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The Pros and Cons of Tooth Whitening

When it comes to tooth whitening, the market is flooded with options. There are really only two categories: In-office or at-home whitening and there are pros and cons to each. Before choosing any option, make sure to discuss it with your dentist to determine if it is worth your time and money.

In-Office Tooth Whitening

Teeth whitening done by your dentist can get your teeth brighter faster. The bleaching solution is usually much stronger than at-home kits. Sometimes, heat, light or a combination of the two may be used to speed and intensify the whitening process. However, many studies have reported no additional long-term benefit with light-activated systems. The most commonly observed side effects with this procedure tend to be tooth sensitivity and occasional gum irritation. Tooth sensitivity often occurs during the early stages of the bleaching treatment. Tissue irritation may result from an ill-fitting tray used to contain the bleaching product. Both tooth sensitivity and tissue irritation are usually temporary and stop after the treatment.

As far as results, patients usually can expect their teeth to get three to eight shades brighter. It also offers instant gratification as the procedure can be done in a single two-hour appointment. The cost of in-office tooth whitening varies, but can range anywhere from $500 to $1,000.

At-Home Teeth Bleaching Options

There are many choices for bleaching teeth at home, the most common include:

Take home bleach trays

With this teeth whitening option, impressions are taken by your dentist to fabricate a customized mouth guard-like tray. This tray is taken home, filled with a “bleaching” agent, and placed over the teeth for one to several hours a day for anywhere between two to four weeks. You can buy tray-based teeth whitening systems over-the-counter or have one custom-fitted by your dentist. The cost range is anywhere from $150 to $600.

Tooth whitening strips

Applied directly to the teeth with a thin strip, these peroxide-based tooth bleaching products usually need to be applied once or twice a day for 10 to 14 days. These strips are not customized and can slip off, causing potential bleach burns if the strip is resting on the gum tissue. This type of product is also not generally recommended for those with crowded teeth.  As far as results, they can last four or more months and may cost anywhere from $10 to $55.

Tooth whitening toothpastes

Since they're mildly abrasive, most toothpaste helps remove stains from teeth. Whitening toothpastes, however, also contain chemicals or polishing agents that help scrub stains from teeth without the aid of a bleaching agent. Tooth-whitening toothpastes are relatively inexpensive and brighten teeth by about one shade. Some whitening toothpastes contain peroxides, but they aren't left on the teeth long enough to have a whitening benefit. Several whitening toothpastes that are available over the counter have received the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

Keeping teeth white after whitening

Whether you use an at-home tooth-whitening system, or have your teeth bleached by a dentist, you can help maintain the results by flossing and brushing daily. Also, avoid acidic and staining foods and beverages such as: black teas, coffee, red wine, sports drinks, sodas, berries, and dark sauces.

Why you should talk to your dentist about any options

Tooth bleaching can make teeth temporarily sensitive, or be uncomfortable for people who already have sensitive teeth. When used incorrectly, home kits can also lead to burned—even temporarily bleached—gums.

Tooth-whitening works best for people with yellow teeth and is less effective for people with brown teeth. If your teeth are a gray shade, tooth bleaching may have to be done for a longer time than usual, and may not even work at all.

There are pros and cons to each option, but before you try any bleaching option, be sure to talk to your dentist. Not everyone will see good results.  Bleaching also will not whiten porcelain crowns or composite tooth-colored bondings so you may not even be a candidate for whitening.

Dr. Cyril Mansperger is an eco-friendly dentist who provides general dental procedures with a special emphasis on health, functionality and aesthetic design. His office is located at 202 Fishkill Ave., Beacon. For more information, call 831-3435 or visit