You can get the shine back on your smile with a variety of teeth-whitening methods. There are pros and cons to brightening up at the dentist's office or with an at-home kit.
Whitening rinses. They're easy to use. All you do is swirl it around in your mouth for a minute.
The whitening agent in the product is in contact with your teeth for just a short time, so your choppers get brighter gradually. Rinses can help prevent new stains after you whiten your teeth.
Whitening toothpaste. It has ingredients that remove surface stains with gentle brushing and may provide gradual brightening. But some people get sensitive teeth if they use these products.
Gel strips. You usually put them on your teeth once a day for up to 2 hours. Depending on how strong the product is, you may need to wear them for 10 to 20 days.
Whitening trays. These are filled with a gel that you fit over your teeth.
They can whiten your choppers fast. But the trays sold in at-home kits aren't custom-made, so they're more likely to rub and irritate your gums. Make sure you follow the directions on the package carefully.
The most common one involves custom-made trays filled with bleaching solution that fit firmly over your teeth. Because your dentist supervises the procedure, a stronger bleaching solution can be used than what's found in home kits.
They may recommend doing everything in their office. In that case, a light or heat source may be used to speed up the process.
Another option is to get fitted for custom-made whitening trays that you can use 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, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.
At-home whiteners are easy to use and relatively cheap. But if your teeth or gums are sensitive, custom-made trays that you get at your dentist's office may help you avoid irritation.
Professional solutions used by your dentist are typically stronger than those in over-the-counter kits, so your teeth may whiten more quickly. They can also make sure that sensitive gums don't get more irritated.
Whiteners work only on the tough outer surface of your teeth, enamel. "If you whiten your teeth too much, you can end up making your natural teeth whiter than neighboring crowns or composite fillings," Stanton says. "Using whiteners too often, especially in combination with whitening tooth paste, can even turn teeth a little gray."
Who shouldn't use whiteners? Women who are pregnant or nursing and anyone with gum problems or untreated tooth decay. People with sensitive teeth should be cautious. Talk to your dentist first.