Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Teeth Whitening

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We want to make it easy for you to become an informed participant in your oral health care. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to help you feel comfortable asking us whenever you have a question. No question is ever silly, and we are here to help you with any concern you happen to have. 

We've gathered some of our most commonly heard questions here for you to look through. If your question isn't answered here or you'd like more information, don't hesitate to give us a call!

Teeth Whitening

Tooth sensitivity is very common and can present in different forms such as hot, cold or sweet sensitivity.  Sensitivity to extreme temperatures, or extremely sugary foods like candy, does not necessarily mean there is anything wrong with your teeth.  Some people simply have teeth that are more sensitive than others, with younger people typically having more issues than elderly people.  Sensitivity is also considered a normal side-effect of tooth whitening, but fortunately in almost all cases the sensitivity resolves after the whitening process is completed.  Cavities, cracked teeth, and other dental problems also are associated with sensitivity, so a quick dental examination should be performed to determine the cause.

The most sensitive area on a tooth is usually found at the gumline.  This portion of the tooth has the thinnest enamel and therefore is less "protected" from hot or cold temperatures.  Gum recession is very common and occurs when the gum tissue surrounding the tooth recedes back, leaving a small portion of the root exposed.  These exposed roots have no enamel covering them, and can be extremely sensitive.

There are many products that treat tooth sensitivity, with the most common being toothpastes that contain Potassium Nitrate 5%, such as Sensodyne toothpaste.  Pottasium Nitrate toothpastes work very well when used daily, but results often take a few weeks to be noticed- they rarely provide immediate relief.  Fluoride is also a great desensitizer and over-the-counter fluoride mouthrinses often work well.  There are also varnishes and sensitivity treatments that a dentist can apply to your teeth to provide relief if the over-the-counter products are not sufficient.  If you are unsure of which sensitivity treatment is right for you, ask us at your next visit!


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.

When you take a quick look at the toothpaste section in any drug store or supermarket, it can be overwhelming.  There are literally hundreds of different products to choose from.  Essentially they all do the same thing- clean your teeth.  The majority of these toothpastes are labelled as "whitening" toothpastes.  The problem for shoppers is that there is no real way to compare products.  Saying that toothpastes can whiten your teeth is similar to saying that vegetables can improve your health.  The main reason that the manufacturers put the word "whitening" on their products is that they find they sell more toothpaste.  Everyone wants whiter teeth.  In reality, very few "whitening" toothpastes do anything more than simply remove surface stains, which I personally find misleading.

All true dental whitening products contain a form of peroxide.  Therefore, when patients ask me which toothpaste to buy to truly whiten their teeth, I tell them try ones with peroxide in them.  Most of the big brands, such as Crest or Colgate, make toothpastes with peroxide (sometimes in conjunction with baking soda).  Rembrandt makes a toothpaste called Deeply White (with peroxide) that works well.  As with most any healthcare product, I would recommend sticking with brand names, and avoid any toothpastes that can only be ordered over the internet.

However, even the best whitening toothpastes will only provide modest results.  For more profound results, a professional tooth whitening treatment ("bleaching") may be the better way to go.  We can always answer any of your questions at your next visit. 

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