Teeth Whitening: What’s Best?

If you are interested in getting whiter teeth for a brighter smile, you’ve probably noticed a confusing array of teeth whitening systems on the market.  Strips, trays, rinses, lasers… do they work?  Are they safe?

Most teeth whitening products use varying strengths of peroxide, which safely bleaches away stains.

When it comes to these products, an old adage applies:  You get what you pay for.  Many of the products you’ll find at the drug store will give you whiter teeth, and some of the newer ones give fairly good results. They are not nearly as effective as those available from your dentist, but I am fine with my patients using them – as long as they carefully follow all instructions.

I do caution folks against using any product that is too acidic.  Acid scratches a tooth’s enamel and those scratches will pick up stains. A few things to keep in mind when purchasing these products:

  • Peroxide levels vary – the stronger the product, the better the results.
  • Most whitening strips only fit over the front s­­­­­ix or eight teeth, which may or may not be enough for you.
  • Over-the-counter tray systems touch all teeth, but one-size-fits-all trays tend to bleach unevenly and are often bulky and uncomfortable.

Studies have shown that the best results come from using a custom tray system, with a tray made to fit your teeth. This ensures that the fit is optimal and all teeth evenly bleached.  We use this system in our office.

We also use products that are much stronger than you than can buy over-the-counter.  A custom-made tray combined with stronger products give the most effective results.

What about heat or laser treatments? With these, peroxide is put onto the teeth and then some type of light or laser is directed at them to activate the peroxide.  Although immediately effective, I don’t do these types of treatments because they are costly and have short-term results.  Still, if you’ve got a special occasion coming up soon, this type of treatment might meet your immediate needs.

There are a couple of downsides to using teeth whitening products.  One is that they don’t work well for everyone.  Yellow/brown teeth tend to bleach well, but blue-ish/gray teeth typically do not. Also, bleaches only work on real teeth – they have no effect on crowns or implants.

Finally, some people find that the peroxide in these products irritates their gums.  I’m one of those people!  Using products every third day instead of every day may help you.

If you have questions about over-the-counter products, ask your dentist. Better yet, take the product that interests you to your next dentist appointment so you can decipher the label of ingredients together.

Are you safe at the dentist?

The news out of Oklahoma a few months ago  was beyond disturbing – it was shocking. More than 50 patients of a Tulsa dentist contracted serious illnesses because of unsterile practices at his dental office.

News reports revealed that, among other things, the Tulsa dentist apparently reused the same needles on different patients and used bleach instead of proper sterilizing methods for his dental tools.

Since then, media across the country have found and reported on patient complaints about sterilization.  This attention reminds us that:

1.)    Cases such as the Oklahoma dentist are extremely rare

2.)    Patients have every right to ask questions about dental practices

In our office, we’re happy to give interested patients a tour of our sterilization room, which includes:

  • A “dirty side” for recently used equipment and a “clean side” for sterilized equipment
  • An ultrasonic cleaner, which cleans by using ultrasound waves passed through a liquid cleaning solution.
  • The steam autoclave, which sterilizes the instruments with high pressure saturated steam at nearly 250 degrees.
  • Sterilized equipment waiting inside sterile bags for me or my staff to use while wearing medical gloves.

After each patient appointment, all metal instruments are sterilized.  And everything that is plastic, paper or gauze is thrown away.  This includes everything from the paper “bib” around your neck to the plastic suction tube your hygienist uses during a cleaning.

Also between patient visits, every chair, countertop, light and so on is disinfected with antibacterial wipes. Even the keyboard on my computer has a plastic covering that is replaced each time!

All of these are standard procedures to keep dental patients healthy and safe.  I’ve been a dentist for 30 year now and believe that the vast majority of dentists follow these practices.

Still, just as medical patients have become empowered to ask questions in a doctor’s office or at the hospital, dental patients should ask any questions they have.

If you have a concern, voice it.  Don’t feel odd about saying, “I’m concerned about sterilization.  What do you do in your office?”

You have every right to ask the question – and to get an answer that satisfies you.