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Your smile is often the first thing people notice when they meet you, but if you have yellow or stained teeth, this type of exchange can be often be a source of anxiety. No wonder over 40 million consumers in the U.S. have used teeth whitening treatments in 2018, according to Statista.com.
Due to its growing popularity, there are now multiple teeth whitening options available to fit both your needs and your budget. But what can you expect with each type of treatment and which ones work the best? Let’s take a closer look.
Bleaching is considered to be one of the most popular and effective teeth whitening options today and is the method most widely used in dentists’ offices.
During this process, which is also known as “chairside bleaching,” your dentist removes stains by applying bleach directly to your teeth. Your gums are protected using a special gel or a rubber shield. Depending on the type of bleach used—the two most common are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide—the procedure can take one or more visits. The average cost of an in-office teeth whitening treatment is around $650 and the results can vary depending on the type of stains and the overall condition of your teeth.
If you’re looking for a more affordable and convenient option, some dentists will recommend a custom-made bleaching treatment that you can administer at home using a special tray. However, it will take longer to see results than chairside bleaching—anywhere between a few days and a few weeks. The average cost of this treatment is around $400.
If you don’t have the time or money to visit the dentist, there are plenty of over-the-counter bleaching kits that use the same bleaching agents found in dentist offices, but in lower concentrations. It can take several weeks before you see results, however, and they won’t be as noticeable as with professional treatments. Over-the-counter bleaching kits can cost between $20 and $100 each.
HOW DOES TEETH WHITENING ACTUALLY WORK?
The bleaching agents used on your teeth, according to the American Dental Association, are effective at breaking stains up into small pieces, which makes them less noticeable on your teeth. And while yellow stains respond the best to bleaching, brown and gray stains may not disappear at all.
It’s also important to remember that teeth whitening is not effective on false teeth, such as dentures, caps, veneers, crowns, and fillings. Stains caused by medications or injury may not respond well to treatment either.
#2 Laser Teeth Whitening
Also known as “power whitening,” laser teeth whitening is the newest form of treatment. During this procedure, your dentist applies a bleaching agent to your teeth and then shines a laser on them to speed up and improve the chemical’s whitening effect. The procedure takes about an hour and costs around $1,000.
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that while laser teeth whitening has been approved by the FDA, it has not yet been given the Seal of Acceptance by the American Dental Association (ADA) for safety and efficacy.
#3 Whitening Toothpastes
While all varieties of toothpaste help remove surface stains from your teeth, whitening toothpastes contain ingredients, such as calcium carbonate and hydrated aluminum oxide, that provide additional aid in stain removal. They don’t, however, actually change the color of your teeth like bleaching or laser whitening can. But if you’re looking for a deeper clean than regular toothpaste without spending money and time on bleaching, a whitening toothpaste may be the right choice for you.
According to 123dentist.com, it’s important to choose a toothpaste with the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Whitening toothpastes containing blue covarine are also recommended because the chemical can reduce yellow stains by coating your teeth with a thin film that creates an optical illusion of whiter teeth. In fact, according to study published in the Journal of Dentistry, toothpastes containing blue covarine provided tooth whitening benefits immediately after one brush.
Keep in mind that all three conventional methods of teeth whitening come with some risks and side effects, such as:
- Tooth sensitivity
- Gum irritation
- Erosion of tooth enamel
- Permanent dental damage
Dentists often address these risks by protecting your gums with guards before treatment and instructing their patients to use a special desensitizing toothpaste following treatment. If you’re using an at-home teeth whitening kit, however, look for kits with lower concentrations of bleach and contact your dentist immediately if you have any concerns.
CAN FRUIT WHITEN YOUR TEETH?
You may have heard that fruits containing acid, such as lemons and oranges, and digestive enzymes, such as pineapple, can whiten your teeth, but according to the American Dental Association, scrubbing your teeth with these foods can do more harm than good by wearing down the enamel on your teeth.
#4-#7 Natural Alternatives
If you’ve had concerns about the side effects of conventional teeth whitening treatments, you may have looked into natural alternatives. Here are some of the most common natural treatments:
- Activated charcoal. The jury’s still out on this method of teeth whitening. Research conducted by the University of Maryland found “insufficient clinical and laboratory data to substantiate the safety and efficacy claims” of toothpastes containing activated charcoal. For more information, check out Activated Charcoal Could Save Your Life (and Improve Your Skin).
- Apple cider vinegar. Although it can have a bleaching effect on your teeth, it can also erode the enamel, which can cause serious damage. For more information, check out Apple Cider Vinegar: Miracle Remedy or Scam?
- Oil pulling. Used mostly in Asia for curing various diseases by extracting toxins from the body, it’s recently been marketed as a natural teeth whitener. Coconut oil is the most popular oil to use inside of the mouth because of its pleasant flavor. For more information, check out The Startling Dangers of Tooth Infection.
- Baking soda. It has been proven to remove surface stains from your teeth, but if you’re looking for a deeper clean, you’ll need an alternative method. One study found that adding both baking soda and hydrogen peroxide to toothpaste can result in significantly whiter teeth.
How to Avoid Stains
The best way to keep your smile clean and bright is by avoiding stains in the first place. These tips can also help your teeth stay whiter longer following a treatment:
- Avoid foods that can stain your teeth. Culprits include tea, coffee, red wine, berries, tomato sauce, soda, and beets. After eating these foods, make sure to rinse your mouth out with water to help prevent stains.
- Use a straw to drink your beverages. If can’t give up your tea, coffee or soda, drink them with a straw to reduce the amount of liquid that coats your teeth.
- Quit smoking. Both the tar and nicotine can turn your teeth yellow (and eventually brown) after years of smoking.
- Keep brushing and flossing. If you’re not following a daily brushing and flossing regimen, food particles and plaque can build up on and between your teeth, which can attract stains.
- Visit your dentist regularly. A professional cleaning by a dental hygienist can remove superficial stains caused by food and beverages. Your dentist will also be able to recommend the right teeth whitening treatment for you.
- Eat a balanced diet. The plaque on your teeth can attract unwanted stains and what do you think plaque likes to feed on? Sugar. So, if you diet is low in sugar and high in calcium, which helps strengthen enamel, your teeth can do a better job at resisting stains.
For related reading, visit these posts:
- Dental Veneers Turn So-So Teeth Into Beauties
- Receding Gums: How to Treat a Common Condition
- When to Remove Wisdom Teeth
- Maintain Your Oral Health to Avoid Periodontitis
This article was originally published in 2018. It is regularly updated.