What You Think You Know About Tooth Whitening Might Not Actually Be True

Tooth whitening procedures, including those performed in your dental office and those performed with kits bought from the pharmacy, can help you achieve the brighter smile you desire. However, there is a lot of information floating around about tooth whitening that's not exactly true. Here's a look at some common misconceptions about tooth whitening.

Misconception: Paying your dentist to whiten your teeth is a waste of money since the kits from the pharmacy do the same thing.

The whitening kits purchased from your pharmacy are not the same as the treatments your dentist uses. OTC (over-the-counter) whitening strips and gels contain lower concentrations of the bleaching agents, so they won't be as effective at removing staining and yellowing as professional treatments. That being said, it is worth your while to try an OTC option and see if the results are sufficient before you spring for more expensive, professional whitening. For patients with minor staining, at-home kits may do a good enough job, but for those with deeper, darker stains, professional treatment is generally necessary in order to achieve noticeable whitening.

Misconception: If you visit a whitening kiosk in the mall, you'll receive a professional, dentist-grade whitening treatment.

Whitening kiosks in the mall usually look pristine and professional, and they want customers to believe they're receiving the same service they'd receive at the dentist for a fraction of the cost. However, ABC News investigated these kiosks, and what they found was surprising. These whitening kiosks are not run by dentists or even dental technicians, but rather by employees with minimal training who may even be violating American Dental Association regulations by applying the whitening treatment to patients' teeth. (Technically, the workers are supposed to instruct customers as to how to apply the whitening treatments themselves so they can't be accused of practicing dentistry without a license.)

The chemicals used at these whitening kiosks are not the same ones a dentist would use, either. Professional whitening treatments performed in a dentist's office utilize hydrogen peroxide, whereas the whitening kiosks use carbamide peroxide, a milder, less-effective bleaching agent. The logical conclusion here is clear: if you want safe, professional whitening, go to your dentist -- not to the mall.

Misconception: Teeth whitening is hazardous to your health.

Some patients are concerned that whitening their teeth will impact their overall health or damage their teeth permanently. Perhaps the most common concern is that whitening will weaken the tooth enamel. Thankfully, these concerns are largely unfounded. According to experts, there have been studies conducted which have investigated whether tooth whitening harms the body, and no long-term health implications have been discovered. Some patients experience a little gum soreness if they're sensitive to the chemicals used, but this is temporary and heals easily.

Other studies have indicated that using dental whitening products that contain up to 10% carbamide peroxide has no effect on the hardness or mineral composition of the tooth enamel. The stronger whitening chemicals used by your dentist may have a negative effect on enamel if abused -- but that's why they're only used by dentists and are not available over the counter. Your dentist knows how to minimize tooth damage when using these products, and he or she will not permit you to undergo whitening if your enamel is not strong enough to withstand it.

Misconception: Professional tooth whitening is permanent.

It would be nice if you could have your dentist whiten your teeth and know that they'd then stay that shade forever. Sadly, this is not the case. Whitened teeth are just as susceptible to staining as teeth that have never been whitened. So, in order to keep them white after your treatment, you'll want to take measures to avoid staining, such as abstaining from coffee and red wine and brushing your teeth thoroughly two times per day.

If you have additional concerns about tooth whitening or are wondering if something you've heard is true, speak with a cosmetic dentist, such as Family Dentist, in your area.