Nothing shaves years off of your appearance like a bright smile, which may explain why teeth whitening is the number one cosmetic procedure in the United States. Manufactures have capitalized on our vanity by providing more and more whitening products at ever more affordable prices. Furthermore, there are all kinds of home remedies on the Internet. With everything that's available, it's hard to know which products actually work and what will give you the most bang for your buck. To find out how to navigate the myriad ofoptions, ConsumerSearch spoke to Manhattan-based cosmetic dentist, Timothy Chase, DMD.
Can certain foods whiten your teeth?
Lots of websites tout certain foods as natural, low-cost teeth whiteners. Dr. Chase says this is actually true--to a point. He says that "good, healthy diet choices that are fibrous" can help to keep teeth clean. Some foods like apples and strawberries also contain low levels of acid that can help keep teeth white. He points out that "you won't see a tremendous amount of whitening" but raw fruits and vegetables can help to remove surface stains.
Do whitening toothpastes, mouthwashes, floss and gum work?
While it's tempting to buy these two-in-one type products, Dr. Chase remains skeptical. He says mouthwashes, floss and gum don't keep bleaching ingredients on your teeth long enough to be effective. Furthermore, he adds that whitening toothpaste can be very abrasive and can damage tooth enamel.
What about over-the-counter treatments like mouth trays, whitening strips and paint-on gels?
Dr. Chase says that teeth whitening is a very simple process. It basically consists of applying peroxide gel and letting it sit on teeth long enough to be effective. There are some options, however, that are better than others. Dr. Chase recommends sticking with brands that you are familiar with. Name brands tend to have better-quality desensitizers and are known to adhere to safety guidelines. He says that you can never be sure of what you're getting with unknown brands that you see online and in infomercials. Of all the store-bought options available, Dr. Chase prefers whitening strips because they hold the bleach in place and are convenient and cost-friendly. The drawback, he says, is that they may not fit over all of your teeth.
What's the best way to whiten your teeth?
Dr. Chase says, "The best way to whiten is at home with (professional) trays." The trays work well because they are custom-fit to your teeth in order to "deliver the gel where it's supposed to go and keep it from going where it's not supposed to go." Furthermore, they can be used in the convenience of your home and your dentist can also prescribe a whitening gel that is best suited to your needs and tolerance levels.
Another option is in-office professional whitening, which Dr. Chase says is an excellent choice for folks who need fast results. He explains that the procedure takes about an hour and jump starts the whitening process. Most in-office procedures require follow-up whitening with trays.
Is there anything we should be aware of?
Teeth whitening can cause sensitivity. Although Dr. Chase points out that new desensitizers have eliminated a lot of the pain, he recommends that patients with gum recession, cavities or extreme sensitivity visit with their dentist to fill cavities and account for any recession before whitening teeth. He says professional whitening is the best option in these cases because dentists "have ways of treating them beforehand to eliminate sensitivity."
How can we keep our teeth white?
Of course, there is such thing as going overboard with teeth whitening, but Dr. Chase says, "As long as your teeth aren't hurting, it's okay to whiten as often as you want." That being said, he recommends following manufacturer or dentist instructions for whitening and touching up once or twice per month after you achieve a good color.
For more information about specific teeth whiteners, see our report on Teeth Whitening.