Once available only in upscale dental offices, teeth whitening products have hit the mainstream, and anyone can have a Hollywood smile with one quick trip to the local drugstore. Dentists still provide the strongest whitening agents in their offices, but consumers can now choose from paper-like strips, waxy trays to be worn for brief periods in the mouth, toothpastes, mouthwash, and now even chewing gum when a whiter smile is desired.
Dental offices are the place to go for those who want to go more than a couple shades lighter in a short time period. The teeth whitening products available to professionals are still stronger than anything the average person can pick up, and now dentists have laser procedures for the fastest alteration possible. The term laser is used loosely here, however, as a laser never touches the teeth -- it’s actually a “light activated” altering procedure.
The difference between teeth whitening products in a dentist's office, what a dentist gives a patient to do on their own at home, and teeth whitening products any individual can pick up at a discount department store is not as different as one would expect. In fact, the products are almost identical; it’s the concentration of active ingredient that distinguishes some items as professional.
Hydrogen peroxide is the oxidization agent typically used in teeth whitening products. This agent penetrates the enamel and oxidizes, or bleaches, the stains. Dentists are allowed to use higher concentrations of an oxidizing agent than manufacturers are allowed to sell in stores, and thus, dentists can lighten teeth dramatically in a shorter amount of time. Home users are using basically the same products, only the teeth whitening products available to home users have a lower concentration of oxidizing agent. Therefore, they are still able to lighten at the same levels, but they must be applied more often, over a longer period of time.
Popular options for home users are whitening strips that are left on daily for 30 minutes or so at a time, toothpastes that will help keep new stains at bay, mouth rinses, custom trays fitted by a dentist but used at home, and now some chewing gums are even advertising their whitening properties. If cost is a factor, using gels, strips, or toothpastes at home can be just as effective as dental procedures, but progress is much slower.