Health: The white stuff

Whiter teeth look great, but which method works best? We evaluate gels, lasers, pastes and strips so you can get a perfect smile for less



From the November 2011 issue of the magazine.


Trying to add a bit of sparkle to your pearly whites can be confusing and expensive. Will over-the-counter whitening strips or toothpastes really work? Or should you splurge and pay a dentist for professional teeth whitening services?

First, make sure you have realistic expectations, says Dr. Laura Tam, professor of restorative dentistry at the University of Toronto. Whitening can cause sensitivity in the teeth and gums, and it doesn’t work on stained or dirty teeth. Also, most dental work, such as bridges, crowns and partials cannot be whitened—and can even be damaged by bleaching agents.

Be sure to ask your dentist before pursuing any teeth whitening option. “A healthy mouth is paramount before starting any cosmetic service,” explains Dr. Joel Antel, president of the Manitoba Dental Association.

Here’s a look at the most popular choices:

Bleaching gel trays ($200- $400): With this option, a dentist takes an impression of your teeth and gives you a custom-fit plastic tray along with a supply of bleaching gel. For the treatment to work, you’ll need to sleep with the tray and bleaching gel in your mouth every night for two to six weeks.

With professional results and excellent value, this is the best option for most people, says Tam—if you can put up with the inconvenience. “This treatment is considered the most effective according to numerous studies.” That’s because the trays give your teeth the longest exposure to the bleaching agent. Another advantage is that it works well for people with misaligned teeth.

It will take three to five days before you notice a difference, but the results can last one to three years.

Laser treatment ($4,000-$5,000): Laser treatment is an in-office procedure that is fast and effective, but very expensive. It works by applying peroxide and then using a laser to bleach your teeth.

The major advantage is that the results are instantaneous. But there’s no evidence that the results are any better or longer-lasting than bleaching trays. Also, studies show an even higher rate of tooth sensitivity, explains Antel.

Light therapy ($500-$5,000): Similar to laser treatment, light therapy works by applying peroxide and then using light to activate the whitening process. But unlike laser treatment, light therapy services can be found at your local spa or esthetic clinic—at a fraction of the cost.

Dr. Annie St-Georges, professor in the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Montreal, warns against these cheaper options. “The peroxide used in these facilities is often poorly applied, and in a significant number of cases causes sensitivity in the teeth and gums.”

With light therapy you can expect instant results, but they’ll be no better than the less expensive bleaching gel trays.

Whitening toothpaste ($2-$10): Tam stresses that these toothpastes are effective at removing stains, but that’s not the same as whitening. “To whiten teeth a product must use a bleach, and these toothpastes don’t. Instead, they use enzymes.”

However, because teeth need to be free of stains for whitening to be effective, these toothpastes can be a good first step.

Whitening strips ($16-$40): The active ingredient in this over-the-counter treatment is similar to the one used in professional procedures. Most of the kits require you to attach a one-size-fits-all strip and keep it on your teeth for 10 to 30 minutes.

This method is generally very effective, says Tam, “particularly if you have well-aligned teeth and don’t require customization.” Unfortunately, there are no studies that show how long the effects can last. “You can get results with this approach,” says Tam, but you shouldn’t use the strips more than once every 12 months.

11 comments on “Health: The white stuff

  1. An important qualified information! As a dental practitioner in maryville tn, I will let my patients peruse this with the goal that they'll be mindful of what oral wellbeing can do with in our over all strength scenario.


  2. The whitening industry of the oral health has grown to be big business and is in line with the vanity treatment. Sparkling white teeth like you see on celebrities are not a cheap thing…


  3. So much more than just whitening teeth can be done to help the appearance of your teeth! If you have got chipped teeth, crooked teeth, and so on, you will be amazed at how much technology can help you today.


  4. A good way to promote good oral health is for a dental clinic to have a strong marketing plan. Both their business and all of us will benefit on this.


  5. What dental patients need to understand is teeth whitening treatments are a temporary solution to whiter teeth. The money they spend on whitening treatments can be better used on new veneers. This is a more permanent solution to a better, whiter looking smile.


  6. Thanks! I wanted to maintain my whiter teeth for a long time and these products will surely do the trick.


  7. this is such a nice and informative discussion. I will try to implement all these tips.


  8. I would say go with Laser if you've got the money as it lasts quite a long time, but if you don't got the insurance or funds for that then go for the light treatment. You'll be surprised how well the light treatment works for the price, it's a bargain.


  9. Mostly people think that bleeding gums are due to hard brushing but it need to pay more attention rather than ignore.


  10. Thank you for this article, I will use it for reference. In our Honolulu practice we often are asked to explain the differences between teeth whitening procedures. The article is very clear for our patients to understand.


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