Is the pursuit of a whiter smile the new American dream? Since the 1980s, when the first at-home teeth bleaching product hit the shelves, Americans have turned teeth whitening into the hottest thing in cosmetic dentistry. In 2007, Americans spent $1.4 billion on over-the-counter products to whiten their smiles [source: Mapes]. And according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the number of patients seeking whiter pearly whites is expected to keep rising.
There are three popular ways to whiten your teeth: at home using over-the-counter whitening kits and products, at home using products prescribed by your dentist, or professionally at your dentist's office. And there are two types of teeth stains: extrinsic, which are stains on the tooth's surface, and intrinsic, which are stains deep within the tooth. If that wasn't enough staining to worry about, our teeth naturally begin to look a bit yellow or dingy as the years go by -- consider it another perk of aging.
The surface of the tooth is called the enamel, and because it's the outermost part of the tooth, it's the layer most susceptible to the staining effects of foods and beverages (including curries, tomato sauce, coffee, tea and wine) as well as tobacco use. Extrinsic stains are the most common, and are usually the easiest types of stains to remove -- usually nothing more than some bleach and some patience is needed to lift them. At-home, over-the counter (OTC) bleaching kits often work well for this type of stain removal, and many dentists recommend them for people who have healthy teeth and gums and no dental restorations (important because your restorations won't bleach).
For some people, OTC tooth whitening products or simple made-at-home smile boosters such as baking soda and a toothbrush may be efficient and effective for brightening teeth, but some smiles whiten best when in the hands of a professional.
Wondering how professional teeth whitening is different than store-bought, and if it's right for you? Let's break down profession teeth whitening options.