the first thing people want to do when their braces come off?
According to an ArchWired Reader poll earlier this year, they
want to get their teeth whitened! After all, you've put up
with several years of braces, and now you want that dazzling,
perfect movie star smile (or as close to it as you can get). Damn right, you deserve it!
recently, you had to pay
hundreds of dollars to your
dentist to produce stellar results.
However, those same results are now as close as your corner
drugstore -- at a fraction of the cost. Many of the "over
the counter" products sold in stores are as powerful as
those used in the dentist's office (and use exactly the same
active ingredients). Even with this convenience, some people
still opt for in-office whitening, which offers convenience,
speed, and precision.
So, should you
get your teeth whitened in a dentist's office, or should you
do it yourself at home? It all depends on your specific teeth,
and how much time and money you are willing to spend on
Whitening at the Dentist's Office
If you are
skittish about plunging into the plethora of OTC whitening
products, and you don't mind spending several hundred dollars
for professional whitening, then having the in-office
treatment might be your best bet, especially if you have a
history of tooth sensitivity or gum problems. If you are
willing to pay around $500 and demand results in an
hour, then head to a place like Brite Smile, where a special
light speeds up the chemical reaction (thereby producing quick
and dramatic results). Many dental offices now offer laser
whitening, which uses a similar one-hour process aided by a
laser light (at a cost of around $1,000). The advantage of
in-office treatment is this: it takes the responsibility (and
mess) out of your hands. You get fast, professional results,
and you don't have to worry about doing anything wrong.
Aside from the
strictly "in-office" treatments, some dentists do an
initial in-office whitening with a very strong bleaching
solution, then give you a kit with a weaker bleaching solution
to use at home. This generally costs between $200-$350. The
active ingredient in these take-home kits is exactly the same
as those sold in drugstores. Your dentist decides the best
strength of solution for your needs -- so you are paying for
an initial in-office treatment, a set custom mouth trays, a
bleaching solution tailored to your needs, and your dentist's
expertise in helping you understand the process.
DIY For Less
If you decide to
do it yourself, the mere selection of one product can make
your head spin. There are so many kits to choose
from -- promising results from several weeks to only 2 hours!
Search the internet and you'll end up even more confused. Some of the kits seem very "dental" and utilitarian.
Some are packaged to look more upscale and are sold in spas like
of New York and London.
And then there are the
Whitestrips. Which should you choose? That depends on your
needs, your budget, and the amount of time you are willing to
devote to whitening.
Here is a comparison
of several at-home whitening products from Prevention magazine (in
kits use a form of Peroxide to bleach the teeth. The most
popular formulations, including those used by most dentists,
contain Carbamide Peroxide. Other types of kits, including the
Crest Whitestrips, use Hydrogen Peroxide. Both of these
Peroxides do the same thing, because they have a chemical
Carbamide Peroxide (also known as Urea Hydrogen Peroxide
and Perhydrol-Urea) is CO(NH2)2.H2O2. It breaks down
into Hydrogen Peroxide [H202] and Urea [CO(NH2)2] in an
aqueous solution. A solution of 10% Carbamide Peroxide breaks
down into approximately 3% Hydrogen Peroxide (therefore, a 22%
Carbamide Peroxide solution breaks down to about 7.5% Hydrogen
Peroxide). See this
link for more about the chemical composition of these
It works like
this: the active ingredient in the solution breaks down,
allowing oxygen to enter the enamel and dentin, thereby
bleaching the teeth to a lighter color. (If
you want to get technical, it has to do with the formation of
free radicals that attack the double bonds present in the
molecules of the stains.)
So if all these
kits contain essentially the same active ingredient, what is
the difference between them? Answer: the concentration
(strength) of the Peroxide solution, and their PH. Whitening kits can
contain anywhere from less than 10% strength all the way up to
22%. Some kits contain a
combination of other ingredients which act as buffers to
reduce sensitivity. But no matter what kit you choose, it all
bubbles down to Peroxide. In-office, some dentists
initially treat patients with a 35% Carbamide Peroxide
solution, then send them home with custom trays and syringes
of solution ranging anywhere from 10% to 16% in strength.
OK, then it's a
no-brainer! Just look for the highest number, right? Well,
it's not quite so simple. You see, Peroxide is caustic to
human tissue, and has a nasty habit of temporarily "burning"
your gums (causing white spots which disappear in a day or two
-- or even bleeding). It can also make your teeth feel sensitive. So if you have
never whitened before and you go right for the 22% solution,
you might be hating life for several days or weeks -- ouch!
The safest thing
to do is find a whitening kit that offers a solution around
15% Carbamide Peroxide. This will be strong enough to produce results without
causing a lot of discomfort. Unfortunately, many kits don't
readily reveal the strength of their solutions. You can assume
that a kit which directs you to wear the solution for an hour
or overnight will be weaker than one which directs you to wear
it for only 20 minutes! When in doubt, call the manufacturer.
Ask what form of Peroxide their kit uses, and the strength of
their bleaching solution.
Don't Be Lead
about the custom tray that your dentist makes -- that plastic
"Invisalign"-like mold that fits to your teeth? If
you have an Essix retainer, you can use it as a custom
whitening tray. If you don't have an Essix retainer, you
will need some sort of tray to deliver the whitening solution
to your teeth.
Why do you need
a tray? Can't you just put the gel right on your teeth? Sure,
you could do that, but your saliva would wash it away rather
quickly. The tray acts as a barrier between your saliva and
the bleaching solution. It also prevents the Peroxide from
traveling to other parts of your gums or down your throat! One
ArchWired reader suggested putting the bleaching gel on
plastic wrap and applying that to your teeth for an hour
(never do this for an overnight treatment; the plastic wrap
could come loose and choke you!)
whitening kits offer some sort of tray device. Some are made
of a soft silicone or plastic material which can be heated in warm water
and molded to your teeth. Although this isn't quite as
"perfect" as a custom tray, it will still produce
really good results. Other more expensive kits provide
the tools for you to make a mold of your teeth. You send the
mold to the lab, and in about a week, the lab sends you a
custom-made set of mouth trays.
You can also ask
dentist or orthodontist to make a set of mouth trays for you -- but it may
cost $100 or more (be sure to ask -- you never know -- your
dentist may be less expensive). Depending on how often you
plan to whiten, it may make sense to to have a custom tray
made -- after all, you'll have it forever!
You're So Sensitive!
If your teeth
have a history of sensitivity, I strongly recommend that you
brush with a de-sensitizing toothpaste like Sensodyne for at
least two weeks before attempting to whiten. Then, use a
whitening gel which isn't too strong -- between 12% and 16%.
My teeth are terribly sensitive to cold, and frankly I was
afraid to whiten them. Oddly enough, even using an 18.5%
solution, I did not experience any extra tooth sensitivity
from whitening (although, it did temporarily burn my gums a
little bit and produce the dreaded white spots). However, your
results may vary. When in doubt, err on the side of caution
and use a weaker bleaching solution.
How long should
that bleaching solution stay on your teeth? The weaker the
solution, the longer it needs to be on your teeth to produce
results. As I stated above, the strength you choose depends on
your tolerance to the Peroxide. It all depends on your
tolerance level and the amount of time you are willing to
devote to whitening. A weak solution used overnight for seven
days will produce the same results as a strong solution used
for an hour for seven days. The only difference is time and
Always be sure
to always follow the instructions, and don't leave the
Peroxide gel (or Whitestrip) on your teeth any longer than
directed. Doing so can harm your teeth and gums.
Yes, there are
some risks in at-home whitening.
overzealous and whiten too much or too often! Use the
product as directed, and then stop, or you could run the risk
of wearing away your enamel (especially if the bleaching
solution is highly acidic). When in doubt, ask your dentist
for his/her opinion. Here's an article
from the Canadian Dental Association about the safety of
tooth bleaching products. Remember, you can only improve what
you were born with -- your teeth may never look snow
white, no matter how much you bleach them. So, be reasonable!
Remember, many "perfect" teeth you see in magazines
may be professionally altered with bonding, veneers, or photo
There have also
been some concerns about Peroxide contributing to a rising
number of early mouth cancers, as explained in this
article from WebMD.com.
Also -- it
should go without saying...DO NOT attempt to whiten your teeth
while you are still in braces! The Peroxide could affect the
bond of the glue on your brackets. Also, you could wind up
with a big yellow square in the middle of your teeth after
your brackets come off! Save the whitening for after the
braces come off (and that includes whitening toothpaste).
What about the
results? As your dentist will tell you, the results depend on
your teeth. Both types of Peroxide solutions are great for
removing most common stains (wine, coffee and tea, tobacco,
aging, etc). Other types of systemic stains, caused by Tetracycline
or Fluorodosis may not respond well to bleaching. Dental work
such as crowns, bonding, veneers, or composite fillings will
not respond to bleaching. So, if you plan to have some bonding
done after your braces come off, whiten first, so the bonding
material can match the color of your white teeth!
people complain that their teeth are streaky after whitening.
If this happens to you, don't be alarmed. The streakiness
generally disappears in a day or two, leaving your teeth with
an even tone. Here's a good rule of thumb: don't whiten the
same day as an important event or a photo shoot. Wait a day or
two, just in case you get streaky results!
Out on the
Whitestrips use Hydrogen Peroxide to bleach the teeth. You can
buy this product in your local drugstore, or for slightly more
money, get the Supreme strength from your dentist (this kit
comes with a Spinbrush and a tube of whitening toothpaste).
The bleaching solution in the Supreme kit is 14% strength; the
regular kit available in most drugstores is 6.5%
You use the
Whitestrips for 30 minutes twice a day, with final results in
about 21 days. The directions recommend that you use them for
21 consecutive days to produce the desired results.
Whitestrips are a thin flexible plastic-like membrane coated
with whitening gel. You place the strips on the front of your
teeth and gently wrap them around the undersides of your
teeth. This effectively creates a thin membrane
"tray" which is barely noticeable to other people.
strips can slip from your teeth slightly if you move around or
talk a lot, so it is best to wear them when you're sitting
still or doing a sedentary activity. If your teeth are not
very straight, you may have trouble applying the strips. And,
they are not as effective at removing between-teeth stains as
In my own
experience, the Whitestrips did produce nice results after
only a few treatments. Unlike the Carbamide Peroxide gel of
the other kits, the Whitestrips did not leave my teeth
streaky-looking -- they just looked uniformly whiter. My
dentist says that his patients have enjoyed good results with
the product, and I agree that it is a good alternative to gels
and plastic trays.
teeth had a band of yellow stain running across their middle
before the braces went on (they had never been whitened
in 44 years). After the braces came off, the stains were even
more pronounced. I was so embarrassed; I wanted to whiten my
teeth immediately because I had a holiday party to attend the
next night! I bought a Rembrandt 2-Hour Kit, which has 18.5%
strength. I don't think I could tolerate anything stronger --
it did burn my gums a bit at first (although thankfully the
discomfort went away after a couple of days). (By the way, if
you see white spots on my teeth in this photo, they are from
Fluorodosis. Alas, my teeth will never be movie-star perfect!)
I had a
professional sample of some gel that was 16%, and it was much
more comfortable and did not burn my gums, even after wearing
it for an hour (as the instructions directed). I didn't use
the Rembrandt kit in the recommended 2 or 3 hours straight -- I didn't
think my gums would be able to stand it! Instead, I used it
for 20 minutes once per day until the gel was used up -- which
took almost a week. By the end of the week, my teeth looked
great, at least 4 shades whiter (and all the yellow stains
were gone)! At first I experienced some streaks, but they went
away after a couple of days.
I also tried the
Crest Whitestrips Supreme. These are quite convenient and
produced a nice, even tone with no streaks. The downside of
the Whitestrips is the amount of time it takes to produce
dramatic results: almost a month. I decided to save the
Whitestrips for touchups, and give some to my husband!
The White and
conclusion -- before you rush out to the store to buy an
at-home whitening kit, do some homework:
1. What ingredient does your "kit of choice" use:
Hydrogen Peroxide or Carbamide Peroxide? Are there other
ingredients in the solution which help reduce sensitivity?
2. Compare apples to apples. What is the strength the Peroxide
solution? (If it doesn't say on the package, call the
company's 800 number or visit their website to find out).
3. How long do you need to wear the tray/strip to produce
results? How much time are you willing to devote to at-home
Does your kit come with a
tray? If so, what kind: do you make a mold of your teeth and
get a custom tray from a lab -- or is the tray
"generic"? Will you need to have a tray made by your dentist?
5. How sensitive are your teeth/gums. My dentist said (and I
believe he is right about this): a weaker solution worn for a
longer period of time will produce good results with less
sensitivity. If your teeth are extremely sensitive, brush with
a toothpaste like Sensodyne for at least two weeks before
Not willing to do it yourself at home? Ask your dentist how
much he/she charges for whitening, and check other local
dental offices for whitening specials.
you want even more information about tooth whitening, visit
this informative cosmetic
dentistry website, or the website of the American
get out there and dazzle everyone with your straight white
used in this article are from: