Looking for a brighter, whiter smile? You have many teeth-whitening methods to choose from. You can do-it-yourself with over-the-counter products including toothpastes, mouthwashes, and bleaching applicator strips or bleaching gels applied with one-size-fits-all teeth trays. Hint: the one-size-fits-all dental trays may or may not fit your own mouth very well.
Or you can choose to have your teeth professionally whitened by a dental professional. In-office dental treatments cost more but also more quickly and safely lighten teeth to brighter shades of white with less risk of mouth irritation. For instance, your dentist can custom fit a dental tray for you so that whitening chemicals will better cover your teeth – and not leak out to bother your gums. Dentists also protect patients’ gums from bleaching chemicals with gels or rubber guards. Some dentists activate whitening products with special lasers or lights. In-office treatments normally whiten smiles to patients’ satisfaction in just one office visit, although up to three consecutive visits also are common. After in-office treatments, dentists often send patients home with whiteners to apply themselves with custom-made trays to further treat certain types of stains that are difficult to remove or to preserve their new whiter smile.
Teeth whitening may cause temporary tooth sensitivity or gum irritation, even with professional application, although normally this lasts just a few days and “sensitivity” type toothpastes containing potassium nitrate can help. Teeth whiteners normally pose little risk to teeth and gums – if applied correctly, so be careful to follow package directions for at-home treatments and avoid overuse. Consult your dentist about any continued problems with sensitivity or irritation, even from self-administered over-the-counter treatments.
Whether you choose an over-the-counter whitening treatment or a professional in-office visit, the products applied will contain one of two active ingredients: hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which incorporates hydrogen peroxide. However, in-office whitening products offer a much higher concentration or strength of hydrogen peroxide, which is why professional application is required.
Whether done at home or in-office, teeth bleaching treatments work best on yellow stains, followed by brown discolorations. These are the types of stains frequently found on the tooth’s enamel, or outermost surface layer. Gray stains in a tooth’s under or inside layer caused by early childhood antibiotic use are difficult to treat and respond littleto lightening treatments. Inner-tooth discolorations caused by a physical injury to the tooth also are difficult to remedy with conventional enamel whitening. And whitening only lightens natural tooth enamel, not crowns, veneers, and other teeth restorations.
One type of deep interior dental stain, however, can be bleached with a special treatment to the inside of the tooth – stains caused by root canals.
Experts say not everyone is a good candidate for teeth bleaching, including pregnant and nursing women. Youngsters under age 16 should avoid bleaching as well since the chemicals could irritate the inner pulp in their maturing teeth. Teeth cavities should always receive dental care before bleaching because the chemicals can seep through the cavity into the tooth’s core.