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Whiten Your Teeth, Brighten Your Smile

Wishing for whiter teeth? Whitening toothpastes may help, but they can only get rid of stains on the surface. To remove deeper stains, you’ll need a bleaching product.1 Certain types of bleaching are done in the dentist’s office, while others are done at home.2

Will It Work for Me?

In general, bleaching works best for yellowish teeth and moderately well for brownish ones.2 You might want to consider bleaching if your teeth have been darkened by coffee, tea, smoking, or age.3

Bleaching tends to work less well for grayish teeth. It also may not do much for your smile if your front teeth have bonding or tooth-colored fillings. The color of these artificial materials won’t be changed by bleaching, and they’ll stand out against whiter natural teeth.2

In-Office Bleaching

For the fastest results, you might opt to have your teeth bleached at the dentist’s office. First the dentist protects your gums with either a gel or a rubber shield. Then the bleaching agent is applied to your teeth. In some cases, a special light or laser may be used to enhance the bleaching effect. The procedure may take from 30 minutes to 1 hour, and more than one visit might be required.1,2

At-Home Bleaching

For a more economical approach, you might choose at-home bleaching.3 Your choices include dentist-supervised bleaching and over-the-counter (OTC) products:

Dentist-supervised bleaching. If you choose this approach, your dentist or hygienist will create a custom-made bleaching tray for you. A bleaching gel is placed in the bleaching tray. Then you wear the tray as instructed by your dentist. For instance, you might wear the bleaching tray overnight for a week or two. Or you might wear it for several hours a day over a period of two to four weeks.2,3

OTC products. Some bleaching products are sold directly to consumers. These products, which include gels and strips, usually are not as strong as the ones used by dentists, so it may take longer to get the desired result.3 The American Dental Association recommends talking with your dentist before using any bleaching product.1

What to Expect

Some people experience tooth sensitivity or gum irritation during the treatment period. These problems usually go away once the treatment is over. Check with your dentist if sensitivity persists.

It’s impossible to predict for sure how much whiter your teeth will get. Some people see more dramatic results than others. The lightening usually lasts from one to five years. After that, you may need a touch-up to keep your teeth looking their best.3

1 “ADA Statement on the Safety and Effectiveness of Tooth Whitening Products.” American Dental Association, February, 2008. Accessed 2010.

2 “Tooth Whitening Treatments: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).” American Dental Association. Accessed 2010.

3 “How Can I Brighten My Smile?” Academy of General Dentistry, February 2007. Accessed 2010.

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