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Who doesn't want a sparkling smile?

Coffee, tea, wine, and other foods discolor teeth over time. If your smile has lost its luster, several teeth-whitening techniques are available.

At-Home Products

  • Whitening rinses. Used like a mouthwash, these products contain whitening agents. They're easy to use. All you do is swirl the rinse around your mouth for a minute. Because the whitening agent is in contact with teeth for a short time, rinses whiten teeth gradually.
  • Whitening toothpaste. Whitening toothpastes have mild abrasives or enzymes that remove surface stains with gentle brushing. Some people develop sensitive teeth if they use these products.
  • Gel strips. These are usually applied to teeth once a day for up to 2 hours. For full effect, most strips are worn for 10 to 20 days, depending on the strength.
  • Whitening trays. Plastic trays filled with whitening gel fit over teeth like a tooth guard. These products whiten teeth fast. But because trays sold in at-home kits aren't custom-made to fit your teeth, they're more likely to rub and irritate gums.

If you decide to try an at-home whitener, follow package directions.

In-Office Procedures

The most common in-office whitening procedure involves custom-made trays filled with bleaching solution that fit firmly over teeth. Because your dentist supervises the procedure, a stronger bleaching solution can be used than what's found in home kits. He may recommend doing the entire procedure in the office. In that case, a light or heat source may be used to speed up the process. As an alternative, you may be fitted for custom-made whitening trays that can be used at home.

Which Is Right for You?

"If your teeth and gums are in excellent condition, you may want to consider an [at-home] whitener," says Kellee Kattleman Stanton, DDS. She's a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

At-home whiteners are easy to use and relatively inexpensive (compared to a $300-$500 office visit). But if your teeth or gums are sensitive, at-home whiteners may not be the best choice because they can cause irritation. Your dentist can provide custom-made trays.

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