Professional Whitening or Drugstore Whitening: What's Best for Your Teeth?


We often get asked about the differences between professional teeth whitening at O’Kane & Monssen Family Dentistry and over-the-counter whitening products available at the drugstore. There a quite a few differences, but the product that is best for you may depend on your age, the whiteness of your teeth, the health of your gums and your pocketbook.


How Teeth Whitening Works

Before reviewing product pros and cons, it’s helpful to understand how teeth whitening works. There are two types of stains that darken teeth. Extrinsic or surface stains occur from food, beverages (e.g. coffee) and tobacco products or poor dental hygiene. Intrinsic stains penetrate the microcracks in your enamel and discolor deeper layers within the tooth.


Whitening agents, either carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, remove stubborn surface stains and penetrate enamel. Oxygen molecules in the peroxide breakdown color molecules in your teeth to whiten the entire tooth. The effectiveness of whitening products depends on the strength of whitening agent they contain and how it is applied to the teeth.


Here’s a look at the various rinses, pastes, strips, gels and trays designed to brighten your smile.


Whitening Mouthwashes or Rinses. These products are the easiest to use but they are also the least effective. The concentration of the whitening agent is very low to avoid irritating mouth tissues. In addition, the whitening agent is in contact with the teeth only briefly as it is swished around the mouth, so it won't work as well as other whitening options. Nonetheless, mouthwashes can help reduce plaque, reduce gum inflammation and bleeding, freshen breath and help maintain a bright smile.


Whitening Toothpastes. All toothpastes contain mild abrasives to clean the teeth. Some products also contain a low level of hydrogen peroxide. These whitening toothpastes can help remove surface stains but do little to lighten the color of your teeth. For example, Colgate Optic Whitening toothpaste contains only a 1% hydrogen peroxide concentration, far less than gel strips or professional whitening treatments.


Whitening Gel Strips. Gel strips are thin, clear plastic strips coated with a hydrogen peroxide-based tooth whitening gel. Whitening results depend largely on the strength of the whitening agent. Crest 3D Whitestrips Supreme® contain the highest level (14%) of hydrogen peroxide available in a retail product and are the most effective over-the-counter whitening strips. The whitening agent level is lower than professional dental whitening systems so the desired results may take longer to achieve. Another drawback of one-size-fits-all gel strips is that they are cumbersome to apply and often come in contact with sensitive tissues, such as the tooth root and gums. Irritating chemical agents can cause sensitivity and a tingling or burning sensation. Whitening gel strips are generally less expensive than professional whitening and are best for individuals with few tooth stains. Gel strips work great on teenagers.


Professional Whitening Treatments. Your dentist offers the fastest, most effective and most comfortable treatments for whitening teeth. At O’Kane & Monssen, we will recommend the best concentration of whitening gel based on the health of your teeth and gums, the brightness of your teeth and your whitening goals. Professional whitening gel comes in 10%, 15%, 20% and 33% hydrogen peroxide strengths. We take an impression of your teeth to create customized clear plastic trays to hold the whitening gel. The thin trays are designed to fit comfortably and to keep the whitening gel on the teeth and away from sensitive root and gum tissues. You’ll receive personalized instructions for how to apply the proper amount of bleaching gel into the trays and how long to wear the trays each day.


The time required to whiten teeth depends on the overall color of your teeth and the degree of whitening desired. Most patients see dramatic whitening in a week or two and most people achieve their desired shade in less than one month.


We love to help patients whiten their teeth. Give us a call at 651-698-1242 if you’d like more information about professional teeth whitening or ask us during your next visit.


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O'Kane & Monssen Family Dentistry

2221 Ford Parkway, Ste 201

St. Paul, MN 55116

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