Bright Smiles

Teeth whitening is more popular than ever, but is it right for you?

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The duration of tooth whitening procedures can vary depending on a person’s eating and personal habits, such as smoking and coffee drinking.

Teeth whitening is a booming business. Even toothpaste wants in on the action — just take a look at the growing number of pastes that promise brighter smiles.

Dr. Trevor Peterson of Premier Care Dental says, “The demand for bright, white and straight teeth has never been greater.” Peterson works out of Premier Care Dental’s Medford and Ashland offices. He says almost every new patient he has asks about how to get a whiter smile.

Those who have not had their teeth whitened before may wonder: How much does it cost? How long will the results last? And, how does it work?

We asked Dr. Peterson and one other local dentist, Dr. John Linstrom, all about teeth whitening and why they think people should see a dentist instead of picking up something from the store.

The case for in-office care

With whitening products galore available at most every grocery store and drugstore, is there a reason to visit a dentist for whitening?

One reason is the immediacy a dentist can offer, says Peterson. “Results can be reached much quicker with professional whitening versus store-bought,” he said.

In addition, accuracy can be much better, says Linstrom, who owns Linstrom Family Dental in Medford. “A dentist can make a custom, take-home tray that accurately covers your teeth and protects your gums, whereas the over-the-counter strips are one-size-fits-all and only whiten where the strip covers,” he says.

Another reason to stop by the white coats before deciding on a whitening plan? Whitening products typically don’t work on fillings, crowns, veneers and more, even in a dentist’s office. Plus, not all dark spots are stains you can get rid of with whitening, says Peterson. “Cavities can also appear as dark areas on a tooth that can’t be bleached, but need to be removed and filled.” Whitening without dealing with these issues can result in patchy coloring, drawing attention to things like fillings that keep their original color.

The tooth treatment

People who visit a dentist for teeth whitening can usually elect to either have an in-office procedure or can ask their dentist to custom-make inserts to take home for later use. The current price range for in-office whitening is somewhere between $350-$650, according to Peterson. Linstrom says the cost of in-office whitening can be double the cost of take-home trays. Peterson agrees, saying that in his experience, the take-home trays may run $150-$400.With either method, a patient can expect an out-of-pocket expense. Peterson says, “I have yet to see an insurance company willing to cover it.”

Those who choose to undergo in-office care can expect to spend 30-90 minutes at their dentist’s office per whitening session. It may take several sessions to get teeth as ivory as desired. Typically, a dentist will insert cheek retractors, apply a protective agent to the gums, and then apply a hydrogen peroxide gel to the teeth, allowing 15-30 minutes to work. Then, the gel will be washed off. This may be repeated several times.

For those opting for the take-home option, a trip to the dentist is still necessary. During the visit, the dentist will take an impression of the patient’s teeth to make a custom-fitted tray to send home with the patient. The patient will use this tray combined with a gel for at-home whitening. Linstrom says patients typically wear the tray once a day for two weeks or so until they reach their desired shade.

Radiant results

Effects of both methods should last about one to three years, says Linstrom. How long the results last can vary depending on a person’s eating and personal habits. Beverages such as juice or wine, as well as cigarette smoking, can stain teeth, undoing the effects of whitening, especially the first week after treatment.

As for how drastic the effects can be, Linstrom and Peterson say that people can expect their teeth to be several shades lighter. In extreme cases, Peterson says, teeth can be whitened up to eight shades (imagine light antique yellow to pearly white). Speaking of drastic changes, remember the episode of “Friends” where Ross turned his teeth so white that they were practically glow-in-the-dark? This is another reason to see a doctor before whitening, even if you want to try something from the grocery store. There is something called “too much” and a dentist can help a patient pick the right shade.

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More to Explore

Black teeth for white smiles?

activated charcoal

One recent trend in teeth whitening is using activated charcoal tooth powders, which often claim to be a natural alternative for removing toxins, stains and plaque from teeth.

Dr. Trevor Peterson of Premier Care Dental isn’t sure if he can get behind these claims since there are no studies testing the product yet. However, he says, “after a cleaning at the dental office, the hygienist will often use a fine powder abrasive to polish off stains. This powder can likely provide a similar effect of removing surface stains.” He cautions that it is still a good idea to use a fluoride toothpaste to protect against cavities. He says he’d personally like to see more proof before he could recommend it to patients.

Some people have been DIY-ing this trend by rubbing activated charcoal (mixed with water usually) directly onto their teeth. Peterson says he would recommend those who choose this option do so sparingly “to avoid permanent loss of enamel that can come from overuse of abrasive pastes.”

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