Teeth whitening at home versus the dentist: Which is better?

White teeth are achievable! Here's how.

White teeth are commonly revered for their beauty. Unfortunately many common habits like drinking coffee, red wine or cola, and smoking can cause staining.

Fortunately, there's a wealth of teeth-whitening treatments available for anyone struggling with the colour of their teeth. But which work best?

Overthecounter whitening solutions

If you pop into most supermarkets or pharmacies you'll find a range of over-the-counter whitening treatments. These are available in many different application methods such as:

  • Toothpaste: Special whitening toothpastes are grainier and thereby more abrasive than regular paste. This means they are effective at polishing your teeth – scraping off surface particles that may contribute to exterior staining. They don't, however penetrate deeply for true whitening.
  • Rinses: Some mouth rinses may have bleaching properties due to containing food-safe levels of hydrogen peroxide. While this is the active ingredient in many professional teeth whitening products, rinses are not likely to be effective because they only come in contact with your teeth for 60 seconds or so – not nearly enough time to penetrate the dentine.
  • Chewing gum: Whitening gums, like toothpastes, contain more abrasive ingredients. However, you can generally get a similar effect from regular sugarfree gum. Chewing gum after a meal can remove food particles from your teeth and help prevent stains – but won't do much to whiten them.
  • Whitening strips: Strips of plastic covered in a whitening gel (hydrogen peroxide) can be applied to your teeth, usually for no more than 30 minutes a day. You may see some positive results with over-the-counter whitening strips and they can be very cost effective. However, the results are likely to be patchy due to the strips not being cut specifically for your teeth and you do risk damaging your teeth with self-directed whitening.
  • Whitening gel: Hydrogen peroxide gels may also be available and are painted on to your teeth directly or applied to a tray, which is worn over your teeth like a mouthguard. This is as close as you can get to professional bleaching over the counter, however it has similar risks to whitening strips, as well as the chance that the gel will irritate your gums. 
Whitening toothpastes help to remove surface particles, but don't treat intrinsic stains.Whitening toothpastes help remove surface particles, but don't treat intrinsic stains.

In-clinic professional whitening

Another very popular method of whitening is in-clinic bleaching. This is the fastest way to see results, but not necessarily the best. 

Your dentist will apply a protective gel to your lips and gums, followed by whitening gel on your teeth. Then they will use a special LED light to create a photochemical reaction which penetrates the teeth to lift deep stains quickly. The treatment length will depend on how deep or extensive the stains are – sometimes a few hours. This may be uncomfortable, as your mouth will be open for a long time, but you will see immediate results afterwards.

Due to sudden dehydration of the enamel during this process, you may find the results of an in-clinic bleaching are not very long-lasting.

Whitening kits combine the user-control of over-the-counter products with even better results than an in-clinic treatment.

Dentist-provided take-home whitening kits

Whitening kits provided by your dentist combine the user-control of over-the-counter products with even better results than an in-clinic treatment. 

At your initial appointment, your dentist will take an impression of your teeth to make custom-fit whitening trays. Your complete kit can usually be picked up in a few days, and includes trays for your top and bottom teeth, syringes of bleaching gel and a set of instructions from your dentist.

Once home, simply follow your dentist's instructions to apply the gel in the trays and place them comfortably over your teeth. You'll want to wear the trays for a certain length of time, prescribed by your dentist, every day for one to two weeks. 

While take-home kits won't grant immediate results like an in-clinic session, you'll see similarly effective results at the end of the bleaching period. Results may last between 8 months and a couple of years, depending on your diet and lifestyle.

City Dentists can provide you with a custom-made whitening kit for the best results possible. Simply book an appointment online or call 04 978 4964 to discuss your whitening.