For a lot of people, their smiles can be a problem for their confidence. More and more people are looking for cosmetic solutions to fix their smile – braces, whitening or even veneers. Watching Hollywood movies, TV shows, and music videos, we’re inundated with pictures of perfect sets of teeth, and so many people try and carry out teeth whitening at home by themselves or go to their dentist.
Yellow teeth stained by coffee, wine, cigarettes or just daily life is something people are increasingly seeking to fix. But many people aren’t sure how it works and the risks – Is teeth whitening safe? Can I do it by myself? Can I trust my dentist to do it or do I need a specialist? So below, we have sourced and selected the best teeth whitening options for you on the market – both at home and at the dentist!
Table of contents
- Who can perform teeth-whitening
- How it works
- Prevention vs. treatment
- Managing side-effects
- Longer-lasting results
- Sensitive teeth
- Over-the-counter products
What is teeth whitening
Teeth whitening uses a particular bleaching product to re-stain your teeth from yellow to white. Most teeth whitening solutions will not make your teeth like Hollywood movie stars – but it will brighten and lighten them, leaving you with a beautiful, healthy smile and more confidence.
There are so many reasons why someone might want to get teeth whitening – everyone is different! Just as one person chooses yellow shoes and the other person red shoes, people feel different ways about their teeth. As we get older, the stains on our teeth get worse – drinking more coffee to keep us awake at work, more red wine at dinner with friends and (if we smoke) relying more on cigarettes to get through the stress of work and kids all add to the problem, and we lose confidence!
Before we get into the details of tooth-whitening and the different procedures available, let’s take a minute to meet the enemy that’s causing all of this! What are tooth stains anyway? How do they happen?
- Teeth are composed of an inner dentin layer and a hard outer enamel surface, which has the role to protect the teeth from damage. When you put anything in your mouth – coffee, food, alcohol, cigarette smoke — another layer gradually forms on top of the enamel layer. The foreign material accumulates to form a pellicle film over the coating layer. If this builds, it leads to stains.
- A dentist can clean away this film, through the use of scraping mechanisms and different chemical treatments.
- Brushing your teeth can remove some of it – using a toothpaste with abrasive ingredients cleans the tooth just like scrubbing with an abrasive pad would clean a dish. “Whitening toothpaste” are designed to get to work on this layer.
- The issue with staining is, this pellicle layer sits on your teeth for years and years, the foreign material gets into the enamel and begins to attack it.
- The enamel layer contains hydroxyapatite crystals, which make up the so-called microscopic hexagonal “rods.” In other words, enamel is porous; the staining agents can work their way down into the tooth, where you can’t simply scour them away. Stains are mostly harmless to teeth, but many people find them unattractive, hence why they seek teeth whitening solutions.
This is where cosmetic teeth whitening comes in. In short, the assortment of teeth whitening solutions and procedures use bleaching elements to penetrate the tooth enamel and produce a chemical reaction (more exactly, an oxidation reaction) that destroys the staining compounds, flush them away and whiten teeth.
Most tooth whiteners use one of two chemical agents to give you a pearly smile: carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide (the same chemical that bleaches hair). When applied on tooth stains, carbamide peroxide disintegrates into hydrogen peroxide and urea; the first one is the active whitening agent.
Who can perform teeth whitening?
Teeth whitening is like any other dentistry procedure and so should ideally be done by a qualified medical professional. If you use an ‘at-home’ kit, it’s important to ensure it’s been certified and endorsed by medical professionals. Dental hygienists, nurses and other qualified dental practitioners are also qualified to perform the procedure, in addition to dentists.
Recently, many beauty salons and cosmeticians have started offering teeth whitening procedures and products at salons, but this is illegal in the United States, Europe, and the United Kingdom unless there is a qualified dental practitioner present. Undergoing an invasive teeth whitening procedure without a proper health care professional there can seriously damage your oral health. Performing teeth whitening at home with uncertified products also carries similar risks.
How Does Teeth Whitening Work?
When you undergo a teeth whitening procedure at the dentist, it’s important to know what to expect and to understand the procedure yourself, so you feel comfortable, and you know how to correctly select the right system for you.
If you have teeth whitening performed by a dental professional or even if you use an ‘at-home’ kit, you will need to carry out the procedure several times before you start to see results. If you are seeing a dental professional, then you will have to make several visits to the dentist over several weeks or months. If you’re using an ‘at-home’ kit, then you will need to reapply the treatment several times over a similar period.
If you are going to use a dental professional to carry out the whitening procedure, make sure to check that they are registered with your national dental council.
Here is a general outline of what happens at the dentist if you choose the professional option:
- The dentist will begin by taking an impression of your teeth using a mouthguard filled with a soft material, which hardens after you bite into it.
- The impression is left to harden fully, and then the dentist will use this to create a mouthguard. This mouthguard will be made of a rubber shield or plastic to protect your gums from the bleach
- This mouthguard is what you’ll use to whiten your teeth – you fill it with the bleaching gel and usually go to sleep with the mouthguard in. This usually contains hydrogen peroxide (yes – the same thing women use in their hair!) or carbamide peroxide. As the active ingredient is broken down, o2 (oxygen) works its way into the enamel on the teeth, and thus lightens the teeth by removing the stains.
- This process is repeated as many times as the dentist sees fit – normally, it is every night for 2-4 weeks.
- If you can leave the whitening gel on overnight, for 8 hours, then typically the treatment period is shorter, lasting over a week.
- The bleaching procedure usually lifts your teeth from three to four shades lighter, but if done well, can lift your tooth shade up to seven shades lighter.
Typically, if this procedure is done well by a professional it will cost upwards of $500, and this value is repeated per session that you have. The mouthpiece is around $400 and costs more for more effective fits and shapes.
Laser Treatment / Power Whitening
- This procedure is similar to the one above, but here, rather than leaving the bleaching gel on your teeth overnight, a laser is shone on them.
- The laser activates the active whitening agents in the gel, which lighten your teeth
- This procedure only takes an hour and requires much less repetition
- Laser whitening is believed to make teeth six to seven shades lighter, compared to the two to three shades achieved by other methods.
This procedure is much more expensive, usually starting about $700 but averaging about $1500.
Here’s what happens with the non-professional, non-bleaching options:
- Non-bleaching procedures work by physically or chemically removing the stains, rather than bleaching the stains to a new, lighter color.
- Some of these options include whitening toothpaste, homemade options like baking soda.
- Whitening toothpaste has special chemicals and physical polishing agents which, when scrubbing on the teeth, encourage the stains to move from the teeth.
- This option can’t remove deeply-rooted, old stains but can work to remove recent food, cigarette or alcohol induced stains.
Risks of At-Home Whitening & Beauty Salons
Most studies ensure that the procedure is secure and effective, and involves very few risks if done by a qualified dental professional. Whitening gels enriched with 10% carbamide peroxide and 3.6% hydrogen peroxide were proven to be safe and risk-free to the enamel of the tooth.
If side effects do occur, here are the main ones you might notice:
- Higher concentrations of whitening ingredients available from the dentist may affect the enamel. However, most of these products also have fluoride to counteract the potential adverse effect. Individuals who use increased amounts of whitening elements can also get prescription fluoride gels from their doctor to protect their teeth.
- Some home kits don’t have enough bleach to be effective, so you will continue applying and affecting your oral health, but not see any benefit.
- You may not have set the mouthguard correctly, and so there is a risk some of the bleaching gel will leak out into your mouth and onto your gums, causing blistering, pain and sensitivity.
- Often in beauty salons, a very strong bleach is used, but the staff who apply it do not have any dental qualifications. This can result in emergency dental work being required and irreparable damage to teeth.
- Teeth whitening in beauty salons is also illegal in most countries and states – so this is an additional risk that you carry by using this service.
The one benefit to the at-home over-the-counter treatments for whitening is the price! Most over-the-counter products cost between $10-45 and include boil and bite tray applications and whitening liquids.
Even when the treatment is carried out by a good, qualified dental professional, there are still risks to teeth whitening!
- Burns to the gums
- Burns to the tongue
- Burns to the back of the throat
- Increased tooth sensitivity
- Enamel erosion
Before you decide on teeth whitening talk to your dentist because:
- You may not be an eligible candidate – people who have previously suffered from gum disease or who have veneers or crowns may not be eligible for the treatment.
- Don’t be afraid to ask them stupid questions! This procedure is invasive, and it should only be done when you’re fully aware of what to expect.
- Make sure to find out how long the treatment lasts for, the risks (e.g. sensitivity of teeth) and what to avoid after you’ve had the treatment done, like smoking, drinking coffee and red wine.
- Make sure to have a fully detailed payment and treatment plan – many people find there is more money/visits to the dentists involved than what they first realized.
- Another great idea is to talk to real people who’ve had the procedure done – they can give you some accurate information about how they found their experience of the treatment and life afterward.
Prevention is Better Than Cure
A healthy mouth and teeth are far more important for whitening than anything else! Tooth decay, cracked or sensitive teeth, periodontal problems, and infections should be detected and treated before the whitening procedure. In other respects, you could experience side effects. The whitening process may worsen existing problems, or it simply may not be right for you.
Go for a dental checkup instead of heading to the shopping mall or local cosmetic in search of tooth whiteners. Your dentist will first examine, establish the correct diagnose, then treat any pressing oral health conditions. Plus, they will advise you about different options to safely and effectively whiten your teeth.
With the associated risks of teeth whitening in mind, of course as with anything, prevention is better than cure. Here are some of our tips on keeping your and your kids’ teeth and gums healthy, so teeth whitening is a distant worry!
Brush your teeth twice a day
Plaque, from food and drinks, builds a film coat on our teeth and starts feeding off the enamel, causing tooth decay. This plaque can cause a multitude of oral health problems, like gum disease. Brushing your teeth twice a day prevents plaque from damaging your teeth too much.
Use fluoride toothpaste
Fluoride is a natural mineral which is found in all drinking water. Depending on where you live, the amount of fluoride in the water varies. Fluoride is brilliant (in toothpaste or other sources) because it strengthens tooth enamel which makes it more resilient in the face of tooth decay. Fluoride also kills the acid that the bacteria on your teeth make. In children, it helps their teeth form in a stronger, more resilient strength, which makes it easy to brush plaque off them.
The American Society of Dentists says that drinking fluoride in your water or using it in your toothpaste has been proven to reduce tooth decay by 40-60%. Most adults should use toothpaste that contains at least 1500 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride.
For children under 7, it’s important to get toothpaste for them that contains less fluoride.
Floss between your teeth or use an interdental brush
Everyone above the age of 12 is encouraged to floss or use an interdental brush as part of their daily oral health routine. Use floss if the gaps between your teeth are not large enough to use an interdental brush or a dental tape.
When using dental floss, make sure you use it gently to avoid damaging or hurting your gums, which are often very sensitive between teeth. The ideal method is to use floss gently, scraping teeth from top to bottom. When you first start flossing, your gums may be even more sensitive and may bleed slightly, so take extra care at the beginning to floss slowly and carefully.
Cut down on sugar intake
Sugar increases plaque on your teeth which leads to tooth decay. High levels of sugar in your food will affect tooth decay, but also how many times your teeth come into contact with sugar.
The American Dental Association recommends avoiding or reducing your intake of:
- chocolate, sweets, biscuits, and cakes
- sugary drinks (it includes fizzy drinks, soft beverages, alcoholic cocktails, and milky products with added sugar)
- fruit juice, including unsweetened fresh fruit juice and smoothies
- buns, pastries and fruit pies
- sponge puddings and other puddings
- table sugar added to food or drinks, such as tea
- sugary breakfast cereals
- jams, marmalades, honey and syrups
- ice cream and sorbets
- dried fruit or fruit in syrup
- syrups and sweet sauces
Specifically, fruit juice should be avoided. According to the American Dental Association:
Sugars are naturally found in foods like milk and fruits. We shouldn’t reduce their intake! But when the fruit is juiced or blended, the sugar is released from the fruit’s structure, and it can affect your teeth. In conclusion, it’s best to consume fruit juice or smoothies at mealtimes.
You should not consume more than 150 ml of fruit juice / smoothies a day. In case you drink 150ml of orange juice and one small cup of smoothie in one day, you’ll have exceeded the recommended daily intake.
Smoking is bad for your health for a multitude of reasons! But regarding oral health, smoking is bad for your gums, mouth, and teeth. It can lead to staining, loss of teeth, staining, gum disease and mouth cancer. The tar and the nicotine in cigarettes combine to stain your teeth, and the nicotine promotes plaque growth on teeth.
Reduce alcohol intake
Alcohol, no matter if it’s beer, wine or spirits, leads to higher plaque levels of teeth and those who rely on alcohol tend to suffer from permanent tooth loss. Most alcoholic beverages contain chromogens, which attaches to tooth enamel and stains teeth. Drinking alcohol with a straw may help to evade this. Most alcoholic drinks stain the teeth and cause tooth enamel to decay because of dryness; alcoholic drinks dry the mouth and strip the body of its protective dental shield – saliva. Drinking water between alcoholic drinks should help to alleviate this problem.
Brush baby teeth as soon as they come through
Babies should have their own special, low-fluoride toothpaste but parents should supervise teeth brushing until the child is 12 years old to ensure all plaque is removed.
- Get your children into a teeth-cleaning routine
- Straighten crooked teeth with braces
- Have regular dental check-ups
The type of teeth you have and the condition of your dental health determine how many dental check-ups you have. At each check-up, your dentist should examine your mouth fully, including teeth, gums, and mouth. The dentist should also ask about your general health before your visit. Following your visit, you should agree on a date for your next visit – either after weeks or even years later! Generally speaking, people in good general and dental health only need to go to their doctors once every 12 to 24 months.
- Don’t delay with dental treatments
- Brush teeth for over two minutes
The American Association of Dentists recommends that two minutes of focussed brushing is likely to be enough to remove all plaque from your mouth, following by flossing.
Don’t wash mouth with water or mouthwash directly after brushing
Of course, mouthwash that contains fluoride is going to help protect your teeth, just like toothpaste with fluoride. But washing your mouth with water or mouthwash straight after brushing will banish the protective fluoride from toothpaste. Instead, use the mouthwash after lunch, then don’t drink or eat anything for 30 minutes. It will maximize the effects and preserve your teeth bright for longer.
Get a good, strong toothbrush
It is not important whether you use a manual or electric toothbrush as long as you make sure you brush your teeth well, and there’s no plaque remaining on your teeth. However, often an electric toothbrush with an oscillating head has proven to be more useful in removing every little bit of plaque! Soft or medium bristles on the brush are suitable for most people when brushing their teeth.
How to Manage Side-Effects of Whitening Treatments
- Use a sensitivity toothpaste – sensitive toothpaste contains ingredients like potassium nitrate which act to relieve and ease the pain caused by post-whitening sensitivities.
- Chew gum – chewing gum promotes extra saliva in the mouth, which contains ingredients which restore the natural pH and protection of teeth. It may also be a good distraction from any pain.
- Avoid whitening for a while – giving your teeth a break from the invasive procedures which strip teeth and cause sensitivity is the best way to guarantee that your pain will be short-lived.
- Avoid hot/cold liquids
- Avoid spicy foods
- Avoid chewy foods
Making the Effects Last Longer
Whether you have just had your treatment and you’re looking great with white teeth, or you’ve always been lucky and blessed with white teeth, remember that you’ve still got some work to do when it comes to maintaining your perfectly sparkling smile. Unfortunately, it won’t stay forever! You know when you just get your car washed, and you try to avoid all those dirty mud puddles – getting your teeth whitened is the same thing! You have to take certain steps and precautions to ensure that you don’t re-stain your teeth and counteract all your hard work and money.
Minimize Staining Liquids You Put On Your Teeth
That coffee every morning before work, or the diet cola you drink with your dinner affect your teeth and that pearly white smile you once had. Cola, coffee, red wine, and tea, are some of the most common liquids that stain teeth. If you’re determined to preserve your teeth white and keep the effects of your whitening procedure, try to limit the consumption of these beverages. If you are addicted to these products, sip them through a straw, especially for several days after the whitening procedure.
There are so many bad side effects and health problems associated with smoking, like gum disease, oral cancer, reduced tasting abilities and bad breath, but smoking (regarding teeth whitening) really can stain teeth and cause tongue discoloration. If you’re serious about making your teeth brighter and your oral health better in general, quitting smoking is one of the main steps.
Invest in a Good Whitening Toothpaste
The third step to maintaining white teeth after a whitening procedure involves using a whitening toothpaste on a regular basis. Whitening toothpaste works by gently cleaning your teeth and removing any stains that may have gathered from things like wine, coffee, food, and sweets. It’s a simple step! The benefits include refreshing, polishing, and giving you even more reasons to smile. You should also source a whitening toothpaste that also contains fluoride, to protect the remaining enamel on your teeth.
Up your Intake of Crunchy Produce
According to Dental Health Magazine, fruits and vegetables like celery, apples, carrots, and courgettes are naturally abrasive and can work throughout the day to keep plaque and dirt off your teeth, reducing stains. You can’t have toothpaste with you all the time, but you can still keep your bright smile flawless even when you don’t use the bathroom sink!
Your smile may not be as bright as you want or the color that you want because of weakened enamel on the surface of your teeth. According to the American Dental Association’s Healthy Mouth site, enamel is naturally a hard layer covering and protecting the teeth. Because it does not contain any living cells, it cannot heal itself when damaged. Once it’s gone, that’s it! When oral disease has damaged the enamel, you can’t repair it; weak enamel is more predisposed to get stained. That’s where enamel protection comes in handy. Fluoride toothpaste can help fortify tooth enamel against the damage caused by acidic foods and beverages, meaning fewer stains remained on weak enamel.
Increase your Dairy Intake!
Good news if you love cheese and milk! The Wake Forest Medical Center recommends eating foods high in calcium (cheese, milk, and yogurt) to help keep your teeth white and healthy. Apart from the fact that dairy products strengthen your teeth with the calcium they need to keep a healthy enamel, the varieties of hard cheese also remove the particles that are stuck to your teeth.
Whitening at home or seeing your dentist for professional treatment are both viable ways to get rid of stains. Visiting your dentist regularly for professional cleans, checkups, and advice in addition to the steps above will help you prevent rather than cure teeth discoloration!
Have you undergone teeth whitening and are now suffering from sensitive teeth?
According to Colgate’s resident dentist, Dr. Stressler:
Many patients have sensitive teeth after undergoing a whitening procedure. Yet, several added compounds will alleviate this effect and even provide other benefits. Although it does not last forever, teeth sensitivity affects up to 78% of dental patients, according to Dr. Strassler.
Two ingredients that are commonly used in the composition of whitening gels and reduce tooth sensitivity are potassium nitrate and amorphous calcium phosphate. The first one is also an active ingredient in toothpaste for sensitive teeth, such as Colgate Sensitive toothpaste.
Over the counter products
If you’re considering starting the teeth whitening process, but you don’t have the money to seek professional options with your dentist, here are some common, popular over-the-counter treatments which you could begin with:
Brite Teeth Whitening Kit – Pro Teeth Whitening Home Kit – $30
- Bleaches teeth
- Contains 3x 3ml Brite teeth whitening gels, 1x Brite mouth LED light, 2x mouth trays, 1x shade guide, 1x user manual, 2x batteries for LED light.
Good product that does exactly what is said. The first whitening session for was perfect and whitened my teeth. Used it 4-5 times, as it said in the instruction manual, and honestly – my teeth look perfect!
Exceptional kit. I smoke a lot and was surprised how bright my teeth became after just one application. I found a disadvantage, though: the switch on the light ceased functioning after the third use. But I had slathered on it!
Activated Charcoal Natural Teeth Whitening Powder by Pro Teeth Whitening Company – $20
- High purity activated charcoal enriched with calcium, sodium, and ginger root for extra benefits to teeth and gums.
- The whitening powder penetrates the stubborn stains and allows the charcoal to eliminate the undesired markings and stains from teeth.
- No synthetic additives, colors, preservatives, foaming agents, artificial flavors, and fluoride, etc.
This makes teeth look a little whiter. I don’t use it daily to obtain a noticeable change. However, I use it before going out to gain a little extra sparkle. I don’t like its metal-like taste.
My words cannot express my whole gratitude! I used caffeine for years, so my teeth were pretty yellow. But now I’m so happy! The results were amazing after the very first application! I certainly recommend it to my friends and family. In case you still doubt whether or not to use this, please give it a try! I guarantee you’ll love it!
I purchased this product after hearing wonderful comments from a work colleague and seeing for myself how white her teeth became. I have noticed that I have stubborn stains in the crevices and crooks of my teeth. No matter how much I’ve scrubbed it, the dark brown stains would not go away. Trust me when I say that this product really works! Honestly, not immediately, but it’s only been one day, and I have brushed my teeth 3 times a day. The gray paste feels metallic. It is not pleasant, nor minty, and has no fluoride. I use it with a regular toothpaste and I hope that in a few weeks my teeth will be as white as my colleague’s.
G-Smart Teeth Whitening Gel Pen – $5
- Soft brush applicator to get into all the nooks and crannies in your teeth
- Dries rapidly
- 30 day usage period
Really impressed with this whitening Pen. Got a good result fast. Easy to use. Good value for money. Will be ordering it again.
This product is affordable, and you really can’t fault it for its price! I mean obviously, it’s not going to give you the same effect that my husband had with professional teeth whitening at his dentist, but it does work! After about five applications I noticed a difference.
White Pearl USA Teeth Whitening Kit – $45
- Developed by dentists
- Provides up to 130 teeth whitening treatments in one pack
- Contains zero peroxide
- On average, lifts teeth about four shades
This is good! But it’s the only downside is that it takes a little bit of time to work. I noticed a great improvement but maybe 20 applications in, which is much more than the normal 4-5.
Amazing results in just three days! This is cheap, easy to use and tastes good! Couldn’t recommend it more. The only suggestion is to provide more trays in the pack so you could use all that liquid!”
Which works the best?
With so many options and so much information in front of you, of course, it can be hard to know what’s best. Balancing the fear of damaging your teeth, your bank balance and wanting to look good can be a stressful thing!
If you are sure you have found a good, over-the-counter product and you are comfortable using it, then that’s your choice. But, a lot of the over-the-counter products will damage your teeth. Before you try anything, make sure to have a consultation with your dentist and take the product with you.
As with any procedure, the best teeth whitening products are always in the dentist’s chair! It is always better and safer for a qualified, medical professional to carry out the whitening. This way, you can be certain that your teeth will be protected and your oral health maintained.