What You Need to Know About Teeth Whitening

What You Need to Know About Teeth Whitening
What You Need to Know About Teeth Whitening

One of the first things you should know about whitening your teeth is that toothpaste cannot whiten teeth.

The second thing you should know is that talking to your dentist or dental hygienist before starting any whitening treatment is imperative for getting the best result. When done correctly, whitening is safe; since we’re dealing with live tissue it is best to consult the dentist before whitening.

Having a smile full of bright, white teeth is one of the most desired features people want for their appearance. Getting a whiter smile is an attainable and affordable way to revive your smile. It’s important, however, to know your options about whitening before you start some sort of treatment or regime.

We’ve put together this blog post to help you gain a better understanding of teeth whitening practices.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic

Extrinsic whitening refers to the removal of stains from the first layer of enamel caused from drinking coffee, tea, wine, and using tobacco products. Visiting the dental hygienist twice a year for professional cleanings is the best way to remove these types of stains. Toothpaste that advertises itself as whitening toothpaste can help in removing these stains because the paste is more abrasive than regular toothpaste. It’s important to understand that removing stains from the surface of a tooth does NOT change the color.

Intrinsic whitening is how we truly change the shade of teeth. This is done with a bleaching gel that contains peroxide; the bleach seeps into the inner part of the tooth, known as dentin, making the teeth brighter and whiter.

White Strips or Bleaching Trays?

White strips, either purchased from the store or at your dentist’s office, can be a cost-effective way to whiten your teeth. You may not, however, get your desired result. This is because the strips are unable reach surfaces in between the teeth, leading to uneven whitening. Strips generally have a lower concentration of bleach, which could keep you from reaching your desired shade. Another downside to strips is that the bleach can reach the gum, causing some irritation.

Custom-made bleaching trays are the best option if you’re serious about getting results. Trays are 3D in the sense that it can reach all surrounding areas of teeth – including in between teeth – for nice, even results. The custom-made trays are designed to keep the bleach from reaching your gums, making it safer for the tissue inside the mouth.

 Whitening Methods to Avoid

Getting a bright, white smile has become a trend in which many companies have capitalized. As mentioned earlier, whitening is safe when it’s done correctly. Unfortunately, some whitening methods can harm the teeth and other parts of the mouth.

Studies have shown that lights, whether it be laser, halogen or LED, do not work to lighten the color of teeth. Lights can also be harmful to the nerves within the teeth. The worst case scenario is that by exposing teeth to these lights, teeth can actually die from the nerve becoming devitalized.

Whitening mouthwashes do contain the peroxide that whitens teeth, but all inner tissues of the mouth are being exposed to the peroxide with it being a rinse. Not only can the mouthwash be harmful to other parts of the mouth, but the peroxide in the wash is not on the teeth long enough for it to really make a difference. For the bleach to work, it must be held against the teeth for a while – usually between thirty minutes to an hour per day – so it can seep in and work to lighten the teeth.

There are different DIY recipes online intended to whiten teeth on one’s own, a couple of which are strawberry or lemon pastes. These pastes “work” because of the acid from the fruit. Keeping acid up against the teeth for a while causes the first layer of enamel to wear away, revealing the inner layer which appears lighter. When enamel is worn away, teeth begin to look worn, old and discolored, and can become much more sensitive and can cause much more problems later on.

The Better You Care for Your Teeth, the Better Results You Will Get

The best thing to do if you want to whiten your teeth is to start with a healthy mouth. If you currently have untreated cavities, gum disease, gum recession, exposed roots, overly crooked teeth or other untreated issues, attempting to whiten teeth can cause further pain and issues. For teeth that are damaged, whitening is unlikely to take. Also, whitening won’t change the shade of dentures, crowns, fillings or veneers.

The following are other circumstances when whitening may not be a good option:

  • You already struggle with very sensitive teeth
  • You have GERD or acid erosion on your teeth
  • You have white spot decalcification (sign of an early cavity), which will become whiter and more noticeable after whitening treatment
  • You have a sensitivity to hydrogen peroxide
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • You’re 18 years old or younger


To avoid potential problems and get the best results, it’s best to visit your dentist or dental hygienist before starting any kind of whitening treatment.

At Maintain Your Smile, we make personalized trays here in the office and offer the Opalescence Whitening Systems for purchase. After we make the trays and patients have been wearing them for a couple weeks, we like to have them in for a follow-up appointment to make sure everything went well with the whitening.

If there are questions you have about whitening, please call our office and we can help to answer them!