What I Wish I Knew Before Getting Professional Teeth Whitening

The hardest part for me: It's key to avoid colorful foods for at least three days after teeth whitening services.

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When you hear the words "beauty routine," you may not immediately think of your teeth, but I consider my electric toothbrush to be just as important to my regimen as any other skin-care, makeup, or hair-care product on my vanity. I've always strived for a pearly white smile, so when I got the opportunity to try a professional teeth whitening service, I knew I had to check it out.

I headed to Les Belles NYC, a dentistry practice founded by Sharon Huang, D.D.S., MICOI, a cosmetic dentist. I received the dual professional teeth whitening method, the office's most "popular and effective treatment," according to Huang. "It utilizes custom take-home whitening trays as well as in-office sessions to deliver the safest, fastest, most predictable results with the least sensitivity," explains Huang.

In-office teeth whitening services can vary, but this one took about 90 minutes. "We apply a barrier to protect the gums before administering professional-grade whitening gel and anti-sensitivity agents to the teeth," explains Huang. During the 90-minutes, the Les Belles NYC office has TVs on the ceiling so you can quite literally kick back, relax, and watch Netflix as your teeth undergo the process."For the at-home whitening, we make custom trays to apply whitening gel daily for several days or up to two weeks. In both whitening methods, hydrogen peroxide is the whitening ingredient that helps lift stains from teeth to make them appear whiter." (

After receiving the professional teeth whitening treatment, I noticed a significant difference in my smile. My teeth were shinier, brighter, and whiter. That said, there are some general pointers that I wish I was aware of before going into a professional teeth whitening service. Ahead, are a few preparation and upkeep tips that'll help you make the most of a dental whitening service.

Schedule a Routine Cleaning Beforehand

To get the best results, it's key to schedule a standard cleaning appointment with your dentist a few weeks before your professional teeth whitening. This will help "remove any plaque or debris," allowing the whitening gel to better absorb into the teeth and provide a whiter-looking smile, says Huang. In addition to your professional cleaning, make sure you're arriving to the office with freshly brushed teeth to remove any food or grime that might be sitting in your mouth from the day. (

It Doesn't Hurt — Or at Least, It Shouldn't

I've heard so many horror stories from people who have tried teeth whitening services about how bad it hurts. To my surprise, though, my experience was nearly painless. I asked Huang about pain during teeth whitening, and she said that patients that feel pain at any point in time should stop and communicate that to their dentist. "Feeling transient sensitivity while whitening is normal (a few seconds of "zingers" here and there) but having persistent sensitivity on a tooth or an area is not," she told me. "It is important to let your dentist know if the sensitivity is persistent throughout the treatment."

The most commonly used actives in professional teeth whitening gels are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide (which breaks down into hydrogen peroxide), according to the American Dental Association. The actives are designed to lift stains off the teeth and bring them back to their natural color, explains Huang. "When the active ingredient travels through the microtubules (microscopic holes) of the teeth from the enamel to the deeper part of the teeth, that's when sensitivity occurs," she says.

If you know you're someone with very sensitive teeth (for example, even cold foods bother you), Huang recommends using a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth a few weeks prior to the treatment to temporarily plug the microtubules in your teeth. "This will block the sensitivity pathway during and after your whitening procedure," she says. (

Additionally, if you've had a history of sensitivity with whitening products, speak with your dentist before whitening your teeth so they can make a plan on how to deliver the best results without increased sensitivity.

Avoid Foods That Stain Afterwards

In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that you should avoid colorful foods after a teeth whitening service, but it's something I'd never thought about. Huang advises sticking to what she calls an "all-white diet" to help maintain results. "Stay away from dark or colored drinks like coffee, tea, soda, and fruit juice for at least 48 to 72 hours after you have your teeth professionally whitened," she says. "If it could stain your shirt, it can stain your newly whitened teeth, too. Stick with light-colored foods and drinks like yogurt, chicken, rice, or milk immediately following teeth whitening." Admittedly, as a pizza and red wine lover, this was the hardest rule to follow, but luckily it only lasts a few days.

Other foods to be careful of post-whitening include red meats and dark sauces such as soy sauce, tomato sauce, and balsamic vinegar. If you can't live without your daily coffee or prefer colored drinks in general, try drinking them through a straw, a hack that Huang says can help preserve teeth whitening. The same rules applies to your mouth wash; Try searching for a colorless formula to avoid potential stains, says Huang. (

Results May Vary

Huang said that she often gets patients who expect a super white (think: Wite-Out white) smile after getting their teeth whitened, but the truth is, the whiteness of your smile will only return to your teeth's natural color. "The makeup of the teeth determines their natural color," she explains. "The first layer of teeth is called enamel. Underneath it is dentin which is yellow. People with thicker enamel will have brighter teeth as the dentin layer will not shine through."(All the more reason to learn how to remineralize your teeth.)

Genetics are the major factor that influence your teeth's natural color, while lifestyle changes can change it over time. In my case, my teeth got a few shades whiter, which was enough to notice a significant difference in my smile. That said, it's best to speak with your dentist to manage expectations based on your teeth, enamel, and the formulas they use at their office.

How Long It Lasts Depends On Your Lifestyle

"The results from professional whitening last anywhere from six months to two years," says Huang. "It depends on the whitening ingredients, the enamel quality, lifestyle, diet, and home oral care routine." For example, someone who regularly drinks coffee and red wine may have results that last closer to six months as opposed to a year. Additionally, keeping up with brushing and flossing daily may help extend results.

If you're considering getting a professional treatment done, take it from me, the results are worth it. When in doubt, though, ask your dentist for guidance, says Huang. "They can assess all factors and options, and let you know what to expect."

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