Many products currently on the market promise whiter, brighter teeth. The American
Dental Association (ADA) says that if you are a candidate for a whitening procedure,
your dentist may suggest a procedure that can be done in a dental office. Other options
include at-home products, which your doctor may give you or you can purchase over-the-counter.
But dental professionals and the ADA caution you about the improper use of such over-the-counter
products. They are sometimes too abrasive and can damage the teeth with extended use.
The ADA describes "whitening" as any process that will make teeth appear whiter, using
one of two ways. A product can bleach the tooth, changing the natural tooth color.
A bleach contains peroxide that helps remove deep and surface stains. But a non-bleaching
whitening product contains substances that help remove surface stains only.
Who may benefit from teeth whitening?
Darkening of teeth with age
Yellow or orange spotting on teeth caused by coffees, teas, berries and other foods,
Teeth with healthy tooth enamel
People with a gum or mouth disease (periodontal disease or oral cancer)
People with worn tooth enamel
People with tooth decay (until the decay is treated)
What are some different teeth-whitening methods?
The dentist will prescribe either an in-office bleaching system while you are in the
dental chair, or a dentist-supervised, at-home bleaching, which is more economical
and, in many cases, gives the same results.
One option for at-home bleaching involves using a custom-made tray that can be worn
comfortably while you are awake or sleeping. The tray is so thin that you should even
be able to talk and work while wearing it. Some bleaching systems recommend bleaching
your teeth from 2 to 4 hours a day. These usually take 3 to 6 weeks to complete and
work best on people with sensitive teeth. Other systems recommend bleaching your teeth
at night, while you sleep, which may take only 10 to 14 days to complete. Your dentist
can recommend the best system for your needs, and instruct you on the correct usage.
Recently, more over-the-counter products are available that offer simple whitening
solutions. However, they may not provide the dramatic improvement that a professional
treatment option offers.
Side effects and health risks
The American Dental Association has granted its seal of approval on some teeth whitening
products. Talk to your dentist about which products are most effective and safe to
Gum irritation and increased tooth sensitivity are the most common side effects of
teeth bleaching with peroxide solutions.