Does a megawatt smile have to cost megabucks? After all, some dentists have questioned the safety and effectiveness of home-whitening kids. We went to the experts to learn the truth about whitening your teeth.
The first thing to know? Most teeth-whitening products can’t reduce every type of stain. “They’ll help if you have surface stains caused by things like coffee, smoking, and wine,” explains Lyndon Cooper, D.D.S., Ph.D., former president of the American College of Prosthodontists. “They can also help some intrinsic stains, caused by things like too much fluoride.” But if you have stains caused by trauma or a genetic problem, these products won’t help.
If you’ve always had yellow teeth, you should see a prosthodonist—it could be one of the more severe types of stains. If your teeth gradually discolored over the years, however, the problem probably exists on the surface, meaning you can whiten them without the aid of a professional. Here’s how.
“These have bleaching chemicals and a mild abrasive that helps clean the tooth,” says Dr. Cooper. “And you don’t need to worry about the abrasive scratching your enamel.” If your teeth can handle the brushing, they can usually handle the paste. Just don’t use them more than three times a day, and consider combining the toothpaste with one of the other methods below.
“The bleach enters the pores of your teeth,” Cooper says, “and lightens the inside of the enamel, making them up to two shades lighter.” A common concern is that bleach dehydrates the tooth, causing white spots, but it’s not a major problem. “The tooth recovers very shortly after bleaching,” Cooper says.
“Avoid wine, coffee, and chocolate for up to 40 minutes after whitening,” he says. “These bleaching products open up the pores in your teeth, exposing them to anything you put in your mouth afterward.”
Another thing to keep in mind: Sensitivity. If the strips cause any pain, stop using them and see a dentist or prosthodontist.
Dentist-supervised bleaching trays
Haven’t heard of ‘em? A dentist customizes trays to your teeth and gives you a whitening agent to use at home. How long you keep it in your mouth and how often you use it depends on the prescription.
Unlike the white strips, this whitens all of your teeth—not just the ones in the front. Not just that, it allows for a higher concentration of bleach, which is why this method is the most effective.
The drawbacks: “Just be extra careful if you have sensitive teeth,” says Dr. Cooper. “This should be supervised by your prosthodonitst or dentist, because of the high levels of bleach.” It will also set you back at least $300.
Dr. Cooper has one last piece of advice: Begin your teeth-whitening regimen—even whitening strips—a few weeks before your annual dentist visit. “This way your dentist can address any sensitivity issues,” he says. “And if the product doesn’t work, he or she can determine if the discoloration is more serious.”