Tooth Whitening has gained much popularity and many people who simply want whiter teeth look for ways to achieve this without going to their dentist or spending lots of money. There is an abundance of over-the-counter teeth whitening products, which has caused some confusion regarding what’s best, what’s least effective, and what’s most harmful. What many people often don’t think about when searching for the least expensive option is the possible risks to their teeth long-term to save money short-term. The saying: “you get what you pay for” is definitely very true when it comes to tooth whitening products and due to many questions we get in my office regarding various ways to whiten teeth, I put together some tips to help ensure that, while you are getting the results you want, you are not doing more harm to yourself long-term.
A. Obviously see your dentist regularly – decay/cavities and leakage/breakdown of existing fillings can make your teeth look darker due to bacteria destroying the tooth inside
B. Get professional teeth cleaning – tartar build up and stain can dramatically darken, and destroy the look of a smile
C. Main difference between over-the-counter whitening products and professional-grade (those you get through your dentist) is the strength and efficiency. Main reason is similar to pain medications; over-the-counter pain meds need to be managed by everyone so their active ingredients are weak and in low amounts. We don’t want people to use them incorrectly or overdose. Prescription meds, managed by a doctor or dentist, come in much greater strength and potency/efficiency but need to be strictly monitored and managed. So they are much more effective but need to be used in a specific way so the patient doesn’t end up getting hurt. Whitening products are the same; over-the-counter products are weak in order to protect people who buy and use them from abusing the active ingredient. Professional whitening systems, especially those used in-office under supervision of a dental professional (so applied and controlled by the dentist or dental hygienist) are much more powerful and effective but need to be applied in a very specific way and removed within a specific period of time. So much more control and structure is needed in their application, hence the professional needed to apply and monitor these. But they are much more effective and patients typically see a drastic difference after one application, vs over-the-counter products that take a long time to see the slightest change.
D. Understand the difference between shade or colour of your teeth vs appearance. Many people come in asking for “whitening” when in fact, as I speak to them about what they don’t like about their smile, it turns out that they are looking for a change in structure or shape or symmetry. And whitening does only that – it whitens teeth. It doesn’t repair the chips, it doesn’t whiten stained or broken/leaking fillings, it doesn’t fix the rotated or misaligned teeth, and it certainly won’t remove or heal cavities that are growing inside the tooth.
E. Be aware of the ingredients and how they work if you choose over-the-counter products. Some have acids or etchants as one of the ingredients, and these will “strengthen” the whitening effects of the products, for a short time, but because they cause micro-porosities in your enamel (which is one of the reasons they work to “whiten”) they will also destroy the enamel over time as they etch it away with each use. So you get whiter teeth for a short time only to speed up the “aging” process of your teeth dramatically
F. Understand the difference between temporary effects and long-term effects. What I mean by that is that many products simply “dehydrate” the teeth. Dehydrated teeth appear much whiter, which is why your teeth may temporarily look whiter after an appointment with your dentist if they used a rubber dam, which keeps teeth isolated and away from saliva. The dehydrating effect, pulling water out of your enamel, makes teeth appear whiter, but this goes away within an hour after rehydrating the teeth. So how teeth rehydrate? Well, any time you close your mouth and let your saliva touch them. So whitening products that dehydrate teeth work… for an hour or so. Not much of a lasting effect.
G. Many of the patients I see who ask about whitening actually have fairly white teeth and they are simply influenced by the Hollywood “perfection” they see on TV or social media. So when they see perfect white teeth, they are thinking “oh, I need to whiten my teeth”, when they are really after that “perfect” look. So it’s important to know whether you are looking to simply whiten, or to have a makeover of your smile.
H. Stain – stain is one of those culprits that darken teeth that many people are not aware of. Many people talk about smoking or drinking red wine, but don’t think about the spices they use in cooking. We see many patients who come in with very stubborn stain on their teeth that is actually very difficult to remove, even with professional tools, that has been deposited on their teeth from the spices used in everyday foods. Your dentist or dental hygienist can help determine if your teeth are dark from stain and give you more tips on how to manage your particular type of stain.
Be careful what you put on your teeth or in your mouth. The long-term health of your mouth and your ability to protect your teeth depends on it.
About Dr. Agatha Bis
Dr. Agatha Bis, DDS received her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Western Ontario in 1996. With over 25 years of clinical experience creating beautiful and healthy smiles, Dr. Bis offers a unique approach to dentistry, blending modern dental practices with the use of digital technology to optimize health outcomes. With thousands of hours in post-graduate training, her unique focus and expertise in treating TMD and providing options in restorative dentistry, along with digital technology have led to helping numerous patients resolve chronic and debilitating dental challenges.