How to Choose the Best Teeth Whiteners

Who doesn't want a "movie star" sparkling smile? Many types of teeth whiteners are available, including whitening strips, whitening toothpastes and rinses, gels, trays, lights and lasers. What products might work for you? It depends upon the health of your gums, how many composite resin (white-colored) fillings or crowns you have, and the degree of discoloration of your teeth.

What Causes Tooth Discoloration?

As you get older, teeth naturally tend to darken. The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry says there are internal and external factors. Internal causes include tooth decay, restorations, trauma or the use of some antibiotics as a child. External reasons include eating foods with tannins, such as coffee, tea, red wine, carrots and oranges. Smoking also is a big factor in yellowing teeth.

Evaluating Do-It-Yourself Teeth Whitening

For most people, using products at home to whiten teeth can brighten your smile by several shades. What type of product you choose depends upon several factors, including how yellow your teeth are, whether you are able to tolerate a tray or strips in your mouth for 30 minutes or more and how many crowns or other dental restorations you have. Crowns and white fillings are not affected by these products and will not whiten beyond the shade they are when put in.

The American Dental Association (ADA) advises patients to "consult with their dentists to determine the most appropriate whitening treatment." If you've been to the dentist within the past year or so and had no major issues, you should be able to use cosmetic teeth whiteners and see some improvement. However, if you have sensitive teeth, receded gums, more than one crown, dark stains or a single dark tooth, your best course of action is to seek further advice from your dentist.

Choosing a Product

Whitening toothpastes and toothbrushes can brighten your teeth a shade or two by removing stains. Colgate Optic White Toothpaste, when used with the Colgate 360° Optic White Powered Toothbrush, work together to whiten your smile by three shades when used twice daily for four weeks. Also included in the Optic White system is a whitening rinse. Rinses can help release recent stains and work best in conjunction with other products, because the rinse is in your mouth for a short period.

Some brightening toothpastes, such as Colgate Total Advanced Whitening, repel new stains while removing old ones.

Whitening strips and gels are peroxide-based and are applied directly to the teeth. Gels are painted on with a small brush. The higher the percentage of peroxide and the longer you leave the strips or gels on, the brighter your teeth will be.

Another way to whiten teeth is with a tray. The tray is filled with peroxide gel and fits over your teeth. It's kept in the mouth for at least 30 minutes. Store bought trays work well for some people, but others find them uncomfortable. Your dentist can provide a custom-fitted tray system for use at home, which is filled with gel and put into place. The cost of these types of trays is higher than over-the-counter techniques.

Treatments at Your Dentist's Office

Your dentist may recommend a tray/gel combination, where barriers are used to block off gums from the whitening solution, reducing irritation and sensitivity. There also are several whitening methods that involve lights or lasers. These can only be done at your dentist's office. Usually these procedures will whiten your teeth faster than at home treatments.

Other Information

There are few, if any, side effects to using a whitening toothpaste, toothbrush or rinse. Treatments using peroxide can cause irritation and sensitivity, whether used at home or at the dentist's office. Other problems include the strips slipping off the teeth or saliva diluting the gel.

For at least 48 hours after whitening with a peroxide treatment, tooth enamel may be more prone to absorbing stains. Avoiding foods that cause stains will help maintain your bright smile.

Each whitening method fades in time. Whitening strips and gels may last about four months, while professional treatments could last from six months up to a year. Using whitening toothpaste and rinses can help maintain your bright smile longer.

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