By Brian P. Hall, DMD
Often when wedding plans come about, there is a desire to have everything look great, and often it includes making the bride and groom’s teeth as beautiful as possible. Planning weddings also takes a good amount of time and money, so the thoughts of whitening teeth often come in late in the planning process. Luckily, tooth whitening can be fast and relatively inexpensive, since most dental offices can accommodate the last-minute bride and groom to get great results.
There are basically four ways to whiten teeth. I’ll go over the four ways in a second, but let’s discuss the basics first. All tooth whitening systems use some form of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to work. This makes them very safe for teeth because teeth are like hard sponges. Water and other small molecules can penetrate easily. Hydrogen peroxide gets into the tooth and breaks down the complex compounds to leave the more basic compounds that reflect light better. Years of use and studies show that this doesn’t cause any appreciable reduction in strength to the tooth. Now that the “why it works” is out of the way, let’s discuss the “how to” of teeth whitening.
Over-the-counter Whitening Toothpastes and Rinses
We have never seen a lot of success in this category. The primary issue is that hydrogen peroxide takes time to whiten, and brushing and rinsing don’t take very much time. Also, the longer hydrogen peroxide spends on gums, the more likely they will experience a chemical burn. This makes purchasing these toothpastes and rinses, in my opinion, a breakeven situation. These products probably can keep your teeth from getting darker but may not be the best at whitening (unless you hold them in your mouth for too long). They are, however, the cheapest of all the products available.
Crest originally came up with these, however, many manufacturers make a similar product. They are slower but cheaper than dentist-administered products and generally harder to use. They also often only cover the canines but not the premolars and molars. Most people show their premolars and molars and should have them whitened. They can be whitened with the strips but some fancy cut and pasting may be required, which can be too complicated for most people. They are great for people who want most of their teeth whiter and can’t budget for the more expensive items.
Dentist-made trays are one of the more expensive options however they have some great benefits. The trays fit extremely well, limiting the contact of hydrogen peroxide with the gums. They also work fast for most people. Even though the initial cost is higher (since the trays can last for years), most of the time you can buy just the peroxide compounds from your dentist for cheaper than the strips, so the long term cost of keeping your teeth white can be lower.
In-office whitening is best for patients that need whitening in a hurry or are not disciplined to do an at-home program. It generally costs more, but it’s faster. If you don’t get trays with it, you may have to schedule a visit every few years to keep up the level of whitening that you want.
There are other methods to whiten, but these are the most common. I hope this helps everyone, whether you are getting married or not, to make a good decision on how to whiten your teeth.