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.
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.
Brushing your teeth and flossing regularly helps minimize staining. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), you can also use whitening toothpastes that contain special chemicals and polishing agents. Look for ADA-approved toothpastes for stain removal.
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.
Keeping your teeth white and bright includes several things you can easily do in your daily oral care routine:
Then, if you want to change the color of your teeth with bleaching, choose the option that is best for you:
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.