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Everything You Want to Know about Teeth Whitening
Mar 24, 2020

beautiful smile

You take a photo wearing a big, bright smile. As you review the photo, you wonder, “Are my teeth really that yellow?” You’re not alone. Millions of over-the-counter teeth whitening products are sold each year to help us all achieve the pearly white smile we desire. 

Many people struggle with awkward spots and stains on their teeth, which can be caused by drinking coffee, tea, or soda. Tobacco use, natural aging, trauma to the teeth, accumulation of tartar deposits, and plaque can also cause yellowing or discoloration. If you’re looking for a whiter smile, here are some answers to common questions about how to get it.

How does teeth whitening work?

Whitening products consist of either carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. The purpose of these bleaches is to break deep stains into smaller, more manageable sections. There are many teeth whitening options, and they vary in price and duration. 

Will teeth whitening work for you? 

Although whitening toothpaste does not work well, some whitening treatments can make a big difference in your smile’s whiteness. But in some cases, they may not help. Why?

There are several causes for teeth discoloration including abscessed teeth, tooth decay, and even root canal problems. In these instances, bleaching might be able to mask the issue for a while, but will not resolve the underlying issue.

Which whitening option should I choose?

Some of the options are in-office bleaching, at-home bleaching from your dentist, over-the-counter bleaching products, and stain removal toothpaste. You should discuss using a new whitening product with your Dental Care Center dentist to be sure it is safe and effective for your teeth. It is best to leave whitening treatments to the professionals because at-home whitening can put you at risk for gum and enamel damage. You can choose from these based on your budget, the results you want, and how much time you want to spend wearing the product. 

At Dental Care Center locations, we offer a variety of whitening options, including Philips ZOOM! and Opalescence Boost professional whitening treatments. In addition, patients can be fit for custom whitening trays, be given a take-home whitening kit, or receive a whitening treatment in our office. We will customize a treatment plan just for you to restore your pearly white smile. 

Are UV lights necessary for teeth whitening?

The UV light teeth whitening method has been popular among celebrities and YouTubers, but is it really beneficial? There is no sufficient evidence stating that UV light teeth whitening helps whiten teeth more or less than other products. (Read: Myths about teeth whitening.) 

Should I use a whitening toothpaste? 

Whitening options can be expensive, so toothpaste offers a cheaper alternative. Whitening toothpaste may slowly make your smile whiter, but the results take far longer to notice and are less dramatic. Toothpaste doesn’t contain peroxide, so it can’t penetrate below the enamel to remove older and deeper stains. Whitening toothpaste buffs the surface layer of stains from teeth with chemical or specially created abrasives. They can also contain blue covarine, which adheres to the teeth to help cancel out the yellow, making your teeth immediately appear whiter. However, using a whitening toothpaste in addition to bleach treatments will help. 

If you choose to use whitening toothpaste, select a product with the American Dental Association seal of approval. However, note that it can cause damage to the enamel if used too much or if you brush too vigorously. Be sure to follow the recommended directions on the product. Please note that excessive coffee, tea, and wine consumption will slow down the whitening process. 

When do I use whitening strips? 

Whitening strips are easy to use and can be found at all major drug, grocery, and convenience stores. These are a great option to use in conjunction with the other whitening products, such as whitening toothpaste and mouthwash. All whitening strips use the power of peroxide to go past the enamel layer of the tooth to whiten. The effects can range from a mild whitening to dramatic. Just be sure to find one that is American Dental Association-approved so that you know it’s safe for your teeth. 

Apply the strip to your upper or lower set of teeth and let it sit as directed. Read your teeth whitening instructions for the best results. The daily usage and amount of time applied will differ with the strength of the product. We recommend removing the strip after 45 minutes, maximum, and waiting a day or two before applying another. They contain powerful whitening agents such as hydrogen peroxide, so you don’t want to overdo it. Some people will notice increased tooth sensitivity after using gel stips. 

The strips are affordable, convenient, and they don’t hinder you from going out and getting things done. However, they offer more of a quick fix, rather than long-term results and won’t give you the same level of whitening a professional gel offers.

Should I use a whitening gel? 

There are over-the-counter gels and pastes, but we recommend using a whitening agent supplied by your Dental Care Center office. We will give you a professional whitening gel, and a custom mold of your mouth to help you get that bright smile you desire. First, apply the gel to the inside of the mold, and then put it over your teeth. Some gels can be worn for hours at a time, and some can be worn overnight; we will send you home with detailed instructions. The custom mold provides for a comfortable, quality whiten and gives your teeth longer-lasting results.

If you have trouble sleeping with the mold in your mouth, you may not get the results you’re seeking. You can wear the mold during the day, but you can’t eat or drink anything while wearing it. Overall, the gel is a better option if you’re looking for long-term results. It may not be as convenient or inexpensive as the whitening strips, but it will certainly brighten your smile.

Does charcoal teeth whitening work? 

Charcoal teeth whitening is a trendy method of whitening for many social media influencers. This approach involves a mixture of activated charcoal and water. The activated charcoal helps lift and absorb plaque and other tough compounds on the surface of the tooth. The chemical properties that are found in activated charcoal serve as a natural teeth whitener, meaning it binds the toxins instead of neutralizing them, resulting in whiter teeth. 

Here’s the problem. According to the American Dental Association, there is no evidence that charcoal is a safe method for whitening teeth. While the abrasive texture may help whiten teeth, if you use it too much or scrub too hard, you might wear away your enamel. That’s going to expose the softer, yellow tissue underneath — making your teeth appear more yellow. Plus, you’ll be far more prone to cavities and other dental problems.


You may experience increased sensitivity following whitening procedures or at-home whitening. While it is common for whitening strips to cause some sensitivity, this doesn’t mean that your teeth are damaged. When you experience sensitivity after whitening, the peroxide has gone down to the innermost layer of your teeth and has irritated the nerves. The sensitivity will most likely be experienced when drinking a hot or cold beverage. 

Is whitening my teeth dangerous? 

While there are several over-the-counter whiteners you can choose from, the only way to ensure you are 100 percent safe and adequately protecting your enamel while whitening is by leaving whitening to the professionals. Because OTC products typically require extended treatment periods, they increase the risk that you will damage your gums and enamel. In addition, several treatments may contain excessive amounts of carbamide peroxide, which could permanently damage teeth.

At the Dental Care Center, your dentist will work with you to create a plan that is safe, affordable, effective, and long-lasting to achieve your desired teeth outcome.

4 Myths About Teeth Whitening 


Myth: Scrubs such as a baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, or activated charcoal can buff up those pearly whites.

Fact: According to the September 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association, there is no evidence to support the safety or effectiveness of this practice. In fact, by using an abrasive scrub on your teeth, you could wear away at protective enamel and expose the next layer of your tooth, a yellowish tissue called dentin.

Lemon Juice

Myth: You can dissolve tooth stains by using acidic lemon juice.

Fact: Fruit is a healthy snack, but prolonged exposure to acid can deteriorate the enamel on your teeth. Your saliva keeps the pH in your mouth balanced, but acidic foods can disrupt it and leave your teeth vulnerable. Some remedies suggest using vinegar instead, but those also contain acid and will have the same ineffective results.

Oils and Spices

Myth: Oil pulling is an old method of swishing oil (usually coconut oil) around your mouth to whiten your teeth. Other people recommend the use of spices such as turmeric for similar benefits.

Fact: According to the American Dental Association, there is no reliable evidence that this remedy works. While spices and oils make for tasty meals, they won’t improve the color of your teeth.

Whitening Toothpaste and Whitening Gum

Myth: Using store-bought products such as whitening toothpaste or whitening gum will improve the state of your smile.

Fact: While these products do contain whitening chemicals, they aren’t strong enough to have a visible effect. Whitening chemicals need to be in contact with teeth for at least 20 minutes for a color change to occur. 

Prevent Teeth Staining 

While it’s nice to know you have options for ditching your stained teeth, it’s even better to prevent the problem in the first place. There are simple little changes you can make to your daily routine that will get you on the path to whiter teeth.

On the top of the teeth-staining culprits list are wine, tea, coffee, and cola. Any foods or beverages with intense color pose a risk for staining your teeth. Smoking and chewing tobacco will also tint and damage your teeth. Also, acidic drinks and foods can temporarily soften your teeth and make it easier for staining colors to latch on.

Easy Ways to Prevent Stains

  • Using a straw can help prevent your teeth from coming in contact with staining beverages. 
  • Brushing teeth frequently is the best option for preventing stains. Maintaining good oral hygiene is an essential step to whiter teeth.
  • Swishing with water after meals can help remove staining materials from the surface of your teeth until you can brush them later.
  • Maintain a white teeth diet. Avoid dark-colored food and drinks such as red wine, coffee, berries, and dark sodas. If you eat or drink anything dark, be sure to rinse your mouth with water or brush teeth immediately after.
  • Finish the meal with “cleansing” foods. Chewing crunchy foods such as apples, carrots, and celery helps wash away debris on teeth.
  • Floss, floss, floss. Flossing every day, multiple times a day is also critical, removing plaque from the gum line. 
  • Change your toothbrush every 3 months. If you are brushing with an old toothbrush, you are transferring bacteria from the brush to your mouth. To prevent discoloration from bacteria, replace your toothbrush or the head of your electric toothbrush often.
  • Invest in an electric toothbrush: Electric toothbrushes are found to remove more plaque and reduce gum problems more than a standard toothbrush. Most electric toothbrushes also have a timer ensuring you brush for two minutes each session.
  • Use a whitening toothpaste. While toothpaste can’t actually whiten teeth, it can remove stains before they set in. Whitening toothpaste or those with baking soda added are best at fighting stains and keeping teeth white.

Intrinsic Stains

Although most stains are on the surface of teeth (extrinsic) and, therefore, mainly cosmetic, intrinsic stains are the discoloration of the inner layers of the tooth. Intrinsic stains be caused by: 

  • extreme exposure to fluoride during early childhood.
  • the use of tetracycline antibiotics during pregnancy.
  • the use of tetracycline antibiotics in children. 

Options for treating intrinsic stains should be discussed with your dentist.

Get Whiter Teeth

If you want to whiten your teeth, consult with your dentist. He or she can talk to you about your teeth, the causes of discoloration, and the best solution for you. In some cases, whitening may not always be the proper solution for your teeth. 

Remember, prevention is the best step to ensure bright pearly whites. Try to add some of the methods mentioned to keep your teeth healthy and to keep you happy. 

If you would like to schedule a visit with your dentist to discuss teeth whitening options, contact us at any one of our five local offices to set up an appointment and get you that much closer to the smile you’ve always wanted.