Man smiling with perfect teeth.
Man smiling with perfect teeth.
Man smiling with perfect teeth.

Teeth Whitening

Whitening teeth

Many products currently on the market promise whiter, brighter teeth. The American Dental Association (ADA) says that if you are a candidate for a whitening procedure, your dentist may suggest a procedure that can be done in a dental office. Other options include at-home products, which your doctor may give you or you can purchase over-the-counter. But, dental professionals, and the ADA, caution you about the improper use of such over-the-counter products. They are sometimes too abrasive and can damage the teeth with extended use.

The ADA describes "whitening" as any process that will make teeth appear whiter, using one of two ways. A product can bleach the tooth, therefore changing the natural tooth color. A bleach contains peroxide that helps remove deep and surface stains. However, a non-bleaching whitening product contains substances that help remove surface stains only.

Who may benefit from teeth whitening?

Most beneficial Moderately beneficial Not recommended
  • Darkening of teeth with age
  • Age spots
  • Yellow or orange spotting on teeth caused by coffees, teas, berries and other foods, or smoking
  • Teeth with healthy tooth enamel
  • Gray or brown stains caused by excessive intake of fluoridated water (fluorosis)
  • Dark stains caused by smoking and brown or gray stains from the use of certain medicines
  • Overly-sensitive teeth
  • Persons with a gum or mouth disease (periodontal disease or oral cancer)
  • Persons with worn tooth enamel
  • Persons with tooth decay (until the decay is treated)

What are some different teeth-whitening methods?

The dentist will prescribe either an in-office bleaching system while you are in the dental chair, or a dentist-supervised, at-home bleaching, which is more economical and, in many cases, gives the same results.

One option for at-home bleaching involves using a custom-made tray that can be worn comfortably while you are awake or sleeping. The tray is so thin that you should even be able to talk and work while wearing it. Some bleaching systems recommend bleaching your teeth from 2 to 4 hours a day. These usually take 3 to 6 weeks to complete and work best on people with sensitive teeth. Other systems recommend bleaching your teeth at night, while you sleep, which may take only 10 to 14 days to complete. Your dentist can recommend the best system for your needs, and instruct you on the correct usage.

Recently, more over-the-counter products are available that offer simple whitening solutions. However, they may not provide the dramatic improvement that a professional treatment option offers.

Side effects and health risks

The American Dental Association has granted its seal of approval on some teeth whitening products. Talk to your dentist about which products are most effective and safe to use.

Gum irritation and increased tooth sensitivity are the most common side effects of teeth bleaching with peroxide solutions.

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