Thirty-two teeth (more or less). Thirty-two composites of calcium, phosphorous, dentine and enamel. Some tissue holding them in place, and muscles to contract and expand the cavity in which they reside. That’s what we like to call a smile.
In anatomical terms it sounds mundane, but our smiles have a profound social impact. Like it or not, your smile — whether it’s open and friendly or tight and reserved — makes an impression on others. Luckily, we now have accessible and effective tools for brightening our pearly whites: tooth-whitening procedures and products. These generally fall into three categories:
The costs associated with tooth-whitening vary as much as the procedures themselves. Here are some general guidelines :
In-office procedures: $500-1000
Dentist-supervised, at-home bleaching (with trays): $150-250 per arch ($300-500 for whole mouth)
Whitening gels: $15
Over-the-counter strips or trays: $10-55
Whitening toothpastes: $3-5
(Sources: American Dental Hygienist’s Association and WebMD)
The simplest and most traditional whitening involves custom-fitted trays created by a dentist for the patient to wear at home for up to two weeks, one hour per night. This method is popular because it’s both economical and safely supervised; the accurate impression of the custom tray ensures that the whitening material goes on the teeth and not on the gums, which can be damaged by the peroxide in the material. According to Dr. Ben Armstrong of Apple Family Dental in Grants Pass, this method is an excellent choice for patients who want a proven whitening procedure that is safely supervised.
For people concerned with getting a bright smile faster than the two weeks required by the at-home trays, there is an in-office procedure that may be the right fit. Dr. Keith Ogawa of Eagle Point Dental says in-office whitening uses a stronger gel in conjunction with either a light or a laser. This is sometimes referred to as “power whitening.” Again, the gums are protected. While this procedure is more expensive, the time commitment is significantly reduced, requiring only one, one-hour visit.
In addition to the procedures outlined above, Eagle Point Dental offers “deep whitening,” a combination of in-home and in-office procedures with two office visits and some home care. According to Dr. Ogawa, since deep whitening can get teeth as white as veneers, it is an excellent choice for people who already like the shape of their teeth and smiles.
The past few years have seen a proliferation of at-home, do-it-yourself versions of tooth-whitening systems in supermarkets and drugstores.
Both Drs. Ogawa and Armstrong caution that the drawback to drugstore-version, tooth-whitening systems (like strips) is that they have no controlled way of delivering the bleaching agent to the teeth without also affecting the gums, and too much exposure to peroxide is bad for gum health. While whitening strips shift in the mouth, the custom-fitted dental mold ensures that the peroxide is in contact with only the teeth, not the gums.
Whitening toothpastes have been around for quite a while, and people have long used baking soda to remove surface stains. But according to Dr. Armstrong, whitening toothpastes tend not to deliver the effect people want because they work by abrasion, not bleaching. And while some formulas have peroxide, the exposure time is generally too short to have any bleaching effect. Nevertheless, for people looking for a subtler change and a milder product, whitening toothpastes are a great option.
A final note: before deciding how to brighten your smile, remember that not all tooth discoloration can be whitened. According to the American Dental Association, “yellow-ish hued teeth will probably bleach well, brownish-colored teeth may bleach less well, and grayish-hued teeth may not bleach well at all.”
But even if you don’t get the perfect teeth of a celebrity, you can get your smile brighter and whiter. Who knows, maybe if you like your smile better, you’ll smile more often.