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Question: “I’m interested in whitening my teeth. What method works best?”

Answer: Teeth whitening is more popular than ever. It seems as if everyone wants to have whiter, brighter teeth these days. There are so many options available that deciding what system to use can be somewhat overwhelming. There are whitening toothpaste, over-the-counter products, daytime or nighttime whitening systems, and in-office whitening technology, all of which have varying degrees of effectiveness.

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The efficacy of most of these products depends upon the concentration of carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, patient compliance, the beginning shade (color) of the teeth, how many restorations are present, and the patient’s diet. People who drink a lot of coffee, red wine, colas, or who smoke regularly, will most likely need to “touch-up” their whitening more frequently – regardless of the technique that is utilized.

Whitening toothpaste and other over-the-counter whiteners are effective for some people. These products are milder and less expensive than those used by dentists and can be used without the supervision of a dental team. However, the results usually are less dramatic and often don’t last as long. I often tell my patients that these products are “worth a try”, are inexpensive and that we can help them achieve more substantial results if they are dissatisfied.

The most popular professional whitening systems generally involve stronger whitening agents and either take-home bleaching trays or faster in-office whitening technology. The “take-home” products usually take about two weeks to get the desired effect – sometimes with two hours of daytime use or several hours of nighttime use. Bleaching trays made in a dental office are custom fitting and very comfortable for patients.

In-office whitening systems have become extremely popular due to the “instant gratification” aspect. At a time when people seem to be busier than ever, many people prefer these one-hour (forty-five minutes with the new Zoom2) solutions. These in-office systems are generally more expensive because of the cost of the technology, the whitening materials, and the additional time and expertise required by the dental team.

Remember that teeth whitening can be effective for most people, but not everyone. Consult with your dental team for more specific advice to make sure that you get the results that you want.