By Charley A. Prescott 

Teeth whitening, or bleaching, is one of the most popular cosmetic dental treatments available, but is it right for you? In retail stores, there are many products whose labels claim they will whiten teeth. Dentists also provide this service, but at higher cost. How do you know which option for whitening teeth is best for you?  

Michael Pellico, president of Laclede Inc. and inventor of teeth-whitening systems, offers this starting point: “All whiteners, whether administered in a dental office or retailed in a store, use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide to bleach the teeth. In many cases, the ones that dentists use are much stronger, with 30 percent hydrogen peroxide or higher. Versions obtainable in retail stores tend to have a lower percentage of peroxide. A visit to a dentist can yield dramatic results the same day, because the greater the percentage of peroxide, the faster the bleaching process.” 

Prior to trying any sort of whitening procedure, it is recommended that you talk to a dentist. A dentist can advise you on the overall condition of your teeth, and tell you whether you are a candidate for treatment based on your medical history.

Your options:

Office whitening performed by a dentist
In most cases, the laser whitening performed by a dentist will lighten an individual’s teeth three to eight shades. The purpose of using the laser is to make the high concentration peroxide gel more reactive for faster bleaching. The gums are protected by a gel or rubber barrier during the treatment. Extraordinary results often are produced after a single visit. Of course, a trip to the dentist for this type of whitening costs $300-$800 typically, in comparison with over-the-counter home whitening kits that are more budget-friendly.   

Professionally-dispensed take-home whitening kits
A lot of dentists believe that the professionally-dispensed tray-based bleaching systems are most effective. In theory, a kit with a custom-fit dental tray, which a dentist provides, is tailored to the needs of the individual, allowing the gel to target the teeth properly. In comparison to an office whitening performed by a dentist, the individual using the kit at home uses a lower percentage of peroxide over an extended period of time. The dentist has the ability to monitor progress and to make sure you are following the directions correctly during the treatment period. Cost: $100-$400.

Over-the-counter products
While looking around retail stores for a kit to use at home, you will notice the options are limitless. The majority of DIY products sold in stores, such as strips and gels, require a twice-a-day application for around 14 days or more. A consumer might see a degree of improvement within a few days. The average price of one of these kits ranges from $20-$100. One stands out. According to the August 2009 Consumer Reports magazine: “We tested eight products that cost from $17 to $50 and found a clear winner: Crest Whitestrips Supreme, which you have to buy at a dentist’s office or on the Web (the other seven are available in stores).”  

Whitening tips 

– Teeth with a yellowish cast respond best to whitening.  

– Beware of “snake oil” in the form of a whitening kit. Do your research before purchasing a DIY kit; they are not all effective.  

– Whiteners only work on natural teeth, so don’t expect to see improvement with bondings, caps, crowns, veneers, etc.

– Sensitivity (tooth and gum) is common with whiteners. By using a sensitivity-reducing toothpaste with potassium nitrate, the level of discomfort might decrease.

– Only invest in whitening if you are a non-smoker; otherwise you are wasting money. You also must be willing to reduce or significantly eliminate coffee, tea, red wine and other products that counteract the effects of treatment.

– Remember that whitening is not permanent; approach any treatment of this type with realistic expectations.  

(Charley A. Prescott is a freelance writer who specializes in fashion and grooming.)