Tooth Whitening Basics

By Kelley Hancock, RDH, Hollymead Dental Arts

Some of the most common questions during a healthy dental checkup are about tooth whitening.  Patients want to know if it is safe for their teeth, what their options are, and how often they can whiten or bleach their teeth.

All whitening options are safe when used as directed on the package or by a dental professional.  No method is a one-time procedure.  In order to maintain whiter teeth, you can repeat the process as often as you need.  Take care to avoid getting any whitening product on the sensitive gum tissue, as this may cause burning of the tissue.  It is always recommended to use a sensitive toothpaste one to two weeks before, during and after the use of any whitening product if you experience any sensitivity.  Do not wear whitening strips or whitening trays while sleeping.  You should stay away from any food or drink that causes staining like coffee, tea, dark soda, red wine and blueberries while you are whitening your teeth. Whitening results may last longer if you limit the amount of stain-causing food and drink between whitening sessions. Tooth whitening is not recommended for pregnant women. 

Many whitening products contain hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide that helps to remove surface stains and discoloration on the enamel.  Whitening does not work on ceramic, porcelain or composite materials, so it will not lighten the color of a filling or crown.

There are many different options for tooth whitening.  Some can be bought over the counter and done at home while others must be done in a dental office.  Whitening toothpastes contain abrasives that remove surface stains.  While this may be the easiest to find and a cheap option, it is also the slowest method of whitening.  Whitening toothpastes can be used alone or in conjunction with other whitening methods.

Whitening strips can be found in stores or can be purchased at a dental office.  The difference between store-bought whitening strips and those from a dental office is the strength or percentage of the whitening agent, hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide.  Whitening strips can be worn up to two hours daily for one to three weeks if needed.

*Whitening trays can be custom-made to fit your teeth at a dental office.  A whitening gel is used along with the trays and comes in different strengths or percentages of the bleaching agent.  A tiny amount of whitening gel is placed in the trays, and depending on the percentage of the bleaching agent, they can be worn from 30 minutes up to two hours.  You can wear the whitening trays for a few consecutive days up to two weeks.

The fastest method of tooth whitening is Philips Zoom Whitening.  This is a procedure that can only be done in a dental office.  Zoom Whitening uses a whitening gel and an LED light technology that helps to accelerate the whitening process.  This process can take up to 90 minutes, and results will be seen right away.  You will also go home with custom whitening trays and whitening gel that you can use to maintain your desired results.  Some patients also opt to come back into the dental office to repeat the Philips Zoom Whitening procedure due to its ease of effort.  However, this is a more expensive option, but the results are immediate. There is a tooth-whitening option to fit all needs and budgets.  Ask your dental provider any questions or concerns and decide together on the best whitening method for you.