Tooth “whitening” is defined as any process that will make teeth appear whiter. There are two ways this is commonly done: bleaching and non-bleaching whitening products. Often the terms “bleaching” and “whitening” are used interchangeably, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states the term “bleaching” can only be used when a product contains bleach. A product is considered simply “whitening” when it removes food or debris from the teeth without bleach.
Bleaching products contain peroxide (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) and these products remove both surface and deep stains on teeth and can cause teeth to become even lighter than their natural shade.
What’s in Bleaching Products?
The active ingredient in tooth whiteners available from dentists or drugstores is peroxide (hydrogen or carbamide). Hydrogen peroxide is the actual bleaching agent, while carbamide peroxide breaks down into hydrogen peroxide.
The bleaching products you can get from a dentist are much stronger than those purchased over-the-counter. Whiteners used by dentists may have as much as 35% to 45% peroxide while the store-bought whitening kits such as whitening strips or trays usually have just 7% peroxide. Other ingredients in both dentist-dispensed and OTC whiteners include glycerin, sodium hydroxide, and flavorings.
Let the Dentist do the Whitening
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends if you choose to bleach your teeth you consult a dentist first. A dentist can come up with the best whitening options for you and supervise a treatment plan to avoid complications.
Professional whitening can be done in a dentist’s office in about an hour. The procedure involves the application of a tooth whitening gel containing between 25% to 40% hydrogen peroxide, and then aiming a special heating lamp at your teeth for three 20-minute intervals, with reapplication of the gel between intervals. Some dentists may also use a laser, which is reported to accelerate or activate the whitening process. A protective barrier is used during the whitening procedure to keep your lips, gums, and tongue away from the whitening gel so it stays in place on your teeth. For optimal results, the dentist will usually give you whitening trays molded for your teeth so you can follow-up at home with bleaching solutions.