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Many adults self-consciously hide their smiles for one common reason: tooth discoloration. Over the last several years, the market has become saturated with tooth whitening products– many sold over-the-counter at your local drug store. Dentists also frequently offer teeth whitening services. For those who are embarrassed by their discolored smiles, this is excellent news. But is it safe to race to the pharmacy down the road and buy a whitening kit? Or should whitening always be done in a dentist’s chair? Let’s consider some information about teeth whitening below.

What causes discolored teeth?

Why do teeth stain in the first place? Staining can be either extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic staining is caused by outside culprits. Some of the most common are coffee, red wine, tobacco, and tea. Intrinsic staining, on the other hand, is often the result of aging. Over time, the enamel– the protective outer layer of the teeth– wears down, revealing the yellow-colored dentin. Intrinsic staining can also be caused by overexposure to fluoride. Additionally, the antibiotic tetracycline can cause intrinsic staining when developing teeth are exposed to it.

What is professional whitening?

  • Take-home whitening. Despite its name, professional teeth whitening doesn’t always have to be conducted in a dentist’s office. One option, take-home teeth whitening, allows you to whiten your teeth in the comfort of your own home. It’s still considered professional whitening, though, because your dentist will give you whitening trays that are custom-made to fit your mouth’s shape. At home, you fill the whitening trays with gel and place them on your teeth. Your dentist will advise you regarding the amount of time the trays should be left on your teeth.
  • In-office whitening. When most people consider professional teeth whitening, in-office whitening is likely the first thing that springs to mind. During the in-office whitening process, your dentist will apply a bleaching gel to your teeth. The time that the bleaching agent is left on the teeth varies, but is generally around an hour. Many dentists also use a light or laser to increase the effectiveness of the whitening gel.

Which is better: professional whitening or over-the-counter whitening?

When you make the decision to whiten your teeth, this question inevitably comes to mind: should I make an appointment with my dentist for whitening or simply head to the drug store down the street?

  • Use an over-the-counter kit if your teeth and gums are healthy with no major concerns, including sensitivity. Over-the-counter products like strips, gels, and toothpastes are typically effective, cost-effective options for people whose smiles are in good overall condition.
  • Go for professional whitening if you have sensitive teeth or if you want a whiter smile more quickly. Tooth sensitivity is a side effect of whitening, so if your teeth are already sensitive, professional whitening with custom-made trays is likely a more desirable option for you. Also, because professional whitening is typically monitored by a dentist, stronger bleaching solutions can be used. Thus, the result is teeth that are whiter in a shorter timeframe.
  • Talk to your dentist before whitening if you are pregnant, nursing, or if you have untreated dental issues like gum disease or tooth decay.

Regardless of whether you go the professional or over-the-counter route, you can expect your results to last anywhere from six months to two years. Of course, you can help your teeth stay whiter for longer by practicing good oral hygiene and avoiding foods and beverages that are known to stain.

It’s time to stop hiding your smile from the world. Contact us today to discuss teeth whitening and other cosmetic dental procedures we offer. We look forward to hearing from you!