There are two main ways to make your teeth look whiter – stain removal and bleaching. Understanding the difference between these methods and your options for whitening teeth will help you decide the best method for you.
Stain Removal to Whiten Teeth
Your teeth can become stained from foods you eat, liquids you drink, and tobacco use. Pigments from these substances can adhere to the surface of your teeth, causing stains.
Unlike bleaching, removing stains does not change the color of your teeth. But it does help reveal your natural tooth color, so it is an effective way to brighten your smile.
Bleaching uses chemicals to change the natural tooth color. However, it does not work on restorations such as implants, veneers, crowns, or porcelain fillings. Bleaching is also not effective if your teeth are discolored due to medication or trauma. To be sure whether bleaching will work on your teeth, talk to your dentist.
Most bleaching products use the same active chemicals (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide). The main difference between products is the strength of the active chemical.
Because bleaching chemicals can irritate the gums, over-the-counter products that you can buy at the store, such as whitening strips, contain a lower percentage of chemicals compared to those used by dental professionals. These over-the-counter products are often just as effective, but may require more applications to get results.
In a dental office, you might need only a single visit to whiten your teeth. The active chemicals can be stronger because the dentist uses tools or products to protect your gums. The whitening agent is sometimes combined with light to speed the results. Dentists can also create custom trays to fit your teeth and combine them with a professional whitening gel that you can use at home.
Which Teeth Whitening Method is Best?
Keeping your teeth white and bright includes several things you can easily do in your daily oral care routine:
Brushing twice per day and flossing once per day
Removing surface stains with an ADA-approved stain-removal toothpaste
Avoiding foods, drinks, and tobacco that stain your teeth
Then, if you want to change the color of your teeth with bleaching, choose the option that is best for you:
Use over the counter products at home for a more affordable, but longer whitening process
Visit your dentist to learn about in-office whitening options or custom trays, if you prefer faster results and don't mind the potentially higher cost
And if you have sensitive teeth or gums, or if you're not sure bleaching will be effective for your teeth, discuss your options with your dental professional.