Tips for Whitening Teeth

Teeth whitening is the most popular dental treatment on the market. Among orthodontic patients, 90 percent consider white teeth an essential part of an ideal smile. Because of genetics, age, and lifestyle factors, most people will at some point wish for whiter teeth.

While appearing white because of the color of the enamel, your teeth actually are yellow. People born with naturally thicker enamel will be less vulnerable to wear and tear that will thin it and show the tooth’s true colors. Your teeth’s ability to whiten will depend on how thick your enamel is and the severity of its staining.

Though nearly all smiles can benefit from whitening treatments to some degree, people with healthy enamel might find success in over-the-counter treatments, while those with thinner or more deeply-stained surfaces will need to pursue professional options.

Most teeth whitening systems use hydrogen peroxide as their active bleaching agent. Take-home strips sell between $20 and $100, take-home trays range from $100 to $400, and in-office procedures cost an average of $650. The most common side effect you will experience as a result of teeth whitening is increased sensitivity–either of the teeth, gums or both–which is usually temporary.

Whitening Toothpaste

Whitening toothpaste can help brighten your teeth by erasing mild surface stains. The toothpaste typically includes abrasive properties that polish the teeth, as well as a bleaching agent. Whitening toothpaste can produce results in about six weeks if used at least twice per day, but it will not alter the natural color of your teeth or travel beyond the surface to remove deep stains.

Some whitening toothpaste contains the chemical pigment blue covarine, which adheres to the surface of the teeth and creates an optical illusion that can make them appear less yellow. However, the results are not long-lasting when compared with other whitening methods.

Dozens of brands of whitening toothpaste exist, and any option that is ADA-approved should be safe. Check for the ADA seal of acceptance on the packaging, as some major companies manufacture a mix of products that are both ADA-approved and non-approved. For example, the ADA does not approve of charcoal toothpaste because they are extremely abrasive and may permanently wear down your enamel.

Whitening Strips & Trays

Home-bleaching kits come in whitening strips or trays. Whitening strips stick to the teeth, while bleaching trays fit over your teeth like a mouthguard. You can purchase these over-the-counter or have your dentist mold a custom tray.

Before using home whitening kits, it is important to make sure that you don’t have cavities or other problems that whitening could exacerbate. Schedule your regular dental checkup and cleaning right before you plan to start a whitening system. This also will help you achieve better results, as the buildup of plaque will reduce whitening outcomes.

Make sure to follow the directions on the whitening kit you choose. Most over-the-counter whitening kits recommend an application every six months. Do not complete “extra” treatments, as overuse can irritate gums and cause tooth sensitivity and pain.

It’s best to wait until the time you intend to use a whitening product to purchase it so that it does not expire. Over time, the hydrogen peroxide changes to water and oxygen, and the oxygen leaks out of the package. If you try and use a whitening kit after its expiration date, while it won’t harm you, chances are you will only be getting gel and water. Always check the expiration date when you purchase a whitening product, especially if it is on sale (which often means it’s closer to expiring).

Power Whitening

To power-whiten your teeth, a dentist will apply peroxide with a laser to give you immediate results. He will need to place a protective agent over your gums and lips to guard them from the high concentration of peroxide. The procedure is safe for your teeth and can last several years.

The first few days after treatment are the most critical. Avoid dark foods and liquids, drink through a straw when you can, don’t smoke, and brush and floss frequently. This will help to maintain your results. After the first few days, you can return to eating and drinking normally. If you are unsure whether a food or beverage might stain your newly whitened teeth, consider spilling it on a white carpet. If it would stain your carpet, it will likely stain your teeth.

Natural Ways to Keep Teeth From Staining

If you smoke or use chewing tobacco, your teeth won’t stay white for long. Nicotine turns yellow when it combines with oxygen, and the tar and tobacco in cigarettes is brown. Teeth have pores much like your skin, and nicotine and tobacco easily absorb into them. The sooner you quit tobacco, the easier it will be to whiten your teeth.

Watching the types of food and drink you expose your teeth to also can help prevent future stains. Acidic foods and beverages are among the main culprits of staining, as they dissolve the enamel on your teeth and allow the color to absorb. Coffees, teas, and sodas all have high acidic contents. Citrus fruits and tomatoes also are especially known for their high acidic content. You don’t need to cut these out completely, but ideally, you should brush your teeth immediately after indulging or, at the very least, rinse your mouth out with water.

Porcelain Veneers

Veneers are not actually a tooth-whitening treatment–they are thin, shell-like structures a dentist will place over your teeth. Because they are artificial, you can customize them to your desired level of brightness. Veneers are a good choice if your teeth are discolored naturally or because of medication or illness. However, they are quite expensive, running $1,000–$2,500 per tooth. The other downside is that if you at some point decide to stop wearing them, your teeth will be at higher risk for staining than when you started. That is because the dentist needs to scrape away healthy enamel to apply veneers.


A dentist can bond a resin composite to your teeth to achieve a whiter look and improve their shape. The results are instant, but because the resin wears down over time, you will need to repeat the procedure to maintain the results.

Like veneers, bonding is easy to perform and produces immediate whitening. Bonding costs about $100–$400 per tooth. While it won’t damage the natural teeth, the composite resin used in bonding is not as strong as your natural teeth, making them more prone to chipping or breaking.

Don’t Do it Yourself

Do not use DIY whitening methods that you read about on the internet, as most are ineffective and many are not safe. For example, you might have heard of using lemon juice as a bleaching agent (some people try this on their hair as well). But lemon juice is highly acidic and will destroy your enamel, making the color of your teeth darker instead of lighter.

And though hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient in most whitening kits, the concentration is far beyond what comes in the brown plastic bottle you can buy at pharmacies. Your attempts to rinse with peroxide as a method of whitening your teeth will be largely futile.

If you’re concerned about the color of your teeth during or after orthodontic treatment, contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified orthodontists.