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Teeth Whitening

Reviewed by: Ronald Plotka, DDS

In the 80’s, it was hair, in the 90’s, it was tanning salons, and in the 2000’s it is cosmetic everything. This is especially true of teeth whitening. Teeth whitening is popular among both genders and all races. It is the easiest and most convenient way to enhance the appearance of your smile.

You can go about this process in many different ways.  In-office visits can include laser treatments, the tray system, porcelain veneers and/or composite veneers and bonding. At-home methods are usually found in your local store with a variety of tooth whitening options such as toothpastes, gels, strips, and kits. Natural methods have ingredients like hydrogen peroxide (which is the main bleaching agent in most ADA approved products), salt, fruits and baking soda. Apples are known to promote oral health by cleaning your teeth as you chew.

How to Whiten Your Teeth

There are two ways to whiten your teeth: at your dentist’s office or at home. Let’s take a look at each:

Dentist Office- Your dentist can offer you five different procedures.  In no specific order, these are lasers, trays, Britesmile, Zoom!, and Opalescence.  The most popular and yet most expensive way to go is laser treatments. Lasers do not come into contact with your teeth, and the procedure generally does not bother those with sensitive teeth unless the dam placement protecting the teeth is not sealed at the gum line properly. Sessions typically last one hour and can whiten your teeth up to 10 shades during one visit. The laser whitening gel is applied to your teeth and a laser light is used to activate crystals to absorb the energy from the light and penetrate your teeth’s enamel to increase the lightening effect.

In the past, dentists would custom fit trays by taking molds of one’s mouth to send off to the lab.  This usually took 3 to 4 tries at 1-2 hours per try, and this method soon stopped.  Nowadays, dentists will custom fit the tray while you wait in the office and then send you home with it.  Trays are known to be successful in evenly distributing the gels and they are still considered safe and easy to use.

Britesmile is a newer product available only through their Britesmile offices, salons and spas.  Using a special gel and a patented blue light, this technology does not require lasers or heat.  The whitening gel contains 15% hydrogen peroxide, which offers limited sensitivity, and results that are said to last for years.  Three 20-minute sessions are required to complete the process, but the sessions are done back to back.  So no extra appointments are necessary.  Britesmile is only available through Britesmile, so check out their website to find out if there is an office near you.

Zoom! is similar to Britesmile, only it is named for its speed.  Taking only 45 minutes of time, and using a low sensitivity level, you may either schedule and appointment to relax in one of the company’s offices, or you may purchase a “weekender” kit to take home and do yourself.

Opalescence is ADA approved in increasing the mineral content of your teeth’s enamel and providing great strength. This product is available only inside of the USA.  The gel comes in syringe form and is easily applied into trays provided by the company once they custom fit your mouth.  Recommended for whitening discolored teeth prior to placement of composite veneers and/or crowns, it is effective in removing some or all internal tooth discolorations due to congenital, systemic, pharmacologic or traumatic factors.  This product is available in your dentist’s office, so if you are interested in Opalescence, talk with your dentist about this option.

At-Home- Entering the oral hygiene aisle at the store can be overwhelming for some, especially if you are interested in whitening your teeth. There are numerous products that claim ‘tooth whitening’ is their main objective. These products include strips, toothpaste, gels, kits, trays and natural whiteners such as baking soda and peroxide. At home whitening kits generally include syringes filled with peroxide based gels, trays you may boil to soften and mold to your mouth, and instructions.  Strip kits usually contain two different shaped strips, ½ the box is dedicated to the upper arch and the other ½ of the box is dedicated to the lower arch. You can find these kits in magazines, online, drugstores, grocery stores, dental offices, spas and salons. At-home kits are an option, but keep in mind that it is better if your dentist fabricates the trays and uses ADA sanctioned whitening products.  Store-bought whitening kits and ill fitting whitening trays may lead to tooth sensitivity issues.

Whitening strips are intended to be worn 30 minutes a day, twice a day. People with straight teeth see the best results. Strips will not whiten previous dental work, and unlike trays, the strips are the bleaching system.  The thin, flexible piece of plastic is designed to be pressed against your teeth with your finger. If you are unsure which of your teeth your dentist has previously treated, or if you have difficulty with dexterity, whitening strips may not be the best choice for you. These issues can lead to a spotty finished result.

Many major companies offer different varieties of toothpastes that whiten teeth.  The process is longer, but results tend to be even and successful. Toothpastes with fluoride make the entire tooth structure more resistant to decay and promote remineralization (stops or reverses early tooth decay).  As long as the toothpaste includes fluoride in the ingredients, it really does not matter which brand you decide to go with.

You may consider natural methods if you are not into spending any more money to whiten your teeth.  It is very important that you speak to your dentist before embarking on any natural or home remedies. A common home remedy is to mix baking soda and peroxide together to create a paste.  However, using too much hydrogen peroxide in high concentrations can be hazardous to your gums, and this approach is not recommended. Crunchy foods can also act as a natural tooth whitener, but eating large amounts of citric fruits can cause acid demineralization of the tooth enamel. Teeth do best in an alkaline environment and remineralize at 7.4-7.8 ph from the natural action of saliva, which protects the teeth from decay. Tooth soap is another product on the market intended for whitening your teeth. It is made from specified coconut, palm and olive oils and contains no added glycerin, sweeteners, silicates, dyes or stabilizers. It is certified kosher and has never been tested on animals. You can purchase a 3-month supply in the form of a glass jar for around $20.00 in peppermint, spearmint or cinnamon.

Something to keep in mind is that ‘natural’ toothpastes do not contain fluoride. Tom’s of Maine is the only natural brand on the market that does. Fluoride is essential in maintaining strong, healthy and white teeth.

Teeth Whitening Costs

Unfortunately, teeth whitening procedures are considered cosmetic procedures and are generally not covered under most dental insurance plans. Because of this, many people find themselves trying the natural and at-home methods before paying for a cosmetic procedure. Last year, Americans spent over $1.3 billion on various teeth whitening procedures and products. There are numerous ways to whiten your teeth, and each method has a different price.

Tooth whitening toothpastes can cost you around $2.50 per bottle, while teeth whitening strips can cost around $40. Over the counter kits can cost around $30 to $60 depending on the brand, while refill kits for your tray system can cost up to $60. Your dentist can make a tray for you, custom-made, but prices can soar up to $2000.The average cost is around $250-$500. Bleaching of your teeth by the dentist is done by arches.  Each arch (upper or lower sets) will usually cost anywhere from $200 to $500. In office tray costs are a bit cheaper, costing $150 to $250 per arch, but do not include the bleaching formulas.

Am I a Candidate for Teeth Whitening?

Do you have stains that are yellow, brown, black, pink, bright white or red? If you do, you are probably a candidate for some form of teeth whitening.  Now ask yourself about your lifestyle. When it comes to whitening one’s teeth, there are 5 major categories you must dig into regarding your lifestyle and history.

The first thing you need to know is your family history.  Take a look at your parents’ teeth.  Did they need braces? Did they have excessive amounts of dental work done?  Take a look at your grandparents and look to see if they still have their natural teeth or if they now wear dentures; and if they do, how long have they worn them?

How is your medical history? Unfortunately, there are many diseases out there that would prevent someone from whitening their teeth without interacting with other medications and medical conditions. Diseases such as anorexia and bulimia can also produce acids that destroy the enamel, and prevent teeth from being whitened.

What does your past dental history entail? Whitening agents are not prone to whiten teeth that have received dental work. These agents are only workable on natural teeth.

What kinds of foods and beverages do you consume on a daily basis? If you consume dark sodas, red wine, coffee or tea on a daily basis you are contributing to the discoloration of your teeth. Or even if you are a health nut and drink and eat oranges daily or add lemon wedges or juice to your water, you are probably not a good candidate for the whitening process.  Acidic foods and dark beverages cause stains and damage your tooth enamel, which is the part of the tooth that whitens during the procedures.

The last thing you need to know about is your social history. Do you smoke regularly or chew tobacco? Do you use drugs or narcotics, even on occasion? These factors contribute to the decline of your overall oral health.

Maintaining White Teeth

Whitening your teeth is not a permanent or lifetime solution. You must consistently be aware of your eating and drinking habits. Once you have had a treatment, whether in the dentist office or at home, you should continue to repeat the same or similar procedures at least every 6 months to a year, or as often as your dentist recommends. There are many low cost and high cost solutions. If laser treatments work for you, schedule another appointment in a couple years. If you need cheaper ways, try buying toothpaste with active dental peroxides and fluoride in them. In most cases, these toothpastes are clinically proven to whiten teeth 5 shades. Here are some more tips on how to maintain your naturally white teeth:

  • Stay away from foods and beverages that stain your teeth (coffee, tea, wine) especially between meals
  • Brush and floss after each meal
  • If you can not brush and floss after eating try toothpicks, rinsing your mouth with water or chewing sugarless gum
  • Snack on crunchy foods like apples instead of candy and unhealthy foods
  • Talk with your dentist about preventing stains on your teeth, plaque-build up and tooth decay

Talking to Your Dentist

Here are some suggestive questions you may want to ask your dentist about tooth whitening:

  • Which procedures do you offer in office? What are the costs of each?
  • Which procedure do you think would work best on me?
  • In your opinion, how effective are over-the-counter whitening products?
  • Which over-the-counter whitening products do you recommend most?
  • Based on the color of my teeth, how long do you think it will take to reach my whitening goal?
  • How often will I need to re-whiten my teeth?
  • Which whitening toothpaste do you recommend to your patients?
  • Do you have a brochure I can take home to learn more about various whitening procedures?

Page updated September 2012



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