Americans spend about $1.4 billion dollars a year on over the counter tooth whitening products every year. Advertisements for the latest and greatest in affordable bleaching alternatives are everywhere you look. But do they work? And how well do they work compared to dental office whitening treatments?
At home products will generally contain anywhere from a 3 to 20% concentration of peroxide, while professional products contain between 15 and 43%. The higher the peroxide content is, the less time needed to show improvement, and the more dramatic the results will be. It can take as many as 3 months to see a difference in tooth color from home products (sometimes only a single shade improvement), and less than a week for in office bleaching systems that can lighten teeth between 3 and 8 shades. The results also last longer if you go the professional route. At home systems will usually last about 3 months, and in office treatments may last up to two years.
The problem with the do it yourself approach is that there is a lot of room for human error. People can make mistakes with using the system, not leaving it on long enough, leaving it on too long, etc. And many people start off with good intentions and then taper off the usage before any results can be seen. Even though these treatments are generally safe, overuse can lead to bleached and irritated gums, increased tooth sensitivity, or temporary burns in the mouth. It does no good to save money on an at home bleaching treatment if following the guidelines of applying the bleach twice a day for an hour or more is impractical or impossible for you to do, or to remember to do.
Not all teeth can be whitened. Bleaching only really works on yellowed or browned teeth, not on purple or gray teeth. It also has no effect on porcelain crowns, veneers, or tooth colored bonding. Even an in office treatment may be a complete waste of time and money if your goal is to whiten teeth that will not improve with the process. Only healthy teeth should undergo any type of bleaching procedure. If the whitening agents get into cavities or inflamed gums, they can cause extreme pain and increased sensitivity. Regardless of what product you choose, you should always consult with your dentist beforehand.