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    At Home vs. Dentist Supervised continued...

    Over-the-counter whitening products also contain a mouthpiece tray, but the "one-size-fits-all" approach means that the fit will not be exact. Ill-fitting trays can irritate the gum and soft tissue by allowing more bleaching gel to seep onto these tissues. With in-office procedures, you'll get the bleaching agent applied directly to your teeth.

    Additional protective measures. In the office setting, your dentist will apply either a gel to the gum tissue or use a rubber shield (which slides over the teeth) prior to treatment to protect your gums and oral cavities from the effects of the bleaching. Over-the-counter products don't provide these extra protective measures.

    Costs. Over-the-counter bleaching systems are the least expensive option, with in-office whitening being the costliest.

    Supervised vs. unsupervised process. First, your dentist can perform an oral exam and consider your complete medical history, which can be helpful in determining if bleaching is an appropriate course of treatment based on the type and extent of stains, and the number and location of restorations. Your dentist can then better match the type of stain with the best treatment, if appropriate, to lighten those stains.

    When your dentist does it, he'll likely want to see you a couple of times to clear up any questions about the directions, to make sure the customized tray fits properly, to check your gums for signs of irritation, and to generally see how the process is working. With over-the-counter bleaching products, you're on your own.

     

    Should You Whiten Your Teeth?

    Whitening is not recommended or will be less successful in the following circumstances:

    Age and pregnancy issues. Bleaching is not recommended in children under the age of 16. This is because the pulp chamber, or nerve of the tooth, is enlarged until this age. Teeth whitening under this condition could irritate the pulp or cause it to become sensitive. Teeth whitening is also not recommended in pregnant or lactating women.

    Sensitive teeth and allergies. Individuals with sensitive teeth and gums, receding gums, and/or defective restorations should consult with their dentist prior to using a tooth-whitening system. Anyone allergic to peroxide (the whitening agent) should not use a bleaching product.

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