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7 Surprising Things You Didn't Know About Teeth Whitening

 

There's no question we all want to flash a pearly white smile. The less-clear part is just how to get that whiteness. So we tapped Sivan Finkel, D.M.D., a dentist specializing in aesthetic dentistry at The Dental Parlor in New York City, to school us on the surprising ins and outs of teeth whitening. Read on to learn 'em, too.

At-home whitening trumps in-office whitening.

Music to your budget-conscious ears, right? Finkel says that in his experience, an at-home gel tray provided by your dentist is the best way to whiten—and not just because it's so much less expensive. (Though it is: The average in-office whitening session runs $500 to $1,000 compared to around $300 for an at-home treatment.) It's more effective and the results are more stable, too, he says. But, keep in mind we're talking dentist-provided trays and not a kit you can pick up at the drugstore. The trays are customized to fit your teeth, which allows for more direct contact with the whitening solution, Finkel says. Plus, the solution your dentist hands you should have a stronger concentration of hydrogen peroxide—the magic whitening ingredient—than what you can buy over the counter, he says. A study published in Operative Dentist confirms patients prefer at-home whitening to in-office services, too.

That said, Whitestrips might work for you.

If you're already rocking pretty white teeth, that is. Crest Whitestrips (and other over-the-counter products) feature a toned-down version of the hydrogen peroxide solution to make it less irritating. But that could get the job done. "Somebody who's got pretty white teeth to begin with, maybe Crest Whitestrips is all they need," Finkel says.

Most in-office treatments give a false sense of whitening.

Many of the whitening systems at dentists' offices use a light source that dries out the teeth, which can make teeth appear whiter than they actually are. "So you might walk out of the office and your teeth are really white, but it'll come down a little bit, maybe even by the end of that same day," Finkel says. The drying-out process is similar to blasting a blow dryer on your teeth, though Finkel says that's not something you should try at home.

Maintenance is half the battle (or more).

Sure, your teeth might be sparkling after you wrap up a week of whitening, but you're not done yet. "Like the Crest commercial says, 'if you're not whitening, you're yellowing,' and it's true," Finkel says. "Whitening is an uphill battle." That's because teeth accumulate stains from the things we eat and drink every day (ahem, red wine) at the same time whitening wears off. Finkel suggests wearing trays for 30 minutes for seven consecutive days and then repeating six months later to maintain the whiteness. If you're just not into bleach trays and the slobber that comes with 'em, well, then don't bother whitening, Finkel says. "To not plan to maintain it is like getting braces and not wearing a retainer," he says. (See also: The Ultimate Guide to Teeth Whitening)

There's a limit to how white your teeth can get.

Maybe you've seen stellar results and you're tempted to make whitening part of your nightly routine. Ditch that plan. "Eventually, you'll hit a limit when your teeth just aren't going to get any whiter, and you'll be sensitive if you overdo it," Finkel says. There's no huge safety risk, but you'll be wasting time and money without seeing results.

How well the whitening will work depends on the color of your natural teeth.

"Grey teeth don't respond to whitening as well as yellow teeth," Finkel says. Your dentist should be able to check out your chompers and tell you if you're a good candidate for whitening.

That celebrity smile you're gunning for? It's probably veneers.

"Whitening is really nice, but it doesn't do miracles and won't make someone's teeth Hollywood white," Finkel says. Most of the celebs you see have veneers, he adds. More and more young people are also going that route since the latest technology has expanded the candidate pool. "It's not nearly as invasive as it was five or 10 years ago," Finkel says. "The materials of the veneer are getting thinner and thinner, meaning you don't have to shave as much of the tooth." Yes, they'll cost you (somewhere between $1,000 and $2,500 per tooth), but they require no maintenance since porcelain doesn't stain and they last 15 to 20 years when done right—potentially even longer since the new materials haven't even been out for 10 years.

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