If you’re considering tooth whitening, you may be torn between using a home product and undergoing a professional application in our office. Here’s a brief comparison of both approaches to help you in your decision process.
It helps first to know what we’re trying to correct — that dull, discolored tooth stain. Tooth staining comes in two varieties: intrinsic, which occurs deep within the tooth and can be caused by aging, old root canal treatments, tetracycline antibiotic use or excessive fluoride intake during childhood development; or extrinsic, which occurs mainly on the tooth surface and is caused by substances like coffee, tea, wine or tobacco. Intrinsic stains can only be treated through an in-office procedure — the comparison we’re making between home and professional whitening refers only to extrinsic staining.
Whitening, then, is the use of a chemical agent to bleach those stains. The majority of both home and professional products use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide (which also contains hydrogen peroxide) as its primary bleaching agent. Depending on the application, either of these chemicals can effectively bleach extrinsically stained teeth. The two approaches differ, however, in the strength of the bleaching agent: home products usually contain a 10% or less concentration, while professional solutions usually contain between 15% and 35%. As a result, the home application takes longer than a dentist’s treatment to achieve desired results — two to three weeks as opposed to one or two office visits.
Whichever option you choose, remember teeth whitening isn’t a permanent solution. The brightness will fade over time — six months to a year if you restrict foods and habits that stain teeth. You can also receive a touch-up once or twice a year to help extend brightness.
There’s also a middle of the road option — you can use a home application with guidance from our office. It’s also a good idea to visit us for an examination beforehand — we can then advise you on what options will work for your particular type of staining and teeth condition.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening options, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening” and “Tooth Staining.”