There has been an explosion in tooth whitening over the past decade. The public no longer finds yellow teeth acceptable. Daily our patients are asking about whitening. Tooth whitening is a very conservative treatment that can make a huge impact on your natural smile.

Q: Tell me, is whitening safe and how effective is it?

A: Yes, whitening is very safe. Many products have the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. And yes, whitening can be very effective. Teeth darken for many different reasons. Routine age related darkening typically responds well to whitening. Darkening due to trauma and drug reactions, such as tetracycline, usually require a more aggressive treatment.

Q: So what about coffee and tea stains?

A: Whitening works well on intrinsic stains. Intrinsic stain is the normal darkening of the teeth from the inside. This is commonly part of the aging process. Coffee and tea stains are external, on the outer surface of the enamel. Routine dental care and professional cleanings are the best way to manage external staining.

Q: So can most anybody whiten?

A: Fortunately, darkening of the teeth is one part of the aging process that you don't have to accept. A lot of people are candidates for whitening. The biggest concern for whitening is sensitivity. The more potent solutions can make the teeth more sensitive. This sensitivity will go away once the whitening process is completed.

Q: So, how do you whiten teeth?

A: There are several different options. Most commonly, patients use prescription strength solutions in custom made trays that are worn daily until they reach the brighter shade they desire. This method is very effective for most everybody. A more economical option is whitestrips. Professional strength strips are available through your dentist. We've had great success with strips. The strips work well for patients that are on a tighter budget and have straight teeth. Uniform results cannot be achieved if the teeth are crooked. For the patient looking for instant gratification, in-office whitening is available. This is a nice option for the patient with limited time. In one visit, the patient leaves with the white smile of his dreams. Your dentist can recommend what is best for you.

Q: How long does whitening last?

A: Research reports the average patient has a 10% relapse in shade color per year. Most patients periodically “touch-up” to maintain the bright, youthful look.

Q: How much does whitening cost?

A: The price of whitening varies depending on the method chosen. In-office whitening is by far the most expensive option. The traditional custom tray method can cost between $350-450 or so. Strips are less expensive. Professional strength strips are approximately $65-75. Retail, over the counter strips are the least expensive. These strips are effective, however; it can take more strips to obtain the desired results.

Q: Are there any drawbacks to whitening?

A: Tooth whitening is here to stay. Manufacturers are constantly trying to invent a new, faster technique with less sensitivity to address every issue. Tooth whitening is not for everybody. Whitening works only on enamel, it does not change the color of existing fillings or crowns. Life is about choices, tooth whitening is a choice. Whitening can change your smile and really give you something to smile about! For the patient that just wants a fresher look, whitening can work with what you have and make it great!

Tooth whitening is a great option to achieve a simple makeover!


- Written by the Salem Times Register for Dr. Caroline Wallace.