There’s something to be said about teeth that are so white and bright that they almost gleam and glow. For years (25 to be exact), dentists have turned to the stain-erasing power of tooth whiteners simply because the results they deliver are dramatic enough to take your smile from drab to fab. But, with so many different options out there (and so many myths about whitening, too), understanding exactly how they work and then finding the right one for you can be a daunting task. However, when you finally discover the right option, it can make a world of difference in your smile.
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Both in-office and at-home whitening treatments are effective, and most rely on the same ingredient, bleach, to lighten teeth, while others boast of proprietary ingredients. One of two forms of bleach can be used—hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which breaks down into hydrogen peroxide. On average, in-office treatments use bleaching agents in concentrations as high as 35 percent; over-the-counter options weigh in at around 10 to 22 percent. The strength of the bleach, as well as how long it is left on the teeth, determines which stains will be lifted, how bright the teeth will be and how soon you’ll see results. “Bleaching is the number-one cosmetic dental treatment because it is the least expensive way to improve the smile,” says Atlanta cosmetic dentist Ronald Goldstein, DDS. But before you decide to whiten your teeth (regardless of which treatment you choose), a good cleaning is a must to remove any debris that could prevent the bleaching agent from fully penetrating them.
Here are four at-home ways to get your teeth brighter and whiter in no time.
Whitening strips release bleach into the teeth via a moldable strip that wraps around the teeth. Most strips are to be left on for about 30 minutes, but you’ll need to wear them consecutively for a few days or up to a few weeks (as instructed) to see a difference. However, if you abuse them, you can increase your risk for sensitivity. Dr. Goldstein adds that strips don’t cover the back molars, which may be in your smile zone.
Whitening trays can either be pre-made or customized. They can also be slept in to deliver a steady stream of bleach directly into the teeth. “The use of a correctly fabricated tray during sleep can prevent saliva from seeping into the tray, therefore making the material do its job more effectively,” says Wellington, FL, cosmetic dentist Sam Sadati, DDS. After two weeks, teeth should appear brighter.
Light-Based Lightening Kits
You may recognize these devices from social media—celebs love to post pictures with whitening lights in their mouths. The miniature LED lights are thought to function the same way as those done in-office. The light accelerates the bleaching process (gel needs to be applied to the teeth first), although these treatments aren’t as strong as what your dentist can provide.
Loaded with low-dose whitening agents and/or mild abrasives, whitening toothpastes work to gently lift up stains (some formulas even use carbon to brighten). “Whitening toothpastes that contain more abrasive ingredients will help to prevent stains from forming on your teeth,” says Wayne, NJ, cosmetic dentist Donald Spitzer, DDS. Generally, these are the most inexpensive way to get whiter teeth.