Ask most people what they want to change about their teeth and one of the most common answers is definitely the color. Everyone wants whiter teeth but most people don’t know much about what options exist. Lets first get into what is the difference when you buy an over the counter product vs. a in-office treatment system. First and foremost the active ingredients are almost always the same. If you look at the over the counter box the active ingredient is most likely either carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. These over the counter products contain a lower percentage (usually between 6% and 10%) of this active ingredient than what you can get with an professional strength whitening system (usually between 22%-40%) What this means is that in-office whitening systems are faster but maybe not more effective. The biggest advantage is you don’t have to leave the gel on as long or for as many days to get the desired results. However, the higher concentration of active ingredient also leads to more side effects. The most common of which is tooth sensitivity. Even if you don’t have sensitive teeth generally, it is very common to develop tooth sensitivity with any whitening system. The pain is not permanent and will diminish as time passes once you have stopped using the product. Gum irritation is another common complaint with teeth whitening. If the peroxide comes in contact with your gum tissue, it will cause the tissue to become painful and possibly ulcerated. This will heal but can be very uncomfortable.
Utilizing one of the professional whitening systems may help lower the risks of gum irritation. There are generally two options when it comes to professional whitening. One is to have a custom whitening tray fabricated. The dentist will take an impression of your teeth to make a mold. This mold is used to make a set of trays that are custom fit for your teeth. By applying a small amount of whitening product into the trays for each tooth, you can control the gel and diminish the risk of gum irritation. The second option is a in office application. This usually involves the highest concentration of the active ingredient. The dentist will have to to carefully isolate your gums to keep the whitening gel from coming into contact with the tissues. Even the smallest amount of the high percentage peroxide can lead to a week or two of pain as the gum heals. Also, in office whitening will typically lead the the most sensitivity. The greater concentration of the ingredient may lead to a whiter initial result but the risks of pain and sensitivity cannot be overlooked.
With all of these options the last questions I always get after going over all of this information is “what do you recommend?”. My recommendation comes from my personal experiences with these products. I have done all three methods. What I have found is the in-office whitening delivers a nice immediate result that will fade as the days go by and be similar to using a custom tray at home gel system. The in-office caused my teeth to be significantly more painful. Therefore, I would personally opt to use custom trays with professional strength whitening gel over 10 days than a one time in-office treatment. As far as the over the counter products go, they are fine and affordable. I prefer the custom trays due to a more comfortable delivery and faster results with a higher concentration of the ingredients. I hope this gives you some information to help you if you are interested in whitening your teeth.