Making teeth look whiter is done by either of two methods; bleaching or whitening. It is important to distinguish between the two, because they are very different from one another.
- Bleaching is a method that uses a substance - mostly carbamide or hydrogen peroxide - to chemically bleach the inside of the tooth (which is called dentin). This will make the tooth whiter than it naturally is. The active ingredient is called "bleaching agent".
- Whitening is a method that mechanically scrapes and polishes the outer layer of the tooth (also called enamel) so that the tooth’s natural color is restored. Color of the dentin is unchanged. The active ingredient is called "abrasive element".
Since teeth whitening (or bleaching) has become so popular in recent years, oral hygiene companies have come up with a variety of different methods. These are the most common ones:
- Whitening toothpaste - By brushing your teeth with a whitening toothpaste, the abrasive element in it (e.g. silica or mica) will mechanically remove stains and discolorations from the enamel. This is a very easy and affordable method, but should be used with caution. Along with stains, a small part of the enamel will also be scraped away, which means that too frequent use can damage the tooth.
- Professional bleaching by a dentist - This is without a doubt the safest and most effective way to get whiter teeth. But it’s also the most expensive, by far. Your dentist will first give your teeth an inspection to make sure bleaching can be done in a safe way. The dentist then bleaches the teeth using a special gel, sometimes accelerated with the help of light (LED or halogen).
- Whitening strips - This at-home method uses strips with an outer layer of bleaching gel, normally the same sort of peroxide that dentists use (but in lower concentration). One strip is applied to the upper teeth, and another strip is placed on the lower teeth. Keep the strips on for as long as the manufacturer recommends. Results are usually satisfying.
- Whitening kit - Although it has the word ”whitening” in the name, this method actually uses the same bleaching gel as your dentist would use. The gel is placed in a special tray, and then you put your teeth in the gel for a specified amount of time. The pricier kits will come with trays that are custom fitted specifically for you, which of course will improve the results. More expensive than the strips and toothpastes, but cheaper than a professional bleaching. As long as you are careful to not leave your teeth in the gel for too long, this could be a very good choice if you want to get whiter teeth.
There are other methods as well, but none that are as good the four alternatives described above. If you are unsure what to do, talk to your dentist to get the opinion of a professional. Just be aware that your dentist could be biased due to economical reasons.