Ruth Jones, RDH
When asked what could improve their smile, most adults say “whiter teeth”. It’s no wonder there are so many whitening options on the market today! The most basic and important way to have white teeth is using proper oral hygiene including brushing two times a day for two minutes and cleaning between the teeth (like flossing) at least once a day. But because we are constantly eating and drinking foods that leave strain on our teeth, we may want to add an extra step for whiter teeth. From something as simple as a specific toothpaste to something that will give great results like professional whitening in the dental office, there’s a wide range of approaches. To understand the best option for you, we’ll look at how whitening products work starting with the simplest method and move towards methods with the most noticeable results.
Over-the-counter toothpastes work using a mechanical action rather than chemical. They remove surface stain with safe but abrasive ingredients such as silica and Calcium Pyrophosphate. There is no “bleaching” agent or active ingredients for whitening the teeth. These are great to use on a regular basis for people who build up stain due to coffee and tea.
Charcoal toothpastes have been trending in recent years. These should be used with caution as there is very little research on their efficacy and safety.
The other methods for whitening work by chemical action to whiten deeper into the teeth rather than just the surface. These methods will use either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as the whitening agent. Carbamide peroxide breaks down into hydrogen peroxide, meaning it’s a slower release and usually left on the teeth longer and will be in higher concentrations.
White strips are disposable plastic coated with whitening gel. They contain hydrogen peroxide. Each product will have specific instructions but usually are recommended to be worn 30-60 minutes a day for 2-4 weeks.
Whitening Trays with Gel
Whitening gels come in either hydrogen or carbamide peroxide and in all different concentrations. The benefit of using gel is that you will have custom trays made that will fit more comfortably than a plastic strip and you can use them for several years! You can get gel refills as needed. Like the strips, depending on which gel you use, it will have specific instructions on how long to wear and use the gel. Because of the large variety of concentration and ingredients, they may be recommended 30 minutes – 8 hours. It’s important to know the specific instructions for what you’re using. Full results usually take about 2 – 3 weeks.
Professional Whitening in a Dental Office
Having your teeth professionally whitened in a dental office will give the quickest results. The appointment will be 1-2 hours. Usually using a carbamide peroxide in a high concentration, the gel is essentially painted on the teeth and left for 2-3 sessions of 20 minutes. Because the concentration is so much higher is works faster but can also be harmful to your gum tissue which is why it’s only used in a dental office.
The results of each option will vary based on each individual’s oral hygiene habits, foods that they eat, dark drinks such as coffee, tea and soda, and use of tobacco products. With great oral hygiene and minimal dark drinks, results can last up to a year.
Chemical whitening products can cause sensitivity of the teeth which is why it’s important to use as instructed for each product. You can talk with a dental professional about ways to minimize the sensitivity with products such as an anti-sensitivity toothpaste, fluoride or MI paste.
It’s also important to remember that no whitening products will change the color of dental restorations.
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