If those pearly whites aren’t as bright as they used to be, a trip to the dentist’s office is a good place to start.
“By seeing a dentist, patients can rule out the possibility that their teeth are dark because of decay, and it’s best to have a professional cleaning before whitening teeth,” says Ted Raybould, D.M.D., professor, University of Kentucky College of Dentistry.
The dentist can also help determine whether your teeth would be appropriate to try whitening, as certain stains don’t respond as well as others. For example, gray/blue stains from taking the antibiotic tetracycline as a child do not whiten well. For those with fillings, veneers, or crowns near the front of the mouth, whitening is not recommended, as only your teeth will whiten, causing a noticeable contrast between the tooth color and that of the filling, veneer, or crown.
Teeth become discolored due to smoking or drinking beverages with dyes, such as cola, tea, and red wine. Teeth also darken with age as micro-fractures develop in the teeth due to wear and tear, resulting in stains deep in the teeth.
White strips purchased either over-the-counter or from the dentist are a more inexpensive way to get results.
“They all work to some degree,” Raybould says. “It takes individual skill and dedication. Some feel the strips are difficult to apply and inconvenient and they end up on a shelf. But the strips are effective and will provide a degree of whitening if used the way they are recommended, depending upon the individual.”
Individuals also can try bleach that is applied directly to the teeth with an applicator, or a kit used to make customized bleaching trays.
“Making a custom tray is not as easy as it looks on television, but they can work,” Raybould says.
Dentists offer methods such as customized bleaching trays or in-office bleaching procedures, including laser whitening.
With bleaching trays, the dentist takes an impression of the patient’s teeth and makes a tray designed to custom-fit the teeth. At home, the patient fills the trays with a bleaching agent and wears the tray for a set amount of time, usually overnight.
“The customized fit allows better contact with the teeth,” Raybould says.
In-office bleach procedures may use lasers or intense lights to enhance the bleach. This treatment usually is done in one sitting, making it the more convenient, yet most expensive, option. Sessions may cost up to $100 per tooth.
“It is good to use a whitening toothpaste to keep teeth whiter longer after bleaching,” Raybould says.
Bleaching has been available for about 20 years and the safety record is excellent.
“It’s safe to do frequently,” Raybould says. “There are no long-term side effects, just temporary sensitivity. Bleaching does not set teeth up for decay.”