Skip to content

You want whiter teeth?

Well, you’re not alone. The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry asked people what they’d most like to improve about their smile. The most common answer — whiter teeth. About 39 percent of Americans are even willing to give up dessert in pursuit of that brighter smile.

But what are the safest, most effective whitening options?

There’s plenty to choose from — from over-the-counter to off-the shelf-products — but it’s professional treatment that’s going to give you the most dependable results.

Here’s what you should know about white teeth:

Why teeth yellow

Natural teeth typically have a yellow or gray tinge to them. But some common culprits can further dull your smile.


Below your enamel is a softer area called dentin. Over time, the outer enamel layer gets thinner with brushing and more of the dentin, which is a deep yellow to brown color, shows through.

Food and Drink

There are a wide-range of foods and drinks that can stain your teeth, but some of the biggest offenders are coffee, tea, and red wine. Why? Their intense color pigments attach to the white, outer part of your tooth, called enamel.

Tobacco Use

There’s two chemicals found in tobacco that are to blame — tar and nicotine. Tar is naturally dark. Nicotine is colorless until it’s mixed with oxygen, which then causes it to turn into a yellowish substance.

How teeth whitening works

It’s pretty simple. Whitening products contain one or two bleaches — hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. These bleaches break stains into smaller pieces, making the color less concentrated and your teeth brighter. When you get professional whitening done at a dentist’s office, you’ll come in for a session that should last about an hour. The dentist will apply a protective gel or shield to your gums and then apply the bleach, which can lighten your teeth five to seven shades. Sometimes a light or laser is used with the peroxide.

You can also ask your dentist about at-home bleaching. They may be able to provide a custom-made tray in addition to instructions on how to place the bleaching agent in the tray and for what length of time. If you’re more comfortable whitening your teeth in your own home and are OK with a slower pace, this may be for you. It could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to see that same results.

In fact, if you have tooth and gum hypersensitivity, your dentist might recommend this option with a low concentration of carbamide peroxide, which isn’t as potent as hydrogen peroxide. For those who have deep staining, your dentist might also direct you this route, with a supervised regimen of intensive take-home bleaching or alternatives to peroxide bleaching such as bonding, crowns or veneers.

Is teeth whitening right for you?

Most people should qualify for a professional tooth whitening. But before your dentist OK’s the procedure, they’ll examine your teeth and take x-rays. If your tooth enamel and gums are healthy enough, your doctor will proceed with whitening. (Note: Whitening will not change the color of restorations, such as tooth-colored crowns, fillings, veneers or cosmetic bonding.)

Are there any side effects?

Sensitivity after tooth whitening is possible for some people. This symptom occurs if the peroxide in the whitener gets through the enamel to the soft layer of dentin and irritates the nerve of your tooth. But in most cases, the sensitivity is temporary.

Also be careful of overusing of whiteners, which can damage the tooth enamel or gums. That’s why it’s important to consult your dentist and follow his/her instructions. Reach out today if you’d like more information about achieving a whiter smile.