Woman applying the whitening strip

How to Whiten Your Teeth: 4 Methods for Whiter, Brighter Teeth

Almost half of American adults believe a smile is the most memorable feature after meeting someone, according to a survey completed by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD). That could explain why so many dental patients are curious about their teeth whitening options. Whether you just had your braces removed, you're preparing for a big event or you simply want a brighter smile, discover the right whitening treatment.

Start by Talking to Your Dentist

If you are seeking ways to whiten your teeth, start by having a conversation with your dentist. They can help you find the best teeth whitening treatment and point out any risk factors. For example, you may need to address tooth decay or gum disease first so that you can limit tooth sensitivity and gum irritation while whitening. Any whitening treatment will work best on healthy teeth.

The dentist can also identify whether the stains you wish to whiten are extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic stains occur on the surface of the tooth and can usually be removed through mechanical efforts. However, intrinsic stains involve the surfaces beneath the enamel. They require bleaching, a chemical reaction that changes the color of the tooth. The category of stain affects the type, length, and number of treatments needed to obtain the desired result.

Finally, restorations like veneers, crowns, implants, or fillings can not be whitened using traditional methods. You'll need to consult your dentist if you wish to brighten these restorations or the surrounding teeth.

Over-the-counter Teeth Whitening Methods

If brightening your smile from the comfort of your own home sounds appealing, you can start with over-the-counter (OTC) methods to whiten teeth.

Whitening Toothpaste

Whitening toothpaste uses mild abrasives to scrub your tooth's surface and remove extrinsic stains. Though some formulas may contain baking soda or hydrogen peroxide, they rely primarily on polishing instead of bleaching to change the tooth's appearance. Because of this, it may take longer to see results.

TO USE: Replace your regular toothpaste with the whitening toothpaste and brush teeth twice daily for two minutes.

Whitening Strips

Whitening strips apply a thin layer of bleaching agent directly to teeth using a flexible plastic strip. Hydrogen peroxide is usually the active ingredient. Though strips are convenient and cost-effective, they may be difficult to adhere directly to the enamel if your teeth are out of alignment.

TO USE: Whitening strips are typically applied directly to teeth for 30 minutes to an hour. Carefully follow the directions on the label. Incorrect use can lead to tooth sensitivity, gum irritation, and enamel erosion.

In-Office Whitening Solutions

If you desire faster, more dramatic results, you can visit your dentist for more whitening options.

At-Home Whitening Trays

At-home whitening trays use a gel with a range of peroxide concentrations — usually between 10 to 38 percent carbamide peroxide — to gradually bleach your teeth. Your dentist will make a customized tray for the gel to fit comfortably over your teeth. The tray will minimize the amount of contact the gel has with your gums and help prevent irritation.

TO USE: Your dentist will provide instructions for placing the bleaching solution in the tray and how long to leave the tray on your teeth. At-home bleaching kits can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to reach the desired shade.

In-Office Whitening

In-office whitening uses a peroxide gel even stronger than at-home options. Your dentist will shield your gums with a protective gel and then apply the whitening gel. He or she may shine a special light to get the reaction started. The whole process takes about an hour and can usually be accomplished in one visit, although more may be required.

Still, each person's teeth will respond differently to whitening treatments. Before you get started, talk to your dentist about the best option for you. Your dentist can answer any questions you might have about how to whiten your teeth through OTC or in-office treatments and help you make the best decision. Selecting the best teeth whitening method puts you one step closer to a brighter smile and memorable first impression.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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