Expert Interview: Make Over Your Smile

Teeth whitening has become America's billion-dollar habit. Like many of us, you may be considering whitening your teeth to eliminate stains or just get a brighter smile. Here our experts answer your questions about teeth whitening, one of the most popular cosmetic dentistry procedures.

Q: Do you recommend hydrogen peroxide whitening strips?

If all you’re looking for is to lighten your teeth 1-2 shades, then whitening strips can do the job. However, if you are looking for a substantial change with teeth that are 2-4 shades lighter, then OTC strips are not what you would use. You’d use a prescription strength whitening method.

Q: I’ve heard I should avoid staining beverages like coffee and tea for a few days after I use whitening strips. Why?

This is because of how the chemical reaction works. Whitening causes the tooth to temporarily become more porous, so if you have coffee, cola or red wine after using a teeth whitener, then you are subjecting your tooth to more staining.

Q: Does teeth whitening damage tooth enamel?

No, it does not. People ask about this, mostly because of sensitivity issues. Sensitivity issues arise because people overfill their teeth whitening trays with whitening product. It gets to the gum line and irritates the gums, or the dentin underneath the enamel gets exposed a little bit. That’s actually what is causing the sensitivity, not the whitening material causing the enamel to go away.

Q: What’s the most effective professional whitening procedure?

The prescription-strength take-home gel that you get from your dentist is the most effective. Treatments like “Zoom” and “BrightSmile,” do whiten your teeth very quickly, but there’s a rebound effect that I have noticed. I would actually suggest a take-home kit that you get from your dentist, which includes a clear frame that you put some gel in. It takes 1-2 weeks to get results, depending on the level of whitening you are looking for.

Q: Is brushing with baking soda effective for whitening teeth?

I think that baking soda can actually hurt your gums because of the powder size -- it’s too abrasive. Do some insurance plans cover teeth whitening? I haven’t seen any that do because teeth-whitening is considered more cosmetic than necessary. It can be relatively affordable. The prescription-strength take-home trays are not very expensive, so people don’t have to invest a huge amount of money in teeth whitening. The Zoom whitening procedure that is popular is very costly.

Q: How soon after whitening do people need a subsequent application?

Typically, my patients don’t need to whiten again for at least a year or longer. Typically, every 1-2 years is normal for a touch up. For at-home touch-ups, you can always go to your dental office and ask for more whitening materials, as long as your tray is intact.

Many of the answers here were provided by Dr. Nathaniel Lim, DDS. Read the complete interview and more about teeth whitening at:

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