Dos and Don’ts of Teeth Whitening

We’ve seen more and more smiling faces around town the past few weeks as the temperature has been slowly easing us out of Chicagoland’s winter hibernation.

And of course, we love smiling faces! But as people are getting out and about more as summer approaches, we’ve noticed that a lot of our patients are asking about teeth whitening. So, we thought we’d give you some info on one of the most popular smile-improvement techniques: making those pearly whites even whiter.

Everyday Teeth Whitening Rules

There are three key rules for keeping your teeth white for everyone and they are pretty simple. If you’re happy with your tooth color, follow these three steps to keep your smile gleaming as long as possible:

  1. Brush, floss, rinse!

The number one thing you can do to get whiter teeth – or to keep your teeth bright – is to do what we recommend for everyone: brush, floss, and rinse regularly. You can purchase toothpaste and mouthwash that have added whiteners in them. Although most people don’t report dramatic results with these tools alone, they are a great first step and a critical way to maintain white teeth.

  1. Drink dark liquids with a straw.

Coffee, tea, soda, and other drinks that aren’t clear can stain your teeth. One way to avoid stains, especially if you drink a lot of these beverages, is to use a straw. Another option is to brush immediately after drinking or eating and beverages or foods that might stain your teeth.

  1. See your dentist every six months for professional cleanings.

Some people think that if their teeth are bright white, that means they don’t need a professional cleaning every six months. That’s simply not true. In fact, this is one of the dangers of using at-home whitening systems: bleaches can cause the build-up of tartar and plaque to become whiter, instead of your actual teeth. So before you start a whitening process, get a professional cleaning. Then, keep up your tooth and gum health (and brightness) by scheduling your next appointment ahead of time.

Whitening Teeth At Home

For most of us, our teeth will lose some of their pearly whiteness over time and since there are a seemingly endless number of teeth whitening techniques and supplies that you can purchase at your local pharmacy or grocery store, that’s where most of us will head first. But just because you can buy them yourself doesn’t necessarily mean we recommend them. Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts to guide your home whitening process:

  • DON’T buy any product that doesn’t list its ingredients.

The FDA doesn’t regulate tooth bleaching products, so that means that some products don’t list what their ingredients are. If a product is on the up-and-up, they will be happy to tell you what is in it. Don’t trust ANY product that doesn’t list its ingredients.

  • DO buy a product with hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as an active ingredient.

These ingredients can remove both surface stains and deeper stains. Your toothpaste or whitening gum probably only targets surface stains.

  • DON’T buy a product with over 10% hydrogen peroxide or 35% carbamide peroxide.

The higher the percentage, the more whitening power a product has. But higher percentages of these ingredients can also be harmful to your teeth and gums. If you have used products with lower percentages and not had the results you wanted, make an appointment to meet with Dr. Sheehan about professional-grade teeth whiteners. These stronger whiteners should only be used under your dentist’s supervision.

  • DO use a gentler product if you already have sensitive teeth or if you notice your teeth have become more sensitive since you began whitening.

Many of the companies that market whitening strips offer a product with a lower percentage of peroxide. Generally, you will also wear them for a shorter period of time per day than you would with stronger versions of the product. Using a “gentle” product may also help if you’ve noticed that your gums feel uncomfortable with full-strength products.

  • DON’T waste money on LED lights or lasers.

The American Dental Association has weighed in on the use of LED lights and lasers for tooth whitening: they don’t offer any benefit over less expensive products like strips and whitening pens.

  • DO check the expiration date & store your whitening products in the fridge.

The effectiveness of peroxide deteriorates over time and will also vanish if the product gets too hot (like, say, in the trunk of your car on a hot day between errands). So, check your product to make sure it’s still good and to boost its effectiveness, keep unused products in the fridge, especially during the summer.

  • DON’T use whitening products if you are pregnant or nursing.

There haven’t been any studies on the effects of whitening products on unborn children and nursing babies, but we prefer to err on the safe side: save your teeth whitening until after your baby has stopped nursing.

  • DO realize that teeth that have had work on them may not respond to whitening in the same way that natural teeth do.

If you have had a root canal, a deep filling, or veneers, your natural teeth may become whiter than the teeth that have had more extensive dental work on them. After your natural teeth reach your desired level of whiteness, we may be able to adjust the other teeth to match.

  • DON’T overuse over-the-counter products.

Misusing over-the-counter whitening products can be tempting – what’s a few more minutes or a few more days a month, if it means a brighter smile? A lot, actually. You can actually do irreparable damage to your teeth, get white spots on your gums and experience tooth and gum sensitivity. So follow the directions and don’t overuse these products.

Our final suggestion of how to make your teeth white?

  • DO make an appointment to talk to Dr. Sheehan about the color of your teeth. While over-the-counter products are popular, Dr. Sheehan would love to talk to you about professional options for improving the color of your teeth. Dr. Sheehan can assess your dental color and will be able to consider factors, like what other dental work you have had, that may affect the whitening process, and will be able to direct you to the best techniques and products for you.

If that isn’t enough inspiration for you, how about this? Mention this blog and we will give you $10 off Opalescence Whitening Trays* (Opalescence can only be obtained through a licensed dental professional).

Call our offices today to make an appointment to talk to Dr. Sheehan about dental whitening.

*Box of 10. Regular price is $70.