The top things you need to know about tooth whitening - What works and what doesn't? Skip to main content
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The top things you need to know about tooth whitening – What works and what doesn’t?

Nearly everyone in America loves a clean, bright smile. Many people are very satisfied with the healthy, fresh smile that the combination of routine professional dental care with consistent home care can provide.

However, a growing number of Americans are seeking that extra sparkle in their smile, and are going about that search in different ways – ranging from simpler over-the-counter methods such as whitening mouth rinses and toothpastes to in-office professional, light-enhanced dental whitening. So this begs the question – what is the best way to get that extra sparkle in my smile?

Let’s start by stating that health and beauty usually go together. A healthy mouth is cosmetically pleasing, and vice versa. Step one for any individual seeking that pearly white smile is a comprehensive dental evaluation to determine the current condition of your mouth, as well as what options are best for you.

“So why do I need to go to the dentist just to get my teeth whitened? Can’t I just brush with whitening toothpaste, use whitening mouth rinse, and try Crest white strips?” The answer is because every patient is unique, and some situations will require different approaches to achieve optimal success. For example, there are a wide variety of causes of tooth discoloration – including substances that range from wine, coffee, tobacco, and more to underlying causes such as darkening from premature Tetracycline usage and root canal treatment. Each situation has a different solution, and your dentist is the most qualified individual to evaluate the situation and determine that solution.

So let’s get down to what most people want to know: Which method does what? Here’s some information on the most common forms of tooth whitening –

(1) Whitening toothpastes contain mild abrasives that do help with removal of surface stains. They do not contain bleaching agents, and will not change the existing color of the tooth.

(2) Whitening mouth rinses occasionally do contain the active bleaching agents that are necessary to brighten the color of your teeth, but unfortunately are not very effective in getting a substantial result. The bleaching agent (carbamide peroxide/hydrogen peroxide) requires time to work, and the brief contact attained by swishing for 30 seconds just doesn’t cut it. While supplemental mouth rinses (such as Listerine and Crest) are essential to a good oral hygiene regimen, they are not an ideal, effective agent for whitening your teeth.

(3) Crest White Strips and other topical agents ARE effective, but not ideal, for whitening your teeth. They have the key factors of having the active bleaching agent mentioned above, as well as a prolonged contact time with your teeth. The downside of these strips is that they are not custom fit delivery agents – and thus, they will not evenly deliver the bleaching agent to your teeth. Another important consideration is that the bleaching agent in the strips is strong enough not only to whiten your teeth, but also strong enough to irritate your gums – the factory-fit strips will not ideally contain the bleaching material, and gum irritation is more likely to occur.

(4) Custom-fabricated professional bleaching trays are the best and most proven method for treating most forms of tooth discoloration. The custom fit trays allow prolonged delivery of the 10-22% carbamide peroxide/hydrogen peroxide bleaching agent to your teeth in an evenly distributed fashion while protecting your gum tissue better than factory strips. Most at-home bleaching regimens recommend starting with a lower strength 10% agent and sleeping with your trays in, and gradually progressing to a higher strength / 30-60 minute regimen. An additional benefit of custom trays is the ability to treat the expected side-effect of tooth sensitivity from bleaching – desensitizing agent can be loaded into the trays in the same fashion as bleaching gel to ease any discomfort

(5) Light-enhanced bleaching (Zoom, BrightSmile, etc) is a relatively new in-office, one hour technique that employs high-strength bleaching agent (carbamide peroxide/hydrogen peroxide) being activated by a plasma or LED light source to enhance the magnitude and speed of the bleaching agent. Here at Rivertown Dental Care, we offer one hour ZOOM whitening procedures – please call or visit us for more information on this technique!

(6) Lastly, sometimes there are rare cases in which the above mentioned techniques do not adequately address tooth discoloration. One example is darkening from root canal procedures due to a combination of pulp removal and staining – a situation like this requires a dentist to apply the carbamide peroxide bleaching agent into the pulp chamber of the tooth, and allow it to remain for several days at a time to achieve the desired results. Other cases in which topical bleaching may prove inadequate are tetracycline staining and genetic disorders that result in compromised tooth calcification. In these cases, and as is the case whenever there is any doubt – it’s best to consult your dentist for a solution tailored to your situation.

Please feel free to contact us at Rivertown Dental Care for any of your tooth whitening concerns. We have several experts here ready and willing to evaluate your needs!

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