If your smile is looking a little dingy, teeth whitening treatments from a dental office are the quickest way to whiter, brighter teeth. In-office or take-home teeth whitening treatments provided by a dentist can be costly, however, and insurance doesn't usually cover them. It's tempting to opt for over-the-counter whiteners to save some cash, but these options are often ineffective, and they can cause additional problems.
The Effectiveness of Over-the-Counter Teeth Whiteners
- Over-the-counter whiteners are much weaker than solutions used by dentists. Trays and strips usually contain carbamide peroxide, which breaks down into hydrogen peroxide. It's the hydrogen peroxide that bleaches your teeth. The amount of peroxide in over-the-counter products is less than the amount in products used and prescribed by dentists.
- Over-the-counter products can take a long time to work. Because they're weaker, over-the-counter products could take two or three months to whiten teeth to a shade that a dentist-prescribed treatment can achieve in a week or less, according to Gennaro Cataldo, a Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine professor of general dentistry.
- Most at-home whitening agents purchased without a dentist's prescription only work on surface stains. This means if you have stains that appeared recently due to smoking, drinking coffee or minor plaque build-up, an at-home whitener may work for you. If you have deeper stains -- ones that develop over a long period of time -- you're probably not going to get great results with an over-the-counter product.
- At-home whiteners aren't powerful enough to bleach certain teeth colors. Home bleaching products may whiten yellowish teeth effectively over time, but they're not likely to do much for grey, bluish or beige-tinted stains, according to Consumer Reports.
- Over-the-counter products only whiten natural teeth. If you have crowns, veneers, dentures or white fillings, you'll need to see a dentist to change their color.
Safety Concerns With Over-the-Counter Teeth Whiteners
- Using over-the-counter products can lead to increased tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. While this can happen with whiteners used by dentists as well, a dentist will use custom-fitted trays and protect your gums from the bleaching agent. He'll also monitor you for increased sensitivity and tailor a treatment plan that minimizes negative reactions to the bleaching process.
- Overuse of whitening products can lead to gum damage. Since there's no dentist to monitor their use, over-the-counter products are easily overused, according to general dentistry professor Henry M. Goldman. Overuse can burn the gums. With in-office or take-home whiteners prescribed by a dentist the treatment plan is clearly outlined to minimize harm and can be adjusted according to an individual patient's needs and side effects.
- Over-the-counter bleaching kits and products don't carry the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance. The Seal of Acceptance is an indicator for products that meet the ADA's standards for effectiveness and safety, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The ADA has awarded the Seal of Acceptance to several popular brands of whitening toothpastes, but these products only remove surface stains.