Teeth Whitening: What Works

There’s an abundance of products on the market promising whiter, brighter teeth.

The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry cites teeth whitening as the most requested cosmetic service today, and Americans have made it a $1.4 billion dollar industry. But what works and what’s a waste of time and money?

The product: Whitening toothpaste. Slightly removes surface stains and whitens teeth over a period of 4 weeks.

The scoop: Glenview dentist Gavin Green explains, “Whitening toothpaste has minimal effect on overall whitening results. Although most whitening toothpastes contain the active ingredient carbamide peroxide, contact time is not long enough. Alternatively, some are abrasive, which does remove stains.”

The product: White strips. A pre-measured amount of hydrogen peroxide (typically between 3-14%); results in 1-3 weeks depending on the type of kit.

The scoop: Chicago dentist Richard Hoffman recommends white strips like Crest as the best over-the-counter whitening solution. “Although they have a smaller percentage of bleach and can sometimes be difficult to apply, they are safe and effective. Be prepared to buy more than one box.”

The product: Custom fitted trays. Dentists administer precise levels of hydrogen peroxide of up to 32%, depending on the state of your teeth.

The scoop: “If you prefer something stronger than white strips, office bleaching is the way to go. Purchase take-home trays from your dentist,” says Hoffman. Green also sees best results from custom trays and says, “Expect to pay $300-$600 for trays with a bleaching kit.”

The product: In-office laser whitening. Laser light is used to penetrate whitening gel composed of 15-25% hydrogen peroxide onto teeth. It’s the quickest but most costly procedure, and involves follow-up appointments.

The scoop: Hoffman recommends skipping these expensive treatments in favor of the take-home trays. He warns that, “While laser treatments are currently popular, they need to be supplemented with other products like custom trays.” Prices range from $350-$700.

Getting the Perfect Smile
Whitening products include various levels of peroxide, and depending on the state of your teeth, the amount of whitening necessary will differ from person to person. Before bleaching, patients should have their teeth cleaned and make sure their teeth are healthy.

A common side effect is hypersensitivity; however, special toothpastes for sensitive teeth will help. Green recommends Sensodyne toothpaste and explains, “Now most brands have a product with potassium nitrate which reduces sensitivity. Everyone should use a low abrasive fluoride toothpaste with a soft bristled brush.”

Beware Over-bleaching

We’ve all seen those people with teeth so white, they appear bluish or translucent. This occurs when patients over-bleach, sometimes losing perspective on what looks natural.

It’s best to take a break between periods of whitening because, in addition to looking unnatural, over-bleaching poses health risks. “When you over-bleach, you alter the crystal structure and enamel of your teeth. While you don’t have to worry about teeth falling out, your teeth will definitely weaken and become more translucent and porous,” says Hoffman.

Keep these tips in mind and your smile will thank you!