The Dos and Don'ts of At-Home Teeth Whitening

We all strive for that gleaming-white Hollywood smile, but unfortunately our coffee and eating habits often don't make that a possibility. There's nothing worse than taking a picture and seeing that your smile is rather, well, beige, and having to make the proper filter and photo-editing adjustments. Since you can't slap a filter onto your smile in real life, the best thing to do is, of course, take care of your smile and practice safe whitening. There are a million OTC treatments on the market, but not all of them are gentle enough to be used regularly, which is why we sought expert advice to find out which ones have the dentist-approved green light.

To find out which at-home treatments are safest for your smile, keep scrolling!

First things first: There are some people who actually won't benefit from tooth-whitening. These include people who have fillings on the front of their teeth (these will actually turn darker from tooth-whitening), those with cold sensitivity, and people with teeth that have a grey coloration (likely due from taking antibiotics as a child). In the case of the latter, the discoloration likely lies inside the tooth, meaning surface bleaching won't ameliorate the issue. Matthew Messina, DDS, advises that at-home whitening is for "anyone with a healthy mouth who has been to the dentist in the past year." Work with your dentist to determine whether you're a strong candidate before trying any remedies on your own. 

Next, you need to be wary of homemade treatments. Tiffany Konklewski, DDS, says that certain DIY whitening practices (like mixing lemon and baking soda) are awful for your teeth, since you're mixing an acid with an abrasive. This softens and removes enamel, since acid demineraliaes and abrasives brush it away. Yikes! Once your enamel is gone, that's it—there's no getting it back, so before you try that Pinterest remedy, do your research and consult with a dentist first.

If you want to try a remedy that's easy on your teeth but also delivers results, Konklewski recommends strips—"whatever keeps the product on your teeth the longest." Strips seal the product to the teeth so that it doesn't slide around your mouth or get washed away by your saliva. If you choose to take the Whitestrips route, Konklewski says you should be sure to give yourself some time off: "Take a few months off in between. Your teeth can only handle so much, and [whitening] puts a lot of stress on them." Additionally, Robert Gerlach, DDS, recommends waiting at least a half hour before brushing your teeth after using the strips: "Detergents in toothpaste can make gums more susceptible to irritation," he explains.

To ameliorate the stress Whitestrips may cause, Konklewski recommends using a fluoride toothpaste, because it builds up your enamel and essentially strengthens your teeth. Whitening toothpaste can also help remove surface stains from teeth, an added bonus when looking for whitening solutions—just make sure the fluoride element is present.

And what about those UV-light whitening systems you see celebrities posing with on Instagram? Turns out they don't account for significant whitening power. According to a study in The Scientific World Journal, researchers found that light-activated and non-light-activated procedures did not differ significantly. Additionally, light-activated systems were found to increase the occurrence of severity of tooth sensitivity, as the light source itself can increase the temperature of the pulp chamber of molars, thus making teeth more sensitive. Strips are sounding more and more appealing by the minute.

The moral of the story is to take care of your teeth as much as possible and to work with your dentist during your annual appointment to determine which whitening method works best for your teeth. And if you question whether a treatment is going to harm your teeth, be sure to do your due diligence before applying anything to your pearly whites.

Have you ever tried a really successful tooth-whitening process? Tell us below!