Over-the-counter whitening products, designed to brighten teeth, are available in a variety of forms, including liquids, gels, strips, and tray-based teeth whitening systems. The majority of these products use carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide as the bleaching ingredient. Products with higher concentrations of bleaching agents generally yield better results, but can lead to greater tooth or gum sensitivity. One advantage of over-the-counter whitening products is the lower cost, compared to professional teeth whitening services.
Teeth whitening gels and liquids are usually brushed directly onto the surface of the teeth. This process typically requires applying the gel or liquid twice a day, for 30 minutes each time. Visible effects are generally evident within a few days, with more significant effects seen in about 14 days. The gel method may be a good choice for people with limited free time, although the process can sometimes be messy.
Thin, nearly invisible teeth whitening strips are another common type of over-the-counter whitening products. These are coated with a whitening gel and are molded onto the teeth, usually for 30 minutes, twice a day. The results tend to be similar to the whitening gels, with initial results evident within a few days and significantly whiter teeth within 14 days. Common concerns with strips include slippage and, occasionally, some blotchy results due to difficulty achieving even distribution of the product over the teeth. Strips are relatively easy to use and do not require a major time investment.
Tray-based teeth whitening systems normally include a mouthpiece, or tray, that is filled with a bleaching liquid. The tray is usually worn for a period of two hours or more. An advantage of the tray system is that the entire tooth is covered with the bleaching product, typically resulting in more even whitening. This method is more time-consuming to use, and the standardized mouthpieces may not fit comfortably.
Over-the-counter whitening products are usually most effective for people with healthy teeth and gums, although teeth whitening may not be appropriate for everyone. People with sensitive teeth, gum disease, cavities, or exposed roots should consider consulting a dentist before using any of these treatments. The bleaching agents work best on teeth that are yellowish in color, but may not work at all on teeth that are stained brown, gray, or purple. Teeth whitening procedures are not recommended for people under the age of 16, or for pregnant or lactating women. In these cases, other options such as veneers, bonding, or dental crowns may prove the best choice.