Tooth Whitening: Options Abound

Advances in tooth whitening procedures and the acceptance of said advances by dental professionals have caused a surge in this area of cosmetic dentistry. Bleaching procedures are less troublesome, messy, and time-consuming than ever before. Today, it’s easier than ever to obtain a brighter smile, and procedures are no longer restricted to the dentist’s office.

You’ve probably seen the explosion of at-home tooth whitening products. There are complete whitening systems like BriteSmile, and Nite White, whitening toothpastes by Rembrandt, Crest whitening strips, paint on gels, and many other products on the market, today.

So which is better: professional, or do-it-yourself tooth whitening? And which at-home products are most effective? Let’s take a look at the options:

Professional Tooth Whitening

Many bleaching procedures administered by a dentist no longer require the use of laser tooth whitening, the application of intense heat to activate whitening agents, which were often runny, and foul-tasting. Yes, light activated bleaching agents generally work much faster. The Zoom! tooth whitening system, for example, utilizes light activation, and generally lightens teeth 6 to 10 shades in about an hour. Those looking for less harsh treatments, those with sensitive teeth and gums, those looking to spend less, and those looking for more subtle whitening now have more options.

Today’s popular bleaching systems utilize carbamide peroxide tooth whitening gels. Your dentist makes a mold of your teeth, and this mold is used to create a custom-fitted bleaching tray, into which the carbamide gel is inserted. The trays are used for about an hour in-office, and/or used at home with pre-filled carbamide peroxide gel syringes.

When a dentist administers a whitening procedure, there is the inconvenience of having to go the office, but, dental professionals have access to much stronger peroxide solutions than the average person could get over the counter. Also, professional tooth whitening yields the benefit of a procedure done by someone with experience, someone who knows your dental history well.

Tooth Whitening At Home

The big difference between in-office tooth whitening systems and at-home whitening products is the amount of peroxide included in the whitening gel. Your dentist can administer a product with 38% peroxide, per say, but this concentration is not available in over the counter products, as it would breach safety regulations. At home, you’re dealing with about 12% strength, or much less.

Here is a quick run-down of at-home tooth whitening products:

Dental Trays

Most dental trays are boiled, and then custom fitted to the teeth, just as you would with an athletic mouth guard. Easy to use syringes full of whitening gel — often in pleasant flavors — are used with the tray to bleach the teeth.

Opalescence has made the bleaching tray method easier with their TresWhite System. The TresWhite kit comes with 10 trays, which mold to the teeth without boiling. The trays are also pre-filled with Opalescence tooth whitening gel, in yummy flavors. You just pop ’em in, and wait.

Whitening Tooth Pastes

Whitening tooth pastes are not as effective as bleaching trays, however, they do make teeth noticeably whiter. Some whitening toothpastes scrub stains form the teeth, but it’s important to avoid prolonged use of the most abrasive tooth pastes. Too much abrasiveness can strip the enamel from the teeth, damaging them.

Whitening Strips

Whitening strips are pressed onto the teeth. They allow the user more freedom and mobility, but, whitening strips are generally frowned upon by dental professionals. This is because they don’t cover the teeth evenly, and often miss several teeth all together.

Brush-on Tooth Whiteners

Perhaps you’ve seen brush-on whitening gels, like Liquid Smile. They allow the user to spot-treat discolored teeth. Brush-on gels are rather useful, because it’s often that tooth discoloration is not even. One can spot-treat, targeting an individual tooth, or one can treat all of the teeth. Brush on gels also offer more comfort than whitening trays. Some brush-on gels are weak, and others, like Liquid Smile, have a 12% peroxide concentration.

In Comparison

Overall, the in-office-at-home combo tooth whitening systems seem to provide a good balance. You have the supervision and instruction of an experienced dental professional, and you also get the ability to do most of your bleaching on your own time, while watching television, or reading a book.

In terms of cost, light activated and laser treatments are the best buy. The combo tooth whiteners come in second. With products like Opalescence, you can achieve in two weeks what it would take you months to do with over the counter products. Most whitening tooth pastes, strips, and paint-on gels will never get your teeth as bright as professional bleaching will. Weaker whitening gels are cheap, but generally not worth the time and effort.

The Disadvantages of Tooth Whitening

The disadvantages of tooth whitening are few. The most common complaint is hyper-sensitivity felt within the teeth and gums, so those with sensitive teeth looking to brighten their smiles are advised to use less harsh products. A toothpaste for sensitive teeth, like Sensodyne, can provide comfort both before and during tooth whitening procedures.

Once the teeth are chemically whitened, they will always be lighter than they were before whitening, though some people will desire single touch-up procedures every four to six months, to keep the teeth as bright as they were after initial procedures.

Those with unhealthy teeth or ailments of the mouth should not use tooth whitening systems.

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