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Teeth Whitening 101: Who, What, When, Where, Why?

Have you noticed that your pearly whites are not quite as pearly or white as they used to be? Over time many factors can play a role in tooth discoloration. Though some steps can be taken to minimize further staining, you may want to get a little extra help from your dentist or use an over-the-counter teeth whitening product.

Most tooth discoloration and staining happens as we age and the enamel surface of our teeth weakens. Years of chewing and general use can cause your tooth enamel to become thin and crack, allowing staining agents to stick to your teeth.

The types of food and beverages you consume, smoking, bruxism and trauma can all contribute to tooth discoloration. By modifying some of these habits you may be able to limit future staining, but the only way to actually get rid of stains and brighten teeth is to speak with your dentist about using teeth whitening dental products.

Options, Options, Options!

Thanks to recent scientific advancements, you now have more options than ever when it comes to teeth whitening procedures, products and treatments. Most can be sorted into one of two categories: in-office treatments performed at your dentist’s office or an office specializing in tooth whitening by trained professionals, or over-the-counter treatments that you administer yourself.

Remember that no matter what option you choose it is always important to consult with your dentist before attempting to whiten teeth because some of the chemicals used can be harmful if used improperly. Tooth sensitivity and gum irritation are frequent side effects of tooth whitening products and although they generally pose no long term threat, you don’t want to take chances with the only set of teeth you have!

In-Office Teeth Whitening Treatments

Many in-office or “chair side” whitening treatments are available to you either directly through your dentist or at an office specializing in tooth whitening. A number of brand name teeth whitening treatments are available, including BriteSmile® and Zoom!®.

Most in-office whitening treatments use hydrogen peroxide in relatively high concentrations to allow for fast, dramatic results. Teeth can be whitened significantly after only one dental treatment! Since trained professionals administer the treatments, in-office teeth whitening is extremely safe.

If your teeth or gums are extremely sensitive, your dentist may advise a different treatment plan using weaker whitening agents over a longer period of time. Dentists can also give you tooth whitening treatments that are stronger than what you can buy over the counter to use at home.

At-Home Teeth Whitening Treatments

There is an almost endless variety of over-the-counter tooth whitening products available to you at your neighborhood drugstore. From whitening toothpaste, gels, strips and kits to custom, dentist-dispensed trays. Products such as Crest Whitestrips®, GoSmile® and dentist-prescribed Nu Radiance® can be used at home, in the car, at work or even while you sleep giving you maximum flexibility to whiten your teeth when it is most convenient for you.

Most at-home tooth whitening treatments use carbamide peroxide, which is weaker than the hydrogen peroxide usually used in professional teeth whitening. By using lower strength peroxide over an extended period of time, you can control the rate and degree of whitening.

At-home whitening products are usually much cheaper than most in-office whitening treatments. Over-the-counter whitening products are a no-hassle option for most people looking for moderate whitening. Still, it is important that you consult with a dentist to make sure that you choose the tooth whitening system that is right for you.

Tooth Whitening At A Glance

In-Office Treatment Advantages

  • Fastest, most dramatic results
  • Extremely safe


  • May be too harsh for hypersensitive teeth or gums
  • Works well with organic stains and discoloration

At-Home Treatment Advantages

  • Ongoing use allows you to maintain results
  • Variety of products available
  • Convenience and portability
  • Inexpensive


  • Overuse can weaken or irritate teeth and gums

If you have questions about teeth whitening — or want to find out if which type is right for you — talk to your dentist.

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