A bright smile can go a long way toward improving your confidence and helping you look younger. If your teeth and gums are healthy, but your teeth aren't as white as you'd like, talk to your dentist. There are several whitening procedures available—and your dentist can help you decide which type is best for you.

Teeth Whitening Image

In addition to the teeth whitening options below, your dentist may recommend other steps to help keep your teeth their whitest, including the following:

  • Don't smoke or use tobacco products.
  • Reduce your intake of soft drinks, coffee, tea and red wine.
  • Brush your teeth after eating or drinking.

As a general rule, yellowish discolorations respond better to teeth whitening procedures than brownish- or grayish-hued discolorations. If you have tooth-colored fillings or dental bonding (e.g., caps, crowns) in your front teeth, whitening procedures won't affect these materials and they may be noticeable after your teeth have been whitened. In this case, porcelain veneers or additional dental bonding may be better smile-brightening options.

If you decide to try an over-the-counter or at-home teeth whitening product, look for one that displays the "ADA Seal of Acceptance" on the label. (However, not all products that are safe and effective contain this seal.)

Options for Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening is not recommended for children under the age of 16, women who are pregnant or nursing, or those with certain dental problems or medical conditions. If you experience adverse effects from any of the following products, discontinue using the product and contact your dentist.

Whitening toothpastes—Mild abrasives in toothpaste help remove surface stains on teeth. Those labeled "whitening" contain additional agents that improve stain removal. Unlike bleach, whitening toothpastes don't change the actual color of the teeth. When used as directed, they may help brighten teeth about one shade.

Whitening rinses—These mouthwashes contain ingredients to help freshen breath and reduce plaque and gum disease, as well as hydrogen peroxide to whiten the teeth. Whitening rinses typically are used twice a day before brushing. The modest results often take 12 weeks.

At-home bleaching kits—These kits include gels that are applied with a brush, usually twice a day for 2 weeks, and whitening strips that are applied to the teeth twice a day and left in place for about 30 minutes. Most of these products contain peroxide, which bleaches tooth enamel and whitens teeth. Ask your dentist for recommendations and be sure to follow directions carefully.

At-home kits are less expensive than professional whitening treatments, but they typically aren't as effective. Results may be noticeable after a few days and last 4 months or so.

Whitening trays—These systems are available over-the-counter (OTC) or from your dental health care provider. Tray-based teeth whitening involves filling a mouth guard with whitening solution and wearing it for a specified length of time—for example, over night—for about a month.

In-office teeth whitening—Talk to your dentist about this method, which is the fastest—and most expensive—way to whiten the teeth. The bleaching product is applied directly to the teeth and heat, a special light, or a laser is sometimes used to enhance whitening. A protective gel or rubber shield may be used to reduce irritation caused by the bleaching agent.

Treatment sessions usually last from 30 to 60 minutes. Although results often can be seen in just one visit, desired results may require several appointments.

Teeth whitening procedures are temporary and results vary considerably from person to person. In some cases, the results begin to fade in less than a month and in others, the teeth remain bright and white for a year or longer.

Teeth Whitening Side Effects

At-home or professional teeth whitening products may cause increased tooth sensitivity and minor irritation of the gums and other tissues in the mouth. If you experience severe side effects, stop using the product and contact your dentist.

Side effects are temporary and usually resolve within a few days of completing or discontinuing treatment. Your dentist or pharmacist may be able to recommend ways to reduce sensitivity and irritation.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 17 Mar 2013

Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015