Whiter, Brighter Teeth with the Help of Your Dental Provider

Mary Mieth Lontchar, RDH, MA

by Mary Mieth Lontchar, RDH, MA | October 29, 2010 @ 10:00PM

E-MailE-Mail PrintPrint Share Text Size Down Text Size UpText Size


Tooth whitening is one of the easiest ways to improve your appearance. Whiter teeth can boost your self-esteem and confidence. But as we age, so do our teeth. Years of drinking coffee, tea, cola, red wine, and smoking eventually take their toll on teeth. The results are dull, yellowish-colored teeth. Some teeth may have darker gray-colored stains due to antibiotics. Most teeth will benefit from tooth whitening, a proven safe and effective way to brighten stained, discolored teeth.


It's as easy as talking to your dentist to start whitening your teeth.
Most dentists offer at-home tooth whitening as a cosmetic dental procedure. Products prescribed by dental professionals for home use have proven to work without doing harm to the teeth or gums and with a lasting color change. Some dentists perform in-office whitening procedures for patients wanting quicker results or who have darker stains. Be sure to discuss your whitening goals with your dentist. If you have dark yellow teeth, it is not realistic to expect your teeth to be as white as new fallen snow. You can expect teeth that are two to three shades lighter than what your teeth were before whitening. If you have very sensitive teeth or periodontal (gum) disease, tooth whitening may not be for you. Your dentist can advise you on the type of whitening product and the length of time needed to whiten your teeth, based on the amount of tooth discoloration and your specific needs and wants.

Different people have different tooth whitening needs.
Some people want whiter teeth in a few days, while others simply want their teeth whiter, no matter how long it takes. Depending on the strength of the whitening product used and the length of time it is in contact with the teeth, results can be seen within an hour, overnight, or within three to four days. Complete results can be achieved in as little as a week or as much as several months depending on the source or darkness of the stain.

All whitening products contain peroxide.
Either as carbamide peroxide (CP) or hydrogen peroxide (HP), Peroxide dissolves the organic stains in the tooth to change the color and produce a whitened effect. There are four types of peroxide-containing tooth whitening products available:

  • In-office products are applied by a dental professional. These products contain a high percentage of CP or HP and are applied directly to the teeth, some activated by heat, light, or laser. If you're in a hurry for whiter teeth and you don't have tooth sensitivity, this may be the product for you. For very dark-colored teeth, the whitening process can be sped up in two to three hours followed by an at-home product until the desired whiteness is achieved.
  • An at-home product, supervised by a dentist, is the most popular whitening method. These products contain a lesser percentage of CP or HP than in-office products and are worn in a tray overnight or during the day at home. A custom-fitted tray is made to hold the whitening product directly against the teeth while lessening its contact with the gums. Some products have fluoride added to help prevent or treat mild tooth sensitivities. When the tray is worn overnight, the typical stains of aging will whiten in seven to 14 days.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) whitening products contain a small percentage of HP or CP. Caution should be used with these products as many contain an acidic solution that can wear away tooth enamel – the tooth's outer surface. OTC products use a bulky, one-size-fits-all tray to hold the product. Because of the tray's poor fit against the teeth, usually more product is swallowed than stays in the tray. It can take up to six months and the purchase of several kits to get whiter teeth. Flexible strips coated with whitening gel have recently been introduced as an OTC at-home tooth whitening method. The strips are worn on the front teeth and folded over to keep them in place. Results are reported to be noticeable after fourteen days and effective for 6 months.
  • Over-the-counter whitening toothpastes contain a small percentage of HP, CP, or polishing ingredient. The toothpastes are effective in keeping teeth cleaner and whiter looking, but some may be very abrasive. With repeated use, the harsh abrasive will wear away the enamel gradually making the teeth look yellow. Whitening toothpastes remove surface stains and prevent new stains from building up. However, whitening toothpastes aren't in contact with the teeth long enough to remove internal stains. Ask your dental professional about the safety and cavity protection of specific toothpastes before you buy.

Tooth whitening, when supervised by a dentist, is effective and safe.
It is difficult to predict how much whiter your teeth will become. Successful whitening depends on the type of stain and your compliance. Every person is different, but most people will see a definite change in tooth color. Stains caused by age, tobacco, coffee, and teas will be lightened the most by peroxide-containing whitening products. Darker stains, those caused by antibiotics, respond less reliably. Your dentist may suggest another cosmetic procedure, such as porcelain veneers, capping, or bonding to complete treatment. Some people may have short-term side effects during treatment. Slight gum irritation or tooth sensitivity may occur, but will end when treatment is completed.

It is important to know that if you have tooth colored fillings or crowns, they will not whiten. If the filling or crown is visible when you smile, you'll want to have them replaced to match the new, whiter tooth color.

Tooth whitening should last from one to 10 years.
The cleaner you keep your teeth with daily brushing and flossing, the longer your teeth will keep their whiteness. Depending on your personal habits, such as smoking and coffee drinking, you may want to touch up every two to four years. This shouldn't be as costly and time consuming as the original whitening procedure.

Tooth whitening may be the option you've been looking for to brighten your smile. What are you waiting for?


American Dental Association, Council on Dental Therapeutics. ADA statement on the safety of hydrogen peroxide-containing dental products intended for home use. JADA 125(8):1140-2, 1994.

Haywood VB, et al. Effectiveness, side effects and long-term status of nightguard vital bleaching. JADA 125(9):1219-26, 1994.

Haywood VB, Heymann HO. Nightguard vital bleaching. Quintessence Int 20:173-6, 1989.

Weisman G. An enlightened approach. Dent Products 34:18-25, 2000.

Back to Top

blog comments powered by Disqus
Plastic Surgery Studios Network PlasticSurgery.com CosmeticSurgery.com ienhance Beauty Chat Blog iEnhance on Facebook iEnhance on Twitter