Breaking Down the Stains: A Guide to Whitening
We all want a bright white, healthy smile, and there are a multitude of products on the market to help us get there. But what works best and how do they get the job done? Here are some things to know before choosing your whitening option:
How Whitening Works
All whitening products use Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) in some form, be it pure or in a less broken down state known as Carbamide Peroxide, to achieve their goal. This oxides the molecules that help to form stains under the surface of your enamel. The stronger the concentration of H2O2, the faster your teeth will whiten.
Not everything will whiten equally. We typically see the best results on yellow/brown extrinsic staining. This kind of staining works from the outside in, and usually comes from things like smoking, red wine, and coffee. Intrinsic stains and gray staining tend to be less receptive to whitening. Also immune are any restorations your dentist has performed. Whatever color those fillings are, that’s where they’ll stay!
Whitening is completely safe! The only real risks associated with the use of these products are teeth sensitivity and gingival irritation, which should cease upon discontinuation of use. If you’ve experienced sensitivity in the past, it’s a good idea to begin using sensitivity toothpaste (we like Sensodyne) 1-2 weeks before you begin using your whitening product. Varying the duration and frequency of treatment, while often resulting in a longer whitening process, can also help keep sensitivity at bay.
- Over the Counter (OTC) products – Whitening strips can easily be found in most grocery and drug stores. There are a wide variety of options to accommodate the duration and frequency you’re looking for. If your teeth are sensitive, there are “gentle” options to be had (~ 6% H2O2 in the Crest 3D Gentle Routine strips), but most strips you buy OTC will be in the 10% range. OTC white strips are cheaper than other options to start, but we find people often need multiple boxes to achieve the desired effect, and the generic fit of an OTC product can lead to a less than ideal result.
- Custom Whitening – Some dental offices (including ours) can create custom fit whitening trays and provide you whitening gel to use at home. The major benefits here are the precise fit, allowing the gel to stay exactly where it needs to be, and the reusability of the trays. At our office, we use gel in the 7.5 – 9.5% H2O2 range. Both are good for long term bleaching, with the lower percentage offering an option to those who experience sensitivity. Once made, you can keep and reuse your trays for years, provided nothing major changes with your teeth or bite.
- In-Office Whitening – This is definitely the fastest, and usually the most expensive, option out there. Contrary to the claims of some systems, lights and lasers have not been shown to make ANY difference in actual whitening. Their main purpose is to dehydrate the teeth, giving an immediate appearance of whiter teeth that fades as the teeth re-hydrate within a few hours. The main active ingredient in this kind of whitening is the concentration of H2O2.Our in-house system, Opalescence Boost, contains 40% H2O2. The effect here is distinctly more immediate and noticeable, but tends to fade much faster than gentle, longer-term methods that can slowly attack the stains. We recommend this route only when someone needs a quick fix for a special occasion.
Whether you’re unsure of which option to choose or just not sure that whitening will work for you, talk to your dentist! They’ll be able to guide you towards the whitening option that will provide the best fit.