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    Whitening Your Not-So-Pearly Whites

    Whitening Your Not-So-Pearly Whites

    Two Ways to Tooth Whitening continued...

    The cost of professional whitening varies -- depending on where you live, what product the dentist uses, and what other services may be offered), but usually starts about $500 per session, says Okuda. If your teeth aren't very dark or very stained, you may need only one session.

    Your dentist can also provide you with a tooth-whitening system that you can use at home. At-home products typically come in a gel form that contains carbamide peroxide; the gel is placed in a custom-fitted mouthguard, created from a mold of your teeth. Depending on the product you and your dentist choose, the guard is worn either twice a day for 30 minutes or overnight -- usually for a couple of weeks. The length of time can range from one week to one month depending on how much whitening you need. This procedure usually costs around $400 and whitens the teeth four to seven shades.

    Try This at Home?

    Over-the-counter products are less expensive but will not brighten your teeth as much as professional products. The American Dental Association says the products are safe; the range of whitening power they have, though, is usually just a shade or two.

    Whitening toothpastes can help remove surface stains through the action of mild abrasives. Some whitening toothpastes have special chemical or polishing agents that provide additional stain removal, but unlike bleaches, don't change the color of your teeth.

    Ing and Okuda offer the following suggestions if you're interested in brightening your smile:

    • Have your teeth evaluated by your dentist. "It's important to determine whether you're a good candidate for bleaching," says Ing. "It's not for everyone." In some cases of serious discoloration and pitted teeth, for example, veneers may be more appropriate than bleaching.
    • And crowns, bridges, and fillings do not bleach, so you may need to replace dental work to make it blend with the new color of your bleached teeth. Okuda recommends not only a dental exam, but X-rays as well. "Many dental problems are not visible to the naked eye when they're just beginning. Even if a problem -- such as receding gum lines -- is not very far along, the whitening process could cause you a lot of pain."
    • Choose a dentist who is qualified and experienced. Not all dentists do bleaching, says Okuda. Cosmetic dentists specialize in "smile solutions," he says.
    • There can be side effects. "Occasionally, people experience some sensitivity in their teeth and gums during the bleaching process," says Ing. A study in the Journal of the American Dental Association reported that 50% of people experience temporary tooth sensitivity as a result of home whitening treatment. People with receding gums appear most likely to experience such sensitivity. "The sensitivity usually goes away once the bleaching is stopped though," says Ing.
    • Bleaching isn't permanent. "You may need a touch-up every several years. If you smoke and drink a lot of coffee, you may need the touch-up more often," says Ing.
    • Finally, while the bleaching or whitening process works well, you shouldn't try to get your teeth too white, Ing advises. "Healthy teeth are not pure white, and if you bleach your teeth too much, you may have trouble matching new fillings later on."
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