Many teeth whitening systems are available, including whitening toothpastes, over-the counter gels, strips and trays, and whitening systems obtained from or performed by a dentist. Teeth whitening is ideal for people who have healthy teeth and gums. Individuals with tooth decay or gum disease should consult their dentist prior to whitening.
Whitening rinses and toothpastes typically provide only minimal results. Whitening strips, tray systems, and in-the-dental-office whitening have the most impact. Teeth with yellow tones respond best to whitening. Teeth with a grayish cast or dark banding are hard to whiten.
Video: Teeth Whitening Feature on CNN
Watch CNN's feature on teeth whitening candidacy. Dr. Margaret Mitchell was interviewed by CNN about the advantages and disadvantages of over-the-counter products, excessive bleaching, and other issues. Dr. Mitchell helps patients determine the best options for them.
Common Whitening Systems
Most toothpastes help remove surface stains because they contain mild abrasives. Some whitening toothpastes contain gentle polishing or chemical agents that provide additional stain removal. Whitening toothpastes can lighten your teeth color by about a shade (a barely discernable amount). In contrast, light-activated whitening in the dental office can lighten teeth about 7 shades or so(less if you have whitened in the past).
Over-the-Counter Whitening Strips and Gels
Whitening gels are clear, peroxide-based gels applied with a small brush directly to the surface of the teeth. Instructions generally call for twice a day application for 14 days. Initial results are seen in a few days. Efficacy is generally lower than that of strips (which holds the whitening gel on the teeth).
Whitening strips are thin strips that are coated with a peroxide-based gel. The strips are applied once or twice daily for 30 minutes for 14 days. Whitening strips work well if one’s teeth are perfectly straight---so the strips adhere to the teeth well. Strips do not work well on overly crooked teeth.
Whitening strips represent one of the best values in teeth whitening---they work well and are relatively inexpensive. Their major disadvantage, though, is that they only whiten the area where the strip is placed. Consequently, strips have to be moved around the mouth to achieve a complete or more even whitening.
Tray-Based Tooth Whitening Products
Tray based tooth whitening systems, purchased either over-the-counter or from your dentist, involve filling a mouth guard-like tray with a whitening solution and then placing this over the teeth for 30 minutes or overnight(depending on the product). Trays work extremely well and have a big advantage over strips---they whiten all the teeth(not just the teeth the whitening strip is touching).
In-office whitening systems provide the quickest and most effective way to lighten teeth and are extremely effective. In a little over an hour, teeth can whiten about 7 shades in color. However, this immediate gratification comes at a cost, since in-office whitening is more expensive than over-the-counter products.
With these in-office systems---Zoom, BriteSmile, etc.---a protective film is first applied over the gums to protect them. Protection is also applied to the tongue and lips. Whitening agent is then painted on the teeth and a light shone on the teeth for (typically) three 15 minute treatments. The gum, tongue, and lip protection is then removed and the procedure is complete. From beginning to end, the in-office treatment takes about an hour and a half.
Avoiding Teeth Sensitivity during Whitening
Teeth can become sensitive during any type of whitening process. To avoid or dramatically lessen the potential for sensitivity, use a prescription fluoride toothpaste for two weeks before you start whitening. These special toothpastes are available from your dentist. One of the best is sold under the brand name Fluoridex. Prevident is another common brand.