The Great Whitening Hype


The home teeth whitening market is expected to grow 30% in the next decade. While this isn’t surprising in itself, I am shocked at the number of new products continually being added to my local retailer’s shelves. This has caused me to wonder what all the hype is about, and if any of the products are truly worth the investment.


Before you begin seeking out the answer to your not-really-white dental status, it is important to know that “white” isn’t the only “right”. Just as two blonde-haired people wouldn’t have the exact same shade of hair color, two different sets of teeth in perfect condition wouldn’t both look the same shade of white. While tooth discoloration or darkening is most often viewed as neglectful or as a result of staining, other circumstances can cause tooth discoloration:


· Aging

· Foods with high acid content

· Tobacco

· Unknown physiological causes

· Trauma (an accident or blunt force)

· Tooth decay

· Medications


Another surprising cause of tooth discoloration is fluoride! Overuse or accidental ingestion by a child can cause spotting and dark spots to form on the enamel of the tooth. It is very important to monitor toothpaste use for this reason (and also because it is toxic in even moderate amounts!)


What should a person know about whitening their teeth if they are set on doing so? The first step is research on the various methods available. I found lots of greats info on teeth whitening methods and found that while many people choose to use a dentist’s services to whiten their teeth, there are 4 main options to home-whitening that may be just as effective and a whole lot cheaper!


Teeth Whitening Strips – These are perhaps the most versatile, popular, and easy-to-use. I personally adore the Listerine Quick Dissolving Whitening Strips because I can wear them during the day for just 5-10 minutes, and they don’t interrupt my daily routine. I will add, however, that many of these strips taste really bad. They also contain high levels of peroxide and baking soda, so be careful not to get them on your gumline. (It can sting in more sensitive people, and can also leave a temporary, white, caustic look.) Others have raved about the Crest Whitening Strips, as well.


Tray-based Systems – These look more like what you would use at your dentist. Because they are not specifically molded to your own teeth, they may not fit the best. They are based on the peroxide formula used by dentists, but usually are weaker in formula. As with any tooth-whitening product, these can also cause sensitivity. Rembrandt is the most popular name in tray-based systems that I know of.


Paint-On Applications – This was one of the first ideas to come out after the home-tray systems. The idea is simple. Using a small paintbrush (think nail polish brush), a whitening paste is “painted” on each tooth individually. Usually this type of product is applied to dry teeth and is left on overnight. The same kind of peroxide application is used. One product that gave me good results is Colgate Simply White Nights. It had a funny taste, but I was asleep after too long, so no worries!


Whitening Toothpastes – These are the most common and least inexpensive of the whiteners. In fact, most every brand of toothpaste has a whitening variety. The whitening effect is mainly achieved by the use of a gritty scouring substance (aluminum oxide, dicalcium phosphate dihydrate, hydrated silicas or calcium carbonate). Some of these toothpastes also contain some baking soda or peroxide formula, but the amount is negligible and it doesn’t stay on contact with the tooth long enough to matter much. Toothpastes can be a good option for someone with very sensitive teeth or who wants a very gradual whitening. This also works well with people who have discoloration from food staining or debris.


So do the products really work? Yes and no. They won’t take away certain discolorations such as tooth trauma or the fluoride streaking, but they really can make a difference. Most users have found that tooth whitening from over-the-counter products can change teeth 2-6 shades (whatever that is supposed to mean.) Dentists will always recommend that you consult them before starting any major change in dental care so that they can guide you in the right product, make sure that your teeth are in good enough shape to use the product, and give you advice on the duration of a treatment plan. I personally have had great results, and as long as you don’t expect miracles and are diligent with the plan, you can too.

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Guest's picture

Your dentist can also fit you for trays and give you "professional strength" whitening trays to fill them with. They fit a lot better than the trays that aren't custom fit to your mouth. One problem with the professional strength whitening agent though is that it can really hurt, and not just your gums. I felt the pain in my teeth, and anti-sensitivity toothpaste was a must. That said it seemed to work fairly well.

Nora Dunn's picture

A friend of a friend used to work in a dental office that specialized in whitening teeth. He said more often than not people would come in asking for the whitest white they could possibly get....he would reply that it's not even natural looking to have teeth that white! They would still insist and he would proceed to bleach the heck out of their poor teeth.

A little whitening never hurt anybody, but so white they're blue?!

Ah well, different strokes for different folks....

Guest's picture

I'm amazed at how much people spend on products which have been backed by expensive ad campaigns. One of the best things for cleaning anything (teeth included it would seem) is bicarbonate of soda/baking soda. It's really cheap and works a treat.

Linsey Knerl's picture

That's a great point, April.  Thanks for reminding us about the basic make-up of these products.  One of the reasons why I like the over-the-counter strips is because they have the baking soda, peroxide, and breath-fresheners in one.  And because I absolutely gag using anything you have to swish around in your mouth, the strips are a must have for me.  But most people would do just as well with a basic, natural remedy.

Guest's picture

Simply dip your toothbrush in hydrogen perozxde solution (from drug store) then dip in box of baking soda then brush your teeth for 30 seconds. Really works. (Especially good for removing red wine stains :)

Guest's picture

What worked for me was using a combination of whitening toothpaste, whitening mouthwash, and whitening paint-on treatment (from the dollar store!).

Guest's picture

People shouldn't be too overzealous on whitening their teeth too much. It's a common misconception that a regular teeth whitening regimen is healthy. Use them at your own risk, but please consult your dentists first.