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Choose the Best Teeth Whitener

Mellow yellow teeth with the expert scoop about teeth whiteners.
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Eric Yabu, DDS

There's a saying: "A smile can brighten the darkest day." Maybe that's why so many of us look for ways to change our teeth from dull and yellow to bright and shiny.

Yellow, stained teeth tend to come with the territory for coffee, tea, and red wine drinkers. Smokers, of course, put their teeth at greatest risk for unsightly stains. But everyone's teeth suffer after years of wear and tear --etchings or grooves begin to develop on the teeth's surface, making them more susceptible to stains over time. That's why the same glass of red wine you drink today may do more to discolor your teeth than it did 10 years ago, says Mark Wolff, DDS, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care at New York University College of Dentistry.

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If you're in the market for a teeth-whitening solution, you have plenty of options. Today's professional and do-it-yourself bleaching methods are effective and have proven to be extremely safe, says Denise J. Estafan, DDS, MS, director of esthetic dentistry at New York University College of Dentistry.

Store-bought vs. dentist whiteners

Peroxide -- either carbamide or hydrogen -- is the active agent in teeth whiteners sold by dentists and drugstores alike, and the strength of the peroxide is what mostly sets them apart: Store-bought kits, such as whitening strips and trays, contain as much as 7% peroxide, Estafan says, while whiteners used in your dentist's office can have 35% or, less commonly, 45% peroxide.

The way the whiteners are delivered differs, too. Just one hour in the dentist's chair can turn your smile from dull to dazzling. After applying a high-concentration tooth-whitening gel, your dentist will aim a special heating lamp directly at your teeth for three 20-minute intervals, taking five-minute breaks in between to reapply the gel. "When it's warm, the carbamide peroxide works better," Estafan explains.

During the procedure, a rubber dam or other protective barrier is placed in the mouth to isolate the lips, gums, and tongue so the whitening gel stays concentrated where it's needed: on your teeth. Estafan says the in-office treatment works best when you follow up at home by using whitening trays that are custom-made for your teeth by your dentist. The tight fit keeps bleaching solutions in close contact with the tooth's surface and minimizes the amount of peroxide that is swallowed or contacts the gums.

Professional whitening at your dentist's office works well, but you'll pay for the privilege. Expect to shell out about $500 for the in-office light treatment (which Estafan says also includes at-home trays and solution) and from $300 to $400 for the personalized trays if used alone.

Whitening kits sold in drugstores contain lower levels of peroxide than those sold by your dentist but may work just as well, if more slowly. And they are considerably less expensive than professional options: Kits range from $25 to $100.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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