Teeth Whitening 101: Over the Counter vs. Professional Whitening

As a cosmetic dentist, I get asked about teeth whitening all the time. What I tell my patients is this: Whitening works, for some people.

The truth is that the success of the tooth whitening depends first on the quality of your enamel and second on whether or not a person is committed to putting in the time and effort.

Are you a good candidate?

A good candidate for teeth whitening is someone with dense, opaque enamel – think whole milk versus 2 percent milk. These teeth are “chalkier,” and as a result, will whiten more evenly. The more translucent the teeth, the harder they are to whiten. In fact, these teeth will usually end up looking gray, or worse, with the edges white and the center becoming more translucent.

If you’re unsure which category you fall under, ask your dentist next time you are in the office. Most dentists can tell you if you’re a good candidate for whitening just by looking at your teeth.

Do over the counter whitening kits work?

They do! I’ve seen really good results with over the counter white strips. It all comes down to whether or not you’re a good candidate for whitening and if you use the strips as prescribed.

Keep in mind, if your teeth have a lot of crowding, the strips won’t work as well. That is because the white strip will not come in contact with the entire tooth, causing some areas to whiten and others to remain the same. If this sounds like your teeth, a professional home whitening kit may be better for you.

How does professional whitening compare?

There are two types of professional whitening: in-office and take-home whitening trays.

With the in-office whitening, you’re applying a stronger whitening solution to the teeth and then adding a light that catalyzes the whitening reaction. So you get several shades whiter in one visit. However, half of the immediate whitening is because you’re subjecting your teeth to drying. As your teeth hydrate they will fade some, but you will get a whiter smile faster than with the home whitening kits.

The type of whitening that we offer in our office is the take-home whitening trays. The trays are created from a mold of your mouth and then a whitening solution is applied to the teeth using the trays.

In terms of professional whitening, the real benefit is that it doesn’t cause as much sensitivity as the over the counter white strips. My recommendation would be to use the take-home whitening trays and go low and slow. These whitening kits can go up to 28% strength in terms of the whitening concentration. For the best results, use a kit with 12-15% strength. This will create less sensitivity and make it easier to follow the whitening protocol.

A consistently whiter smile can be achieved in just 10 days by using the professional take-home whitening kit three times per day in 20-minute cycles. For best results, you will need to refresh your kit every three to four months.

How can you achieve the best results?

The key to successfully whitening your teeth is staying consistent. Dedicating 10-14 consecutive days to the whitening protocol is all you really need if you’re doing it right.

Interestingly, teeth are more receptive to staining when you’re whitening them. So stay away from foods and drinks that have a very tenacious stain to them. This includes:

  • Mustard – this is the worst thing to eat when whitening!
  • Ketchup
  • Soy Sauce
  • Beets
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Dark liquids such as Coke, coffee and wine

As a rule of thumb, anything that will stain a white t-shirt will stain your teeth when whitening.

Please note: it’s best to have a good dental exam before you whiten to make sure there are no active lesions – lumps, bumps, ulcers or sores –inside the mouth. If there are, you’ll want to get those taken care of before you whiten. Contact your dentist today to schedule an appointment.

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