The appearance of your smile is important. It is one of the first things people notice about you.

Tooth whitening is a safe, easy, and relatively inexpensive way of making your smile look better, more youthful, and healthier.

Lifestyle and age can stain and darken your teeth even if they are healthy. Drinking coffee, tea, cola drinks, and red wine, as well as smoking, all contribute to stained teeth. Additionally, as we mature, the enamel layer of the teeth becomes more translucent (clearer instead of milky white) allowing the darker and more yellow dentin layer of the tooth to show through more readily.

Many people express concerns about the safety of various whitening agents. There are many studies confirming the safety of whitening agents when it is used according to instructions. There is nothing in the dental literature or in my experience that evidences any kind of irreversible damage to teeth from whitening. You may have heard something like: “I heard about somebody who tried this and they lost all their enamel.” Rest assured that if your teeth are healthy and sound initially and you follow instructions, this will not happen.

It is true that many whitening agents can cause temporary tooth sensitivity and sometimes also gum sensitivity. All whitening agents are either carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide of varying strengths. (We sometimes say “bleaching”, but this is not Clorox, it is peroxide.) All whitening agents work by oxygenating the tooth structure: penetrating the tooth enamel and whitening the enamel and the underlying dentin. It is true that the peroxide product demineralizes the tooth enamel in order to penetrate and be effective. The demineralization is temporary and reverses in a short time from the calcium in your saliva. This reversal (remineralization) may be helped by applying fluoride or other topically applied remineralizing products.

We have found that tooth and gum sensitivity can be minimized by:

Using a remineralizing agent (a brush applied fluoride gel or calcium phosphate remineralizing agent, or a combination) for about a week prior to beginning the tooth whitening process.

Following instructions carefully. In an understandable zeal for the whitest teeth possible by tomorrow morning…………….most people use too much product. This results in sensitivity and spending more money than you have to.

Slow down. If teeth or gums become sensitive, take a day or two off, use the remineralizing agent, then begin the process again.

There are three methods of whitening:

Over the counter. This includes gel products that are finger applied, gel products embedded in a fiber backing (such as the popular Crest White Strips), and some one-size-fits-all tray applied systems. The advantage here is low cost. It can be effective but patients also relate that results were inconsistent, the strips or trays are cumbersome, don’t stay on teeth, etc. These systems are evolving and improving, however, and there is little to be lost by trying a less expensive product initially if you wish.

Tray Applied Whitening. This most common technique is overseen by the dental office. Trays are clear plastic and fit precisely. They have been vacuum-formed over an accurate model of your teeth. The fit and comfort of the trays are verified by us before we start. The whitening agents dispensed by the dental office are stronger and more effective than what is available at the drug store. There is preliminary desensitizing, custom tray insertion and adjustment, selection of appropriate gel for each patient, and follow up. The advantage is professional help to get the important precise fit on the trays and proper follow up to be sure it is working properly and sensitivity is controlled. Another advantage is that once the teeth are suitably white, you can save the trays and if you need a “touch up” at a later date, all you have to do is purchase the gel. You can assume about $360 to $400 for this procedure in our office. Repurchase of the gel ranges from $ 50 to $ 150.

In Office Whitening. We currently use the ZOOM II whitening system, which activates the peroxide more rapidly with light energy. (Ever notice that they put peroxide in a brown bottle?) This allows us to whiten the teeth in one visit. The gums, lips, and soft tissues are masked out with a protective cover and the peroxide is placed on the teeth and activated with a special light. This technic makes the greatest change in the shortest time. Tray whitening is then done as a follow up. Fees range from $650- $850.

The most important aspect of success in whitening usually boils down to having healthy, sound teeth before the process is started. Old fillings, crowns, et cetera are not going to whiten. A thorough examination prior to whitening is the most important factor in the whitening process.