove stains that are deeper than the surface level. These products alone are not strong enough to lighten teeth.

Whitening gels that are brushed directly on teeth or placed in a non-custom mouth tray and whitening strips that adhere to teeth are generally only effective on yellow-colored teeth, as opposed to brownish or greyish stains. Application is relatively easy and additional assistance is usually provided online on the product’s website.

This whitening process takes longer and you probably won’t achieve the same level of whitening as in the dentist’s office due to the lower concentration of hydrogen peroxide, however most people will see some visible results over time. Tooth sensitivity is a risk, especially if you already have worn enamel or gum disease. Not to mention, easy access to whitening products makes over usage a concern in the oral health community.

If you have periodontal disease or particularly sensitive teeth, you may want to avoid chemical whitening products and techniques that can make teeth more sensitive and may irritate tender gums if they are not protected. If you have staining from medication that you have taken, or other causes and want to have a whiter, brighter smile, there are various products like porcelain veneers that you can have placed over your natural teeth.

We know that a whiter, brighter smile is your goal, so the first thing to always consider is proper dental hygiene. This including brushing with whitening toothpaste after meals or when you drink dark soda or coffee and flossing once a day. If those things aren’t giving you the confident smile you’re looking for, talk to your dentist and start working on a plan to bring out your best smile.

It is important to know that end results for whitening are widely variable. In fact, none of the whitening products will change the shade of dental restorations (composite fillings, crowns, bridges, implants). Teeth should be whitened prior to starting cosmetic dental treatment, as there is no way to guarantee a shade match once the cosmetic work has been completed.

Teeth whitening should not be done if you have any untreated dental cavities or gum disease as this may increase the chances of tooth nerve damage to these teeth.  Whiter teeth can make you feel younger and more attractive. But do you want whiter teeth at the expense of a healthy, pain-free mouth? Understanding the different ways to whiten your teeth with help from a dental professional can help you make an informed decision about brightening your smile.