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Time: What's the Best Way to Whiten My Teeth?

Last updated 3 years ago

White teeth have become the norm that most Americans strive for. Like a fine watch or nice shoes, sparkling white teeth are a status symbol. Plus studies like the one done by journal PLOS On have come to the conclusion that both men and women are attracted to a white smile. And that job applicants with white teeth are more likely to be hired than their yellow teeth counterparts. With the benefits clear, Time magazine was asked "What's the Best Way to Whiten My Teeth?"
Whitening toothpastes, brightening strips, and dental visits all employ the same chemical for the whitening of teeth, hydrogen peroxide. "The only differences are the concentrations of hydrogen peroxide employed and how they're held against your teeth," explains Dr. Matt Messina, an American Dental Association spokesperson who practices dentistry in Cleveland. Starting with the least potent (and least expensive) method, whitening toothpastes contain 1 to 1.5% hydrogen peroxide. This is good enough to treat surface stains, but will not penetrate the enamel, where the deepest and most concentrated stains are. The build-up from coffee, wine, and cigarettes slowly darkens the enamel over time and is the hardest to treat. 
So if you have serious stains a toothpaste will not be enough. The doctor also warns against brushing aggressively, warning that it will not remove the deep stains, but will instead damage the teeth and gums. "I usually recommend the strips over the gels because they stay in place," Dr. Messina explains. If the strips or gel are applied incorrectly, your teeth could look unevenly white. Gum irritation is also possible, says Messina. Over the counter gels and strips contain 6-10% hydrogen peroxide. At these levels, the hydrogen peroxide can reach into microscopic holes and fissures in the enamel to clean away stains. But it is important to remember that whitening agents do not work on caps, crowns or fillings. So if you've had dental work done it is advised that you check with your dentist to ensure the results are uniform.
The dentist also has a stronger whitening system, these "tray-and-gel systems," which contain hydrogen peroxide in the 10% to 15% range. Patients are fitted for a custom tray which they take home with whitening gels. "The custom tray ensures the gel is evenly applied, and it can produce some pretty impressive results," Messina says.
The final option is a series of 10-minute whitening seasons at the dentist. These sessions use a hydrogen peroxide concentration of up to 35% and can make your smile a dozen shades brighter. "Whitening is a strictly cosmetic procedure, so it's almost never covered by insurance," Messina says.
So how white do you want to go? It's a matter of personal preference. The study by PLOS On found people with natural looking white teeth scored as just as attractive as those white ultra-white smiles. But over whitening is possible- "If you whiten excessively, the tooth enamel can actually become translucent, which can make the teeth look blue or gray."  Even though teeth become no more healthier when whitened, Dr. Messina finds that the change causes some people to stick to better oral hygiene habits - "I've found people who've had their teeth whitened are better at brushing and flossing" he says. "When you're proud of something, you take better care it,"


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