Teeth Whitening Treatment: Exactly What You Need To Know

Teeth Whitening Treatment - Exactly What You Need To Know

Are you curious about what teeth whitening treatments work the best? Have you ever wondered if teeth whitening is safe? Are you interested in learning more about over the counter whitening products, including different kinds of toothpaste? As a dentist, I’m constantly asked about my professional opinion on this subject. In this article, I’m going to answer these questions and more as I address everything you need to know about teeth whitening treatment!

First, a little background on teeth color

Let’s start with the teeth themselves. The color of our teeth comes from the layer under the enamel. This layer is called dentin and it is generally a grayish or yellowish color.

If you took antibiotics (usually tetracycline) during the development of your permanent teeth, this can cause staining of the dentin layer. Unfortunately, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to whiten teeth with tetracycline staining.

On the other hand, for most people with normal staining, a more yellow hue responds better to whitening than a gray hue.

How does teeth whitening work?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no actual “bleach” in teeth whitening products. In fact, in most products, the active whitening ingredient is either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Both of these ingredients work by creating a reaction with the molecules in the tooth.

Over the counter teeth whitening

In my office, if a patient wants to whiten with an over the counter product, I typically recommend Crest White Strips. The advantage of this method is it’s cost effective. On the other hand, the disadvantage of this method is that the strips are a specific width. Since not all teeth are the same, getting a uniform result can be a challenge.  

When using Crest White Strips, compliance is key for a positive result. Recommended wear time is 15-30 minutes per day for about 4 weeks. As whitening fades, you can touch up as necessary.

Professional teeth whitening

If you’re interested in professional teeth whitening, dental office dispensed take-home systems use trays that are custom fit to your teeth. Recommended wear time is 15-30 minutes per day and, like other the counter options, compliance is important to achieve optimal results.  

Lastly, in office systems get results more quickly and a treatment lasts about an hour and a half.

RELATED: Root Canal Treatment: Everything You Need to Know

Is there sensitivity associated with whitening?

If you have sensitive teeth, I recommend trying a take-home whitening system. These systems come with a lower concentration of the whitening agent or use a topical fluoride before and after treatment to reduce or eliminate sensitivity.

In my experience, I find most people do not experience sensitivity when whitening their teeth but this is a great option for those that do.

How does whitening affect my existing dental restorations?

You might be surprised to learn that whitening does not weaken existing dental restorations. However, fillings and crowns do not whiten. Therefore, it is important to consider this prior to starting, especially if you have crowns or fillings in your front teeth.

If you are whitening prior to having new fillings or crowns placed, I recommend waiting at least a week between whitening and getting treatment. This provides the necessary time for your teeth color to set in.

Is toothpaste with whitening agents effective?

In my experience, no. Honestly, I have not seen much of a change with the use of whitening toothpaste. They tend to be more abrasive than anything and can lead to tooth sensitivity.

With this in mind, I am not opposed to patients using them. However, before doing so, I always advise them to stop using the toothpaste if their teeth become sensitive.

Red wine is known to stain teeth

Does food affect the color of my teeth?

Darker berries, red wine, dark fruit juices, tea, and coffee can all cause external teeth staining. As you can expect, the staining that occurs is more predominant when brushing and flossing are not performed on a consistent basis.

Fortunately, food stains can be removed by a hygienist at your routine dental appointment and can be improved with whitening (if necessary). Again, if you’re taking good care of your teeth, staining from food is typically kept at a minimum.

The bottom line

If you are considering teeth whitening treatment, consult with your dentist to address all your concerns. In doing so, they will fully evaluate your specific situation and provide you with a custom treatment plan. Together, you and your dentist will determine the best course of treatment for your smile.

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Jennifer Rankin, DDS
Dr. Rankin is a graduate of The University of Iowa School of Dentistry. She met her husband and business partner, Dr. Michael Mingle, in dental school. After graduation, she and Dr. Mingle served in the US Navy providing dental care to service members. Following her service, she returned to Colorado to open Rankin and Mingle Dentistry and has been in practice for over 20 years. Dr. Rankin is a member of The American Academy of Facial Esthetics, Seattle Study Club and is Cerec certified. She has been chosen as a Top Dentist in 5280 Magazine for several years. Dr. Rankin has a passion for health and nutrition and as a professional health coach, is able to help her patients better understand the connection between oral and systemic health. She has 2 children and 3 dogs. Her hobbies include traveling with her family, fitness, cooking, and spending time on the water.