Publication: Montana Woman Magazine

Dental whitening is a safe, easy, cost effective way to brighten your entire smile. According to a recent USA Today survey, 85% of Americans would like whiter teeth! According to my calculations, that is almost everybody! The market blitz is on, with you, the consumer being the target of lots of confusing marketing and hype about toothpastes and lasers. This month I will cut through the crap and deliver the straight scoop from the inside. If I am missing next month the whitening hit man has found me!

Whiter teeth can be accomplished many ways. I will boil it down to three approaches. The first of these is restorative dentistry. This involves the use of dental porcelains, and composite resin filling materials in the form of bonding, veneers and crowns. These can change tooth shape and color and transform a smile. Although this isn’t tooth whitening in the bleaching sense, I usually recommend whitening before a smile makeover to improve the overall results. It is also a great way to improve the health of the gums prior to treatment. The peroxides used in whitening were originally used to heal gum lesions.

The other ways to “bleach” your teeth are what we hear about from our dentist and the marketers. Over the counter toothpastes with whitening on the label are slightly helpful and create only small improvements. Since the act of brushing your teeth can remove stains, any toothpaste can be marketed as “whitening”. Some products have a little added ingredient to make the marketing more plausible, but in general the benefits are minimal. Store bought home whitening products work for some. They are merely watered down versions of the professional systems.

Professional whitening involves two types of techniques. In office whitening, refers to the laser or light assisted techniques done in the office or at whitening centers. Tray or take home whitening, involves the use of lightweight custom tray mouth guards that fit right to the gum. The patient must then apply special peroxide gel into the trays and onto the teeth twice a day for an average of two weeks. This requires a patient at be responsible at home for the treatment. Some people lose interest or stop due to sensitivity, a mild temporary side effect of most whitening techniques. The gel fortunately has a long shelf life and can still be good even after a year in your refrigerator. The effects of tray whitening are dramatic and long lasting, but require good patient compliance. It is a less expensive way to go than in office, and new gel can be purchased from your dentist as long as your dog hasn’t chewed up your trays!

In office whitening with brand names like Opalescence, Zoom and Britesmile, is for those who would like instant gratification. While research has shown that tray systems give results every bit as good as these heavily marketed light assisted systems, not everyone can fit the tray regimen into their lifestyle. An hour or two at the dental office is all it takes to power whiten and create sudden dramatic results. A word of caution here, since the teeth get dried out a bit, the existing immediate result is subject to a bit of fade as the teeth rehydrate . In office whitening also seems to fade a bit sooner than the tray technique, so many Doctors deliver a tray system for upkeep. Some reports of discomfort associated with in office techniques have prompted manufacturers to include new technology and ingredients into these products to improve comfort. I recommend a home fluoride regimen before, and possibly ibuprofen after treatment to minimize or eliminate discomfort. Also, while whitening is safe and penetrates deep into the tooth, it won’t change the color of fillings or crowns. Severely stained teeth require more sustained effort and may require restorative treatment for ideal results.

Regardless of color, every smile is welcome.

So keep smiling!