Whitening 101 - Which Method is Best For You?


Whitening or bleaching of the teeth has been around much longer than you may think. Some reports suggest that even the Ancient Romans attempted to make their teeth whiter. What is the obsession with a pearly smile and how is it achieved safely? Studies show that having white teeth boosts confidence and makes you feel more attractive than if your teeth are dingy. Understanding the two types of staining will allow you, along with your dentist, to choose the best method of getting your smile luminous.

Extrinsic stains are on the surface of the teeth and are removed and prevented by daily plaque and stain removal, i.e., brushing and flossing. Your bi-annual dental cleaning will also remove the more stubborn extrinsic stains caused by smoking, certain foods, and some medications. Intrinsic deposits exist within the tooth. Therefore, administering a bleaching solution will be necessary for optimal results.

First of all, who is the perfect candidate for whitening? Your Dentist will perform an examination and decide if, depending on your oral condition, you would benefit from a whitening procedure. Moreover, your dentist should be consulted first even if you are considering an over-the-counter option.


Anyone considering bleaching should be at least sixteen years of age, have no presence of gingivitis or periodontal disease, possess untreated decay, or is pregnant or nursing. Furthermore, you must take into consideration existing crowns, fillings, or bonding that shows when smiling or talking. These restorations will not lighten with bleaching, so you must decide if you’re prepared to replace any dental work that doesn’t match your new smile.

Whitening regiments used in dentistry today, as well as the over the counter options, are comprised of Hydrogen or Carbimide Peroxide. Both provide excellent results. However, Hydrogen Peroxide tends to work faster. Your dentist will decide which option is best for you based on the results of your examination and causes of staining. The different processes are as follows:

1.   In-Office Whitening- while this is the quickest way to achieve whiteness, it can be very expensive, and you may have to undergo more than one session and follow up with bleaching at home. Choosing this treatment is ideal if you have an important life event coming up and you need results quickly. This method encompasses one or more appointments with your dentist. A barrier will be placed on the soft tissues, and the bleaching solution will be applied to the teeth. A special light or laser will then be positioned near the teeth to activate the solution. Although any bleaching process can cause tooth sensitivity, this method is more likely to produce discomfort. Your dentist may suggest a prescription fluoride paste or a toothpaste containing Potassium Nitrate to counteract the sensitivity.

2.   At-Home Bleaching with custom made trays- this is perhaps the most prevalent dentist prescribed method. Again, Hydrogen or Carbimide Peroxide is administered depending on the type of staining present. In this scenario, impressions of your teeth are taken by the dental professional and made into models which are used to fabricate custom made trays. Your dentist will instruct you on how to fill these trays with the gel and how often to wear them depending on your discoloration.

3.   Over-the-counter products- Retail whitening products range from toothpaste, mouth rinses, or gels. Toothpaste removes stains by incorporating abrasive particles thus polishing the teeth and removing surface stains. They may also contain ingredients such as Hydrogen Peroxide for whitening purposes. Mouth rinses may also contain Hydrogen Peroxide for the purpose of lightening the teeth. Over-the-counter gels work by transferring the gel to the teeth through a thin strip or a tray which aren’t form fitting like the one your dentist would manufacture. There are also gels incorporated in a pen which you paint onto the tooth. Commercially purchased solutions usually contain a much lower percentage of Hydrogen or Carbimide Peroxide than ones obtained through a dental professional.

The bottom line in deciding which avenue to take regarding bleaching is dependent on the severity of your staining. Possessing a yellowish hue is the most common and simplest correction with whitening. Those with a grayish staining will require professional treatments over a longer period. With any bleaching, tooth sensitivity may be an issue. A desensitizing toothpaste containing Potassium Nitrate will remedy this inconvenience. Achieving a sparkling smile is not that challenging and is worth a conversation with your dentist.

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