If your once-pearly whites look a bit discolored, maybe you’ve thought about trying some of the at-home teeth whitening products you’ve seen on TV.
Before you rush to buy them, read on to find out whether teeth whitening is a good option for you and which products dentists have deemed safe and effective.
How teeth whitening works
The active ingredients in whitening trays and strips, hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, penetrate tooth enamel to break down stains.
Whitening toothpastes contain microabrasive agents that take away surface stains but don’t penetrate the enamel.
Talk to your dentist
“Teeth whitening is perfectly safe as long as you consult your dentist,” said Dr. Sandra Swing, a dentist at Medford Dental Center, operated by Family Health Center of Marshfield in conjunction with Marshfield Clinic. “He or she knows what’s going on with your teeth and whether it will be an ideal situation to try whitening products.”
If you have tooth decay, whitening products won’t help and might make the discoloration worse or cause sensitivity, he said.
Pregnant and nursing women, as well as kids, should avoid whitening products.
Products that contain 10 to 16 percent carbamide peroxide or 6 percent hydrogen peroxide are a safe bet. Research products online before buying them, or read labels when you get to the store.
“Safety data is available only for concentrations of 10 to 16 percent carbamide peroxide and below 6 percent hydrogen peroxide, so using higher concentrations is not advisable and might be harmful to your teeth,” Swing said.
In fact, long-term use of highly concentrated products could damage the roots of your teeth.
Whitening products with lower concentrations of the active ingredient can safely be used according to package directions, which range from two weeks to six months.
If your teeth become sensitive, stop using whiteners. With the help of desensitizing toothpaste, the symptoms should go away in two or three weeks.
Avoid these products
Avoid whitening rinses, which aren’t effective because the active ingredient isn’t in contact with the teeth long enough to produce results, Swing said.
Also, the old-fashioned, natural method of brushing with baking soda and lemon juice can erode tooth enamel and isn’t recommended.