There are a number of different ways to whiten teeth. There are two main choices. One is professional bleaching which requires visiting a dentist and the second is over the counter whitening i.e. buying it from a retail store.
Chair side bleaching can be done in two ways. The dentist uses a very strong bleaching agent alone or in combination with a light/laser. With both, the dentist cleans your teeth with a sandy, pumice-like material to remove plaque and cleans the surface of the tooth. Then a peroxide-based gel is applied after which a light may be applied to assist the whitening process. Some gels are self-activating and others are activated and by the use of a light. The laser does NOT whiten teeth. It merely activates the bleaching gel and initiates the chemical reaction that produces the whitening effect (the laser doesn't actually penetrate the teeth). The procedure takes about an hour and a half and offers immediate results, although it may take more than one session to achieve the desired level of bleaching.
The at-home bleaching method requires a visit to your dentist for an exam to make sure that you don't have any cavities or cracks into which the bleaching solution could leak and cause tooth damage, and to get fitted for a mouth tray. You will fill the tray with a bleaching gel provided by your dentist and wear the combination either overnight or hourly depending on the strength of the bleach dispensed. The most effective way to whiten teeth is to see a dentist.
There are over-the-counter options available for tooth whitening. However, because they are intended to be used in an unsupervised fashion, to avoid the potential for serious damage to the teeth and gums the bleaching agents they contain are significantly weaker than those that can be obtained through a dental professional. Therefore, the results you might expect from these products are significantly limited as well. Without custom-made trays, the whitening mould is large and uncomfortable. Also the whitening gel is not confined to the mould and tends to go everywhere. A recent popular option is the crest whitening strips which may be a better option for those who don't want to wear a cumbersome mould.
Nomatter which method you choose, how white your teeth will get depends on what color they are to begin with and the source of the discoloration. Brown or yellow teeth (often the result of superficial staining caused by smoking, coffee, and tea) will usually get four to five shades whiter. Gray teeth (caused not by stains but by pigment deep inside the tooth) will lighten less -- two to three shades at best. To determine the initial color of your teeth, compare them to a sheet of bright white computer paper held up to your mouth.
Chair sidebleaching is the fastest but also the most expensive -- anywhere from $400 to $1,000 per session -- and usually requires more than one session. Take-home professional bleaching kits cost anywhere from $200 to $500, and can be used on your own schedule. Over-the-counter options, as you might expect, are the least expensive, but again, tend to have limited effectiveness. The most common side effect of any of these procedures is sensitivity to hot and cold, but that lasts only while you are using the bleach and tends to persist for 1-2 days.
If there's little chance that you'll remember to pop in a mouth tray every night, or if you are impatient to see results, chair side bleaching may be a better option for you. This method also allows the dentist to treat teeth individually, which is ideal if you have veneers or teeth that vary in shade.
With proper aftercare, whitened teeth can stay bright for up to three and a half years. To keep your smile bright as long as possible, try these easy tips:
Follow the "white teeth diet" Drink white wine instead of red wine, cappuccino instead of espresso, and grapefruit juice instead of cranberry juice.
Use "whitening" toothpaste with a mild abrasive (for example: Arm & Hammer Advance White or Close-Up Whitening Tartar Control) on a daily basis.