The most common methods for whitening teeth include using over-the-counter whitening strips, using a whitening toothpaste and visiting the dentist for a professional whitening treatment. At-home tooth whitening systems are generally effective for removing mild stains. In order to remove more severe stains, professional whitening treatments, which can lighten teeth up to eight shades, are often necessary.
Over-the-counter whitening strips typically include hydrogen peroxide as the main active ingredient. The strips are pressed onto the teeth and allowed to work for about 30 minutes, depending on package instructions. Most whitening strips must be used twice per day, and the results are generally visible within a few days.
Whitening toothpastes do not include bleaching agents, so they are only capable of removing surface stains from the teeth. The active ingredients are typically polishing chemicals, which work to abrade residue off the teeth and give them a whiter appearance. For most patients, whitening toothpastes are capable of lightening the teeth about one shade.
The most effective tooth whitening option is in-office, professional whitening performed by a dentist. This procedure yields instant results in just one appointment, although most patients do undergo several whitening procedures in order to achieve a dramatically white smile. Professional whitening uses strong peroxide solutions that are activated with heat or a laser. The procedure is generally painless and takes less than an hour.