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Dental Whitening Procedures

A smile can say a thousand words and inspire just as many responses. It can reassure, convey happiness, and attract. But smiles don’t always inspire positive responses. When a person’s smile is dull or yellowed, it can be a negative point of distraction. Although it’s not always true, yellowish or browning teeth can be seen as a lack of oral hygiene by some and can become a hindrance. Everyday activities such as drinking coffee, for example, can stain one’s teeth and make them less white. In addition, age contributes to the color of the teeth. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce and even reverse staining and dulling of the teeth through teeth-whitening procedures and products. These procedures may be done by a dentist in their office, or they can be performed at home either with dental supervision or by using products that are available prescription-free. People interested in teeth-whitening should understand the procedures and the products that are available and how or if they can help improve the color of their smile.


Tooth-bleaching is a whitening process performed by a dentist that typically uses a bleach that is peroxide-based, such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. The procedure works best on people whose teeth are affected by stains due to drinks such as soda or tea, by food, or by age. People with tooth discoloration due to medications or too much fluoride may see less improvement. Additionally, it will not whiten tooth-colored bonding or porcelain crowns. The dentist performing the bleaching may take one of two routes: The bleaching may be performed entirely in the office, or a mouthpiece might be custom-made so that the patient may perform part of the bleaching at home. In-office bleaching often uses a stronger percentage of peroxide than what is used in the dentist-supervised at-home mouthpiece. As a result, it also generally whitens the teeth faster as well.

To bleach the teeth, the gums are protected by a shield, and this is followed by the application of the bleach to the teeth. This may take several visits to complete; however, a special light may be used to speed up the process. Dentist-supervised at-home treatments involve the use of a mouthpiece that is custom-made from a mold of the patient’s mouth. The mouthpiece contains the bleach, and depending on the dentist’s instructions, the mouthpiece must be worn at night or several times a day. The dentist determines what is the best bleaching option for the patient during an evaluation.


Laser teeth-whitening is a form of in-office bleaching that involves the use of a laser. Typically, laser teeth-whitening, which is sometimes referred to as power whitening, is completed within an hour. The process involves the application of the bleaching gel to the teeth. The gel contains a strong peroxide formula that penetrates deeply to remove stains from the teeth. A rubber dam over the gums helps to protect them from damage that may be caused by the laser. The laser itself is used to activate the hydrogen peroxide and break it down into molecules. The molecules penetrate the teeth and work to break down the stains.

Strips, Trays, and Over-the-Counter Whiteners

There are several over-the-counter (OTC) methods that people can use to brighten their smile. There should be realistic expectations when using OTC whiteners, as they are often less effective than dentist-supervised procedures. For example, at-home, over-the-counter bleaching trays, whitening gels, and strips are less expensive than dentist whitening, but they are also do not whiten as well and require longer treatment time. People should also be cautious of the risk of sensitivity with OTC bleaching systems, as they can irritate the gums or they may even damage dental work if not used appropriately.

Whitening toothpastes and mouthwashes are also available. These are non-bleaching and only remove surface stains. Whitening toothpastes are often made with abrasives that help to polish the teeth for a whiter appearance. Because there is a risk of sensitivity, people should check with their dentist before using OTC whitening products on their teeth.

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