White teeth are associated with youth, health, and beauty - it is no surprise that people universally want their teeth to be white! As people age, the shade of their teeth naturally darkens. Dark foods and drinks such as red wine, coffee, tea, soda, or dark berries can stain teeth. Tobacco products are well-known for their ability to turn teeth yellowish-brown. Fortunately, there are safe, easy products to reverse this color change.
Many toothpastes claim to be "whitening" products, but in reality they can only remove surface stains, and are not very useful in whitening the actual tooth itself. Almost all whitening products on the market, both over-the-counter and those provided by a dentist, are a form of hydrogen peroxide, with carbamide peroxide being the most common. The only significant differences between products is the concentration of the peroxide and the manner in which it is applied to the teeth. When used as directed, these products will not harm teeth and have been on the market for decades. Whitening products do cause a significant increase in tooth sensitivity, but this is typically temporary and disappears within weeks of whitening. Crest WhiteStrips, which is a common over-the-counter whitening product, has the peroxide on a plastic strip that is pressed on to the teeth and allowed to remain there for a set period of time, and this process is usually repeated daily over the course of a week or two.
Professional products are usually purchased at a dental office and contain much higher concentrations of peroxide. Our office recommends a process where we take impressions of your mouth, and make custom whitening trays are made to fit exactly over your teeth. This is a take home system, where in the comfort of your home a gel is placed in the trays, and the trays are placed onto the teeth and allowed to remain for an hour or so. In some cases, you can even go to sleep with the trays in your mouth to allow them to whiten as you sleep. After one to two weeks, the results are usually amazing. It is important to know that only natural teeth will whiten - fillings and other dental work will not.
There is currently no way to whiten your teeth and have the results be permanent. All whitened teeth will eventually darken again, as various foods and drinks stain them again. The benefit of having whitening trays is that you can maintain the whiteness of your teeth by performing a once-a-month whitening session (wear the trays for one hour per month). Extra whitening gel is relatively inexpensive (at least at our office) compared with the original whitening procedure.