For a large part, media has been instrumental in creating the hype towards whiter teeth. But the fact is that blindingly white teeth aren’t the norm; human teeth naturally discolour over time as the outer enamel thins, and as they absorb liquids from your food. A healthy adult’s teeth will have a pale, barely noticeable yellow tinge; that’s perfectly healthy. That’s why those toothpaste commercials seem so surreal—those teeth simply don’t exist in everyday life.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no credit to teeth whitening. Some people opt for the procedure because their dental colouring has significantly changed, either from smoking, gum problems, or some other condition. If you think you’re a good candidate for it, start with something simple: try teeth whitening at home.
Home teeth whitening products range from specialized toothpastes to strips that you leave on your teeth for a while. The key to most of these products is peroxide, a well-known mild bleaching agent. It works by creating bubbles on tooth enamel that help lift away the stains. While its use has room for improvement, it’s generally regarded as the best way to whiten teeth without going to the dentist.
Hydrogen peroxide teeth whitening is proven safe for the mouth, but some side effects are possible. The most common is temporary tooth sensitivity. This happens when some of the bleaching agent gets trapped in the tooth’s nerve passages. The sensation usually lasts no more than a couple of days.
Another common method is the use of whitening strips. These strips are held against the tooth enamel for about half an hour every day, providing maximum contact with hydrogen peroxide. The treatment lasts about a week, or until you get the desired shade. Not all strips work the same way, but most will contain instructions on how to whiten teeth at home using the product. This method isn’t as popular because the strips can be uncomfortable to wear, although the whitening tends to be more efficient.
Doctors recommend teeth whitening at home only to people with healthy teeth who have seen their dentist in the past year. People with especially sensitive teeth, those with crowns or fillings on the front, and those with gray rather than yellow teeth should opt for more professional procedures. If you fall under one of these categories, your dentist can tell you how to whiten your teeth at home safely, or recommend a professional who can do it for you.