8 Over-the Counter Teeth-Whitening Truths Only Your Dentist Knows

Whitening your teeth is not a DIY project

Should you use over-the-counter white strips or trays, or should you get your teeth whitened professionally? Before you decide one way or the other, here are some concerns your dentist may have about DIY methods of whitening.

Where did it all begin?

Since ancient times, people have tried to different ways to brighten up their smile, using everything from vinegar to goat’s milk. Today, whitening is one of the most popular cosmetic dental procedures done at dental offices and there are also many over-the-counter products that people can use to whiten their own teeth.

Bleaching trays—an accidental discovery

Dentists accidentally stumbled across the teeth-whitening methods we use today in the 1960s. Dr. William Klusmier fitted a patient with a dental tray filled with peroxide gel. The patient was to wear it overnight to help combat his gum disease. But the peroxide did more than help the man’s gums; it whitened his teeth, too. The word spread, and dentists began experimenting with their own peroxide formulas. A patent was filed in 1989 for the Opalescence system consisting of a tray with a sticky carbamide peroxide gel, and dentists began creating custom-fitted, bleach trays.

Most dental offices today will offer their patients:

  • In-office, professionally applied treatments
  • Dentist-dispensed trays the patient uses at home

Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments

It wasn’t long before these trays of peroxide gel made their way into drugstores and supermarkets as over-the-counter whitening systems. They were followed by whitening strips. Today, if you stand in the dental products aisle at your local drugstore, you will see a profusion of products, including “whitening toothpastes,” “quickly dissolving strips,” “white trays,” and “whitening light systems.” They all promise pearly white teeth in minutes or hours.

Many people find themselves wondering if they should pick up one of these do-it-yourself boxes or if they should trust their teeth to a dentist.

But what do the experts say?

The American Dental Association (ADA) says that while OTC treatments can be effective, and some have the ADA Seal of Acceptance, it has concerns about the unsupervised use of OTC whitening products. Here are some of the key issues:

1. OTC tooth whitening treatments can mask or ignore underlying disease

When you bleach your own teeth, you could be unaware of any underlying dental problems that you may have – so you may by applying a product knowing that you have a cavity, for example. Other oral health problems that should be addressed BEFORE bleaching include:

  • Bruxism (tooth grinding)
  • Tooth decay
  • Dental trauma
  • Gum disease

2. OTC tooth whitening treatments are not customized

OTC dental trays are one size fits all. If the tray is not custom fitted to your teeth, the peroxide gel might leak onto the soft tissues of the mouth where it can burn.

In the office, your dentist will custom-fit the tray to the exact size and shape of your teeth using a mold, and customize the strength of the bleach as well. Dentists can check for sensitivity and will only give you as much of the gel as you need so you don’t overuse the product.

3. OTC Treatments can be mishandled or misused.

When people treat themselves, they may not follow instructions. They may not test the product on a small patch of skin before using it. A person may have unknown allergies to peroxide. Dental professionals are careful to test for them.

4. OTC whitening treatments don’t give great advice

How often do you read the fine print? Your dentist will make a point of telling you that right after you bleach your teeth, your teeth are very vulnerable to staining because the protective layer, the pellicle, has been removed. You must avoid tobacco or darkly pigmented foods and drinks for at least one entire day after treatment.

5. OTC treatments can be overused

Some people want extremely fast results so they overuse over-the-counter products. Usually whitestrips will say that they should be used twice a day for 30 minutes at time for 2 weeks, but in an effort to get quicker results, some people use the strips in excess to the point where dentists report seeing patients with blue-tinged or almost translucent teeth where the enamel has been almost completely eroded.

6. They can be ineffective against some stains

Not all stains are alike. Surface stains caused by natural pigments, tannins and acids can be treated. This includes stains caused by the overconsumption of:

  • Tea, coffee, wine and dark colas
  • Tobacco
  • Darkly colored food such as berries

But sometimes, it’s the inner structure of the tooth that is stained. A dentist will examine your teeth and take x-rays in order to find the cause and offer alternatives such as veneers or crowns.

7. OTC products are not regulated

The government does not regulate OTC tooth whitening products. Many products are ineffective, especially in the case of mouthwashes and toothpastes. OTC and dentist-dispensed whitening treatments that bear the ADA Seal of Acceptance contain 10 percent carbamide peroxide.

The ADA does not recommend that pregnant women or nursing mothers whiten their teeth. There is a lack of data on the effects of whitening on fetuses or nursing infants. And The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends waiting until children have all their permanent teeth and that any whitening treatments be supervised by a dentist.

8. Teeth-whitening products may make previous dental work stand out

The whitening effect on your natural teeth may not match teeth with previous dental work. The whitening product will not be able to bleach any crowns, bridges, or fillings. But a dentist will be able to make recommendations as to how to proceed so your teeth blend perfectly.

Benefits of Having the Dentist Whiten Your Teeth

Getting your teeth whitened professionally means that you are in the hand of experts. Their bleaches are more powerful that over-the-counter formulas so you can walk out of the dental office with dazzling teeth, after only one or two appointments. Professional whitening is safer, faster and produces better results.

  • Comprehensive Dental Exam: The dentist will conduct a comprehensive dental examination before embarking on a whitening treatment to identify causes of discoloration and determine best course of treatment.
  • Tooth Cleaning: The dentist will clean away plaque and tartar before whitening process.
  • Repairs: If your dentist sees any cracks or decay, we will treat those first.
  • Professional application: The dentist will use the appropriate amount of whitening agent for the appropriate length of time while protecting the soft tissues with a protective barrier.
  • Tracking: Many dental offices take images of your teeth so that they can track your progress.
  • Faster Results: The dentist’s office will be able to offer you higher concentration of peroxide and acceleration lights which means your treatment can take one or two office visits.
  • Alternatives: If your dentist sees that some stains will not respond to bleach, they can recommend alternatives such as veneers, crowns or bonding.

There is overwhelming consensus among dentists that whitening regimes, whether dentist-dispensed or over-the-counter, should be made in consultation with a dentist. At Sunny Isles Dental, we offer KoR and Zoom! Whitening, which whiten your teeth in just one or two visits. We also offer custom whitening trays that help you whiten your teeth in the comfort of your home. Contact us today at 305.330.6609 or through our online contact form to get started on brightening that smile!

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