Putting That Extra Sparkle in Your Smile

So you meet someone and you can’t help noticing their facial features — particularly the eyes and then the mouth. You’ll remember their smile as being pleasant — or perhaps for some rather unsavory teeth, dulled by stains from years of coffee or tea consumption, smoking or maybe some other culprit, like medications. Teeth whitening can be a real solution for this type of problem. Or you might be considering whitening your teeth just to get a beautiful smile with gleaming white teeth. Either way, there’s plenty of help available — some process to fit every budget and time frame.

There are whitening toothpastes, over-the-counter products such as gels, strips and tray systems, and, of course, the ultimate process you can get from your own dentist. This brings us to a very important part of the process — consulting with your dentist to ascertain if you’re a good candidate (yes, some of you are not). For example, if you have a lot of fillings, crowns or very dark stains in your teeth, you may not be able to get to the shade of bleaching you desire.

Another hindrance to whitening success involves the tone of the discoloration. Yellowish stains are known to lighten well, whereas brownish stains will not cooperate as well — maybe not at all. Sometimes prior tooth bonding or fill-ings prevent whitening techniques from working and could call more attention to these previous procedures. There’s a term called “Technicolor teeth” that is slang to describe what sometimes happens after you whiten teeth when you have a lot of enamel crowns or bonding in your mouth. That’s because your naturally unenhanced teeth will bleach to one shade, maybe even lighter than the others, and your bonded or crowned teeth will remain the color they were initially. This could result in more bonding or crown replacement to obtain a match for the whitened ones. Another reason to check with your dentist prior to whitening.


Well, first you must know the two types of staining of teeth. There are extrinsic stains, which are those on the

surface or outside of the teeth. These result from drinking or eating certain foods, from smoking or use of other forms of tobacco and by wear and tear over the years. Some of these stains can be removed by routine brushing and cleanings by a dental hygienist or dentist. Others require bleaching or maybe even bonding or crowning to hide the stains. The second type is intrinsic stains, those within the teeth, caused by wear and tear over time. Other factors in staining include the opaqueness and the color of the teeth you were born with; use of drugs or chemicals, particularly Tetracycline and excessive fluoride; eating or drinking many “dark” fluids such as red wine, coffee and tea plus acidic foods like vinegar, oranges and grapefruit. I’m not sure about jalapeños … are they acidic or just plain fiery?

And, as mentioned before, smoking, dipping or chewing tobacco can stain teeth over time. Also, traumas to the teeth caused by falling or other accidents and the grinding or gnashing of teeth can result in cracks, large and small, which then lead to staining and other types of damage to teeth.


Top of the line, as far as getting the best results in the shortest period of time, are the procedures performed in the dentist’s office. In an hour or less, it is possible to bleach your teeth nine to 11 shades lighter. The concentration of the bleaching agent, usually hydrogen peroxide, is much higher (15 percent to 43 percent) than in over-the-counter products because it is used by professionals in a controlled environment.

The procedure usually goes something like this: First, the gums are protected with a rubber shield or “painted on” rubber product. Next, the gel is applied to the teeth and left on for 10 to 15 minutes. This procedure is repeated three to four times during the hour in the chair. While bleaching, some form of heat or special light or laser is often used to accelerate the process. A particularly deep stain might require another chairside session at the dentist’s office, or you might be sent home with an at-home kit to supplement the bleaching. As you might expect, this faster-acting, greater whitening process, performed and monitored by a dentist or other trained professional, costs more. The price range in the sources I used ranged from $500 to $1,000 for the entire mouth.

The next level of whitening, as far as concentration of hydrogen peroxide (3 percent to 9 percent) and speed, would be the in-home kits you can obtain from your dentist. Because of the lower percentage of bleaching matter, these take-out kits must be used daily ands for a longer period of time. The usual time required is one to two hours per day or at night when you’re sleeping, for around two to four weeks. An advantage to these dentist-provided kits is that before usage a bleaching “tray” (something like a mouth guard) is custom made to fit your mouth and teeth. This means there’s no extra aggravation to your gums that occasionally occurs when a non-fitted tray shifts or moves. The cost range for kits to use at home is from $100 to $300 for upper or lower teeth and $200 to $600 for the entire mouth. Your dentist will probably

want to check your gums and your progress during the whitening process.

Several types and brands of over-the-counter whitening systems, as well as gel refills for these kits, are available at drugstores and grocery stores. These include tray-based systems, similar in process to those at-home systems obtained at a dentist’s office. There’s a lower concentration of peroxide or other bleaching agent, and the tray is a one-size-fits-all apparatus instead of being custom fitted. This means, in some cases, minor gum or mouth soreness, which is temporary and goes away once the process is complete. Some kits also contain a light mechanism.

A few examples I found at a local drugstore chain include:

Rembrandt two-hour whitening kit, $24.95.
Plus White Speed: Mix, rinse, put gel in tray and use for five minutes, twice daily, for two weeks. $15.
I White uses a tray with foam strips containing gel for the tray plus a light device, $45.
AquaFresh White Trays: Pre-filled trays, seven upper, seven lower, to be used for 35 minutes. $43.


Whitening gels are clear gels containing peroxide and applied directly to the teeth with a brush twice a day for 14 days. The cost is $15.
The drugstore’s own brand, used once a night for 14 days, is $8.49.

Whitening strips are thin, clear strips already having whitening gel with peroxide. A one-month supply of Crest White Strips, to be used five minutes per day, costs $40. Whitening toothpaste: All toothpastes and tooth powders”whiten” your teeth in that they contain some sort of abrasives or chemicals to help clean the outside of the teeth and make them appear whiter. They do not actually bleach the teeth since they contain no bleaching agent. And, of course, there is no lasting whitening from daily brushing. In this article, whitening the teeth is used to mean bleaching as well — it sounds more pleasing than bleaching.
Generally speaking, many of the over-the-counter products work quite well — it just takes more time, more dedication and carefully following the directions. In addition to the convenience of buying and using them at home, these systems are very reasonably priced. Manufacturers of all these whitening options strive to make their products comfortable to use and thus prevent any irritation or hypersensitivity. Some of the products may show the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance, assuring the product is safe and effective.

Depending upon your desires, time frame and budget, you should reach or even exceed your expectations. It’s possible that you may not see the full extent of the whitening process for a couple of weeks or more, maybe even up to four months. Just for your information, I read in literature I researched that you really won’t be able to bleach teeth so white that they look unnatural. Men and women are equally interested in having a nice, bright, white smile. Word is, this whitening can make us look 10 years younger. You should also know that whitening is not permanent. The more often you eat and drink those dark and colored foods and liquids that cause staining, the quicker the whiteness starts fading. Some sources I read even encourage the use of a straw whenever possible when drinking dark liquids. A word of caution: If you are pregnant or nursing, teeth whitening is not an option, since it is possible to swallow some of the bleach and possibly cause injury to the fetus or infant.


Before I embarked upon the research for this article, I had no idea how many choices of whitening products were available to dentists for chairside and take-home procedures. Or, for that matter, the variety available in the stores for home bleaching. The developers and distributors of these products try to differentiate their brands with claims of working the fastest, higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide or causing the least discomfort or none at all. Others believe their packaging makes the product easier to use (no light required, flexible container for more uniform flow, no tray required). Many tout the thinness, flexibility, fit or special design of the tray found in their whitening kits. Rehydration and replenishment of calcium or other minerals during the whitening procedure is an important feature in some products. There’s at least one gel that is injected into the tooth after a filling or other procedure causes discoloration. The old filling is taken out, the gel injected, and a temporary covering is used to seal the tooth. The procedure is repeated every few days until the color is changed from the inside. Did I mention flavors like mint, peach and melon are sometimes available?

So, lighten up! Grab a new toothbrush, some floss and schedule a dental appointment to find out what type of procedure suits you best. Hmmmmm … 10 years younger … maybe I’ll see you there!

Author: Anne Moore

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