If your pearly whites have seen, er, whiter days, you may be thinking about brightening up those babies. Your first instinct may be to avoid these teeth-staining foods and buy some of those white strips you’ve seen on the commercials. Done and done … right?
Not so fast. What many people don’t know is that you shouldn’t just dive in head first to any old whitening procedure blindly. For one thing, your teeth have to be “in shape” so the whitening treatments are actually effective and don’t hurt your teeth. Secondly, there are many smile-brightening options available, so you want to be sure you’re picking the one that works best for you (and your wallet).
Here’s the right way to get that bright white smile you’ve always wanted.
What to Do Before You Whiten Your Teeth
Just like it’s wise to check with your doctor before starting a brand-new exercise routine, you should check with your dentist before you whiten your teeth.
“If someone is not happy with the brightness of their teeth, I suggest that they first go to the dentist and check that their enamel is intact,” says Jennifer Jablow, DDS, dentist in New York City. “If you have very thin, translucent, worn down enamel, you’re not going to get the results for whitening anyway so you might as well not use it.”
It’s also important for your dentist to make sure your gums are healthy, and to check for open cavities. If whitening peroxide gets into cavity openings it may cause problems.
How to Pick the Right Whitening Procedure
“I would suggest trying an at-home procedure first and seeing how you react to that, before you go to the dentist and spend a lot of money,” says Dr. Jablow.
Over-the-counter (OTC) whitening treatments are often cheaper than dentist office procedures, but have a lower concentration of bleach. If you’re thinking about using an OTC whitening option, make sure you get one with the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance, which ensures that it’s safe and effective for teeth whitening.
In-office whitening procedures you get at the dentist are notably pricier, but they’re supervised by your dentist, are very effective, and usually require only one office visit (aside from maintenance).
What You Need to Know About Whitening Treatments
Whether you chose an OTC whitening option or opt for an in-office procedure, it’s important to understand that all forms of teeth whitening require maintenance.
“Depending on your eating and drinking habits, and how porous your teeth are, you’re going to have to do something to maintain that level of whiteness,” says Dr. Jablow. “Three months down the road you might have to do a touch-up with some trays or some strips or some liquid gel boosters that you’ll add to your toothpaste.”
Along with maintaining that glittering grin, it’s even more important to keep your teeth healthy. That’s why it’s critical to brush your teeth twice a day (especially at night!) and floss every single day as well.