Really White Teeth

Teeth whitenting can fade after a few months so a regular maintenance program needs to be established.

HYGIENE Patient Story: With 32 oversized teeth fighting for positions, few were in the right place for most of my life. There were always "more important" ways to spend money than on orthodontics. At least that is what I told myself.

In my twenties, I built up enough courage to make an appointment with an orthodontist. But then I made the mistake of sharing the fact with friends lacking full knowledge of the logistics for a six-tooth extraction. One belittled the decision, calling the oral surgeon a "horse doctor." In fear, I abandoned my plans for over 20 years more.

So what does this have to do with teeth whitening? Two things: (1) Overlapping teeth made flossing nearly impossible and brushing ineffective so my teeth became discolored. (2) Each of us needs to make a personal decision about how and when we want to improve our dental health. Though approval from others may be reassuring, uninformed friends should not make decisions for us. It would be wise to take care of any dental problems as expeditiously as possible.

After three years of braces, I joined the flossable population. There was also some stubborn staining that had to be removed. Several methods were tried in pursuit of pearly whites:

Zoom! Whitening

zoom-teeth-trayThis may rank with one of the biggest wastes of $300+ ever spent. Before the Zoom! treatment, a mouthpiece was inserted to make me grin wider than Julia Roberts. This fully exposes the front teeth. Gums were protected with a gel application and then teeth were exposed to a special blue-spectrum light for several minutes at a time. In the end, the front teeth were only about 10 percent whiter. Also since the lamp focused on what was visible from the outside, the backsides of my teeth remained dark yellow. Unhappy with the negligible improvement, I moved on to the next step.

Crest Whitestrips

crest-whitestripsThe strips come in pairs: a wide strip for the larger top front 6 to 8 teeth and a narrow strip for the smaller 8 to 10 teeth. For clinical findings, see the sidebar or the PDF article here (Adobe Acrobat required). My initial problem is that all my teeth are pretty large. For effective coverage, two wide strips were required if I wanted to fully cover front and backs of lower teeth. Of course this breaks up the sets. The peroxide content is low enough for application several times a week as part of regular hygiene. In fact, my wife who uses them regularly is informally called "Bright Teeth." Impressive results can be achieved within a few months. Alternatively, the strips may be an adjunct to the next option for those seeking more immediate results.

DIY Teeth Whitening Trays

teeth-thermoformBrute-force whitening requires increased concentration of peroxide. Usually this is done by a professional. There are many websites that sell the professional products. I chose Just4Teeth.com. Customers can purchase Just4Teeth branded whitening products, with 16%, 22%, or 35% carbamide peroxide gel in 5-mil tubes. Either one will provide noticeable improvement within a few treatments. The difference is in how long (hours) the gel remains on your teeth during each session. For sensitive gums, a weaker formulation is advisable. To prevent irritation, do not exceed recommended time limits for the selected formulation. Instructions indicate it is not necessary to use gel on backsides of teeth since they are not visible to others. I purchased an extra tube for dual side application.

For recessed gums, or post-bleaching tooth sensitivity they offer Tooth Desensitizing Gel. Logic dictates the value of erring on the side of caution—purchasing desensitizing cream just in case. The peroxide is applied to a custom fitted tray or mouthpiece. From where do you obtain custom fitted mouthpieces? The same place. A rubberized material is warmed in water and then held firmly around the upper teeth until it cools. The same is done for the lower teeth. Of the three methods tried, I was most impressed with these results. Follow up with weekly Whitestrips, to achieve and maintaing a progressively brighter appearance.

Professional Dentist

Of course there is a fourth option: go to a reputable dentist—preferably one who uses trays and peroxide instead of the high-tech Zoom! treatments IMHO. With satisfaction achieved following the previous step, I did not make it to this latter option.

A word of caution: It is idealistic to believe that everyone can have bright paper-white teeth. Genetics along with color of tooth dentin and enamel play a part. The goal should be to achieve a natural color, free from stains. With this in mind, it is possible to get noticeably brighter teeth with the proper method. Finally, though personal experiences with various products are shared for informational purposes, no particular medical treatment is endorsed or recommended.