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.