If you drink a lot of coffee, cola or tea—or you’re of a certain age—your pearly whites might not be so pearly anymore. But you don’t have to just grin and bear it. Teeth whitening products and procedures are more affordable, effective and popular than ever before.
“Teeth whitening not only brightens your smile, but it gives you an extra boost of confidence,” said Dr. Arnold Tyrangel, a dentist in Long Island, New York.
Depending on your budget and your time frame, you can choose between a variety of do-it-yourself kits and professional treatments.
Best dental office techniques
“Professional treatments are quickest because they can be done in one visit and have noticeable results right away,” notes Manhattan dentist Dr. Irwin Smigel.
The results can last for years, too, but these methods can be pricey. Two popular treatments with a proven track record are Zoom! and BriteSmile. Both tend to cost in the $400-$600 range.
How they work: The dentist covers your gums and lips before painting a thin layer of concentrated hydrogen peroxide gel on the surface of your teeth. Then your teeth are exposed to a special light to activate the gel. The whole process usually takes between 45 and 60 minutes.
However, that’s not your only in-office option. Dr. Greg McPherson, a dentist in St. Charles, Missouri, paints a Colgate whitening gel on his patients’ teeth for two or three 15-minute intervals, then rinses their teeth. Then he sends them home with custom-made mouth trays for touch-ups.
“We have really good luck with them,” he said.
At-home whitening kits to try
There’s a wide array of home whitening products to choose from: disposable strips, paint-on gels, and whitening toothpastes. They’re usually much cheaper than a professional treatment, but the results may not be as dramatic. Also, it can take a lot longer to achieve optimum results. Instead of an hour, you may have to dedicate several days—or even weeks–to the cause.
Just try to avoid products that contain silica, a harsh abrasive that can scratch your teeth. Smigel recommends sticking to products that contain calcium peroxide, carbamide and urea peroxide instead. And brush your teeth prior to using any product for the best results.
One at-home product is SuperSmile’s Whitening System, which includes a whitening toothpaste and a calcium peroxide-based accelerator. It costs $36 for a one-month supply. Another option is the GoSmile Advanced Formula B1, $70. Apply the gel directly onto your teeth with the kit’s small brush and wait for about 20 minutes.
Other alternatives include Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips, which should be used once a day for 3-7 days, for about $40, or Listerine Whitening Quick-Dissolving Strips, which cost about $15. Prepackaged whitening strips are cheaper than some other products but don’t offer a customized fit.
“Whitening toothpaste offers consistent and steady results, and are the safest option because they can be used indefinitely,” Smigel said.
Another safe and easy home remedy to try is eating strawberries. The malic acid in the ripe berries acts as an astringent to remove surface discoloration.
How to know when you’ve gone too far
But it’s important to know when you’ve achieved the optimum level of whiteness. Too much enthusiasm and too much bleach can add up to less-than-attractive look—not to mention other problems.
“I've never noted permanent damage from teeth whitening products,” McPherson said. “Although some products can cause short-term sensitivity or a person could burn his gums with too much bleaching. Again, this is a transient thing. It's an overall very safe process.”
Another potential downside: With overuse, your teeth may become very sensitive to temperature variations. If you’re wincing whenever you drink something cold, it might be time to take a break.