Teeth Whitening 101

By Katie Faulkner

Over time, everyone’s teeth tend to discolor – whether from food, age, medications, or something else – and you’re left craving a whiter smile. But when you examine whitening options, you might wonder, “Which is the best?” “Will this really work?” and “Can it damage my teeth?” So, if you’re one of the many who is interested in understanding the process of obtaining pearly whites, read on for an overview of Teeth Whitening 101.

How it Works

Bleaching is by far the most effective route to whiter teeth and is actually a simple and relatively harmless process. In fact, according to the United States National Library of Medicine, “Vital (live) tooth whitening, when administered correctly, is by all accounts one of the safest, most conservative, least expensive, and most effective aesthetic procedures currently available to patients.”

For vital tooth whitening, a topical solution, usually containing one of two possible active ingredients, is applied to the surface of teeth. The concentration of the active ingredient, desired results, and the patient’s preferences and schedule determine the duration and method of application. Some whitening solutions are only worn for 30 minutes, some for hours, and some overnight. Procedures even occasionally include a special light that enhances the active ingredient’s results.

The Process:

Whitening solution with active ingredient is applied.

Active ingredient absorbs into tooth’s enamel, bleaching stains and discoloration in varying degrees.

Repetition of this process and extended durations of application yield more significant results.

Active Ingredients

The two most common active ingredients in effective bleaching products are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide.

Hydrogen Peroxide  Many professional bleaching products contain this in concentrations of 25 to 40%. It is often paired with light treatment.

Carbamide Peroxide  This ingredient is also in many bleaching products. It is a combination of hydrogen peroxide and urea (The active ingredient is hydrogen peroxide). This compound usually contains a lower percentage of hydrogen peroxide.

Tips for Best Results

– Watch for the development of tooth sensitivity; discontinue use if it occurs.

– Avoid bleaching front teeth with tooth-colored fillings.

– Protect gums with barrier or petroleum jelly when applying bleaching solution.

– Always consult a dentist or dental professional before beginning this process. 

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