5 Truths About Teeth Whitening You Should Know

Janell M. Hickman
Photo: ImaxTree

Photo: ImaxTree

Just after smooth baby angel skin, brilliant white teeth rank high up there on the list of beauty goals we’ll never stop chasing. But considering our propensity toward drinking a few too many cups of coffee, and the occasional missed flossing opportunity, our pearly whites aren’t always all that pearly.

Over-the-counter and in-office whitening treatments alike promise to restore the lost luster, but at what cost? We polled a few experts to dig up the truth about scoring that million-dollar smile.

They all use the same ingredients
Whether you opt for easy at-home strips or a more costly procedure, the ingredients and technology behind them are pretty much consistent across the board: they all use hydrogen peroxide as the main agent to whiten teeth, says cosmetic dentist Dr. Victoria Veytsman. However, some treatments differ in that they may use blue plasma light to activate the gel rather than just let it work on its own.

There is such a thing as teeth that are “too white”
Like a bad fake tan, too-white chompers are not exactly subtle. “Teeth naturally have a pearl-type hue,” explains GO SMiLE Consulting Dentist Dr. Maryann Lehmann, D.D.S. Take it slow, and consider your natural tooth color so that the results aren’t too alarming—a strange blue “glow” to teeth is the telltale sign that you’ve overdone it. “[Teeth] should not be white like a piece of paper, and the minute you go beyond that natural tone, the teeth start to look artificial.”

And worse …
Once you see start to see improvements from professional treatments, you might feel tempted to go as frequently as possible. But too much of a good thing is just that—too much. Getting intensive pro whitening treatments more than twice a year can actually dry out your enamel and cause permanent damage. “[Over-whitening] will make teeth sensitive and chalky-looking,” warns cosmetic dentist Dr. Marc Lowenberg of Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor. “If [the teeth] become too dried out, it can permanently damage the integrity of the enamel.”

Watch out for sensitivity
“About one in ten people experience minor sensitivity after whitening treatments,” explains Dr. Veytman. This sensation is caused by hydrogen peroxide, which dehydrates the teeth, but it won’t last more than 24 hours. If you find your teeth aching post-whitening, Dr. Veytman recommends using Sensodyne toothpaste following the procedure, and avoiding foods that are too hot or too cold.

White teeth do not always equal healthy teeth
“I cannot stress enough that white teeth begin with clean teeth,” Dr. Lehmann emphasizes. “No whitener is going to be absorbed into the tooth if there is a film of plaque.” More so than looking healthy, you’ve got to keep them healthy on the inside, too. Schedule regular dental check-ups, and avoid smoking, drinking, and eating staining foods to keep your teeth whiter for longer.

MORE: The Best Foods to Eat for Gorgeous, White, Healthy Teeth