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Are your pearly whites not quite as white as you’d like? There’s a lot you can do to turn your teeth into brighter, dazzling ones. You could get professional bleaching at your dentist’s office, apply a home-use product from your dentist, or use over-the-counter whitening strips. The right option for you depends on how much you want to spend and how quickly you want to see results.

Option 1: Go to a Pro

Your dentist will use a much stronger whitener than anything you could get at the store or online.

Whitening gels used by dentists usually have a 25% to 40% concentration of hydrogen peroxide, says Yiming Li, DDS, Ph.D., professor of restorative dentistry at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry. That’s the stuff that changes the colour of your teeth.

The gel stays on for 15 or 20 minutes. That process is repeated once or twice. Hewlett says you should see a difference in about 45 minutes.

Victor K. Ryoo, DDS, owner of Ryoo Dental in Fullerton, CA, has seen varying results with in-office bleaching.

“People expect that they’ll come in for an hour and that their teeth will be dazzling white and that’s not the case. It will always depend on what the starting point is and what their habits have been in the past,” including whether they’re heavy coffee drinkers or drink red wine, he says.

Option 2: Takeout

Your second option is to ask your dentist to give you a take-home treatment. He’ll take an impression of your teeth and use that to make a fitted top and bottom tray. The whitening gel goes inside the trays. You can choose to whiten in the day or night. Your Dentist will have kits for both.

Most people will see a difference in about 2 to 3 weeks. The treatment only works if you use it, though, so you have to be motivated to follow through with it, Ryoo says.

The main drawback is tooth sensitivity. While any kind of whitening can cause it, stronger products are more likely to bring it on, Hewlett says. “It’s a balance between getting the job done and having it being comfortable.”

Switch to toothpaste for sensitive teeth a week before you start the whitening. Keep using it during treatment. Once you stop whitening, the sensitivity goes away.

Option 3: Do It Yourself

If you’re looking for a wallet-friendly option, consider buying whitening strips at the drugstore. Kits range from about $30 to $65.

They do work, Hewlett says. He suggests you see a dentist first to:

  • Rule out cavities and gum problems.
  • Make sure the colour of your teeth would benefit from the process.

Whitening mouthwashes, on the other hand, probably won’t do much. And whitening toothpaste is designed to remove stains on your teeth, not to make them whiter. Some have a small amount of peroxide, but not enough to change tooth colour. If you’ve already whitened your teeth, these products can help you maintain the colour. Be sure to choose one with fluoride.

How to Keep Them White

Once your teeth are dazzling, you’ll need to whiten them every 6 months or once a year to keep them looking the way you want.

Even after a professional whitening, your teeth can still get stained on the outside from drinking coffee, tea, and red wine, and from smoking. You can also try rinsing out your mouth with water after you sip a dark drink to lower the chances of stains. You can also pass a damp toothbrush over your teeth.

And while it may be tempting to want a blinding movie-star white smile, Li says dentists advise against bleaching too much. Your teeth won’t look natural if they’re lighter than the whites of your eyes.

Feature Reviewed by Alfred D. Wyatt Jr., DMD on January 29, 2016

Sources

Edmond R. Hewlett, DDS, professor of restorative dentistry, UCLA School of Dentistry; associate dean, outreach and diversity.

Yiming Li, DDS, MSD, PhD, professor of restorative dentistry, Loma Linda University School of Dentistry; associate dean, research; director, Center for Dental Research.

Victor K. Ryoo, DDS, Ryoo Dental, Fullerton, CA.

American Dental Association: “Statement on the Safety and Efficacy of Whitening Products.”

Boston University: “The Truth About Teeth Whiteners.”

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