Whiten Your Smile

There are two main ways to effectively get your teeth whiter: a bleaching session (usually one is sufficient) at the dentist's office, or several at-home, dentist-supervised bleaching sessions. Other less effective options include over-the-counter (OTC) whitening toothpastes, strips, polishes, gels, or pens.

Consider tooth whitening if your choppers have become stained and discolored from smoking and tobacco use, years of drinking coffees and colas, or have yellowed due to aging. Tooth whitening results vary depending on the severity of the staining, age and even heredity. Some stains resist whitening, particularly stains due to trauma, exposure to tetracycline antibiotics while your adult teeth were forming, or overexposure to fluoride.

In-office bleaching sessions typically take 2 hours. The dentist will protect your gums with gauze, insert a cheek retractor to keep your mouth open, and cover your gums with a protective gel and possibly a desensitizer. The whitening agent (usually a 15 to 30 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide) is applied to your teeth, and an intense light is focused on your mouth for about 30 minutes. The peroxide solution will likely be removed and reapplied for another 30 minutes. At the end, your teeth should be 2-3 shades whiter, possibly more. They will also be fairly sensitive for the next 24 hours.

For at-home procedures, your dentist will customize a mouth tray, and send you home with mild peroxide solution. Typically, the mouth trays are worn from two to four hours or overnight for up to two weeks. Sporadic touch-up treatments are often recommended with both types of bleaching sessions.

Treatment cost vary,  but in-office teeth whitening typically costs about $650 to $700, while at-home treatments can run your approximately $400. It pays to ask your dentist if she offers discounts to established patients, or to call around – like me, you might catch a sale.