Teeth whitening has been available for longer that you might imagine. Early teeth whitening can be traced back to ancient Egypt and Rome. The Egyptians mixed pumice stone and wine vinegar, which they applied using their chew sticks. The Romans, however, were convinced human urine was the best whitening agent. No wonder the Roman Empire fell. Despite the apparent undesirability of using urine to our modern senses, however, it does in fact contain ammonia, which has since been recognized as an effective agent in cleaning teeth. But we do not use ammonia currently in whitening products.
The current teeth whitening products use various forms and concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, most of the time in a gel form. The whitening effectiveness is based on the strength of the whitener and the contact time on your teeth. Be aware that toothpastes and rinses that promote whitening effects, do not work well at all. It is all for marketing…the concentrations of the whitening agents are so low and the contact time is so short that you will not see any noticeable whitening. Most over-the-counter products that are made specifically for whitening (strips and do it yourself kits) can whiten your teeth, but will take more time than procedures done by a dentist. Those that are used by dentists usually are stronger and more concentrated than the ones you can get in a store or even online. I have even seen some whitening booths in the mall…remember that without dentist supervision, they have to use lower strength products.
The most effective treatments for teeth whitening currently are in-office procedures such as Zoom/Britesmile, Kor, Lumibrite, Opalescense and many others. These methods use the strongest whiteners available and some may use a special light to enhance the effects. When having this type of whitening done, your gums and lips need to be protected from the whitener by special barriers. These procedures usually take about 60-90 minutes from start to finish and we see the best results from these methods. After an in-office procedure, we recommend that some sort of maintenance whitening be done at home to keep the teeth nice and bright. For this, trays and strips are a good option. A whitening pen, is a method that is good for maintenance also.
The use of whitening trays was one of the first methods used by dentists to whiten teeth 30 years ago, when it became popular. Trays can either be custom made by a dentist or done at home using a “boil and bite” technique. The more accurate the tray is the better fitting it will be. That is an important factor to prevent unwanted leakage of gel into your mouth and to prevent saliva from inactivating the whitener. With a tray, you simply put the whitening gel in the tray and then wear it for anywhere from 30 minutes to even overnight. To compare tray whitening with in-office whitening…one in-office treatment will whiten as much as 2 weeks of tray whitening.
With all types of whitening, the effectiveness is also dependent on the nature of a person’s teeth. Yellow and brown colored teeth whiten much better than gray or translucent teeth. Translucent teeth or teeth that are clear in nature are the most difficult to whiten. Unfortunately, this is what often happens to teeth as we get older. For very translucent teeth, other cosmetic options may have to be explored…bonding or porcelain veneers.
Check with your dentist to see which is the best method for you to whiten your teeth.