Want a brighter smile? When it comes to tooth whitening, you've got two options: in-office-based teeth bleaching, or at-home care.
Both tooth whitening options use peroxide-based bleaching agents. At-home systems contain from 3% to 20% peroxide. In-office systems contain from 15% to 43% peroxide. Generally, the longer you keep a stronger solution on your teeth, the whiter your teeth become.
Smiling, which usually feels good, can also make you feel self-conscious if your teeth are less than white or your lips are lined or cracked. But a slew of new treatments and products can keep you from wanting to stifle that grin. Here are the most effective teeth whiteners and brighteners, plus tips on selecting and applying gorgeous and goof-proof shades of red lipstick — just in time for little-black-dress season.
There are pros and cons to each option, but before you try at-home tooth bleaching kits, be sure to talk to your dentist. Not everyone will see good results.
In-Office Tooth Whitening
Teeth whitening done by your dentist can get teeth brighter faster. The bleaching solution is usually much stronger than at-home kits. Also, heat, light, or a combination of the two may be used to speed and intensify the whitening process.
The most dramatic results -- teeth generally get three to eight shades brighter -- usually take several 30- to 60-minute in-office visits. Some dentists use newer techniques that can be done in a single 2-hour appointment. The cost of in-office tooth whitening varies, but can range between $500 to $1,000.
At-Home Teeth Bleaching Options
There are many choices for bleaching teeth at home, the most common include:
Tooth whitening strips and gels. Applied directly to the teeth with a brush or a thin strip, these peroxide-based tooth bleaching products usually need to be applied once or twice a day for 10 to 14 days. Results last four or more months and may cost from $10 to $55.
Tray-based tooth bleaching systems. With this teeth whitening option, a mouth guard-like tray is filled with a peroxide-based bleaching gel or paste and placed over the teeth for one to several hours a day for up to four weeks. You can buy tray-based tooth whitening systems over-the-counter or have one custom-fitted by your dentist. The cost can range from $150 to $600.
Tooth whitening toothpastes. Because they're mildly abrasive, every toothpaste helps remove stains from teeth. Whitening toothpastes, however, also contain chemicals or polishing agents that help scrub stains from teeth without the aid of a bleaching agent. Tooth whitening toothpastes are relatively inexpensive and brighten teeth by about one shade.
Tooth Bleaching: Keeping Teeth White
Whether you use an at-home tooth whitening system, or have your teeth bleached by a dentist, you can help maintain the results by flossing and brushing daily. Also, avoid acidic and tannin-rich foods and beverages such as:
Black teas and coffee
White and red wine
Carbonated beverages (dark and light-colored sodas)
Berries and other strongly-colored foods
Sauces (soy, tomato, curries)
Teeth Whitening: Why You Should Talk to Your Dentist
Tooth bleaching can make teeth temporarily sensitive -- or be uncomfortable for people who already have sensitive teeth. When used incorrectly, home kits can also lead to burned -- even temporarily bleached -- gums.
Tooth whitening works best for people with yellow teeth and is less effective for people with brown teeth. If your teeth are gray or purple, tooth bleaching probably won't work at all.
To be sure tooth whitening is worth your time and money, talk to your dentist before you use an over-the-counter tooth whitening kit.