There are a million ways to whiten teeth—at the mall, at the dentist, and even at home. Here’s a breakdown of the options.
1. Whitening Toothpaste The name “whitening toothpaste” is a bit misleading. Toothpaste only lightens your teeth superficially by being more abrasive than regular toothpaste, so it can remove staining on your teeth, but not the internal colour of your teeth. Pros: Great for removing staining. Look for an ingredient called citroxain. Risks: Don't use more than once a week, brush gently with proper technique and check in with your dentist to make sure you’re not doing damage or gum recession.
2. Professional Whitening at the Dentist’s Office You’ll come into the office for a few sessions for about an hour each time. A high concentration of peroxide is applied to the teeth and a light is used, which supposedly accelerates the chemical reaction and the whitening. Pros: If you need whitening fast for an upcoming event, this can be a good option. Theoretically, since the dentist is present, you reduce your risk of doing damage to your teeth. Risks: At best, they’re safe but won’t get nearly the results from wearing custom trays or white strips. At worst, accelerating the chemical reaction damages the tooth, which can lead to premature aging and yellowing and maybe require future dental work after the tooth dies prematurely.
3. Custom-Made Whitening Trays For the best results, trays are custom-made by your dentist after taking impressions of your teeth. After squirting the hydrogen peroxide gel into the trays, you pop them in your mouth. The trays keep the whitening gel in place, surrounding the 3D surfaces of the teeth and keeping the gel away from the gums where it can do harm.
Pros: You’ll get the best results in the most cost-effective way. Risks: If you use a gel that’s too strong and you leave your trays in for too long, you risk penetration of the hydrogen peroxide too deep into the tooth, which can result in damage of the pulp (the next layer inside the tooth). Children especially are at risk of this because they have larger areas of pulp relative to the size of their growing teeth. Damage of the tissue can cause the death of the tooth, tooth pain, or sensitivity.
4. Whitening Strips Whitening strips are small pieces of a flexible plastic called polyethylene. Each flexible strip is coated with a whitening gel that contains hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide.
Pros: They’re readily available at drugstores, are easy to use, and get results within a few days or weeks. But if you have a cavity and the whitening materials get within that cavity, it can cause excruciating pain. Risks: Whitening strips can be dangerous because they are not custom-fit, so the whitening chemicals come into contact with the gums and other tissues in the mouth. When whitening strips touch other live tissue, you have free radical reactions—those are the reactions the speed up the aging process.