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There's a lot that goes into taking care of your teeth, and it's more than just brushing or flossing (which you should be doing at least twice a day!). Regular dental cleanings are also important, and while having your teeth whitened may not be a necessity, it's something that can make you fall in love with your smile. 'Cause if your teeth are discolored, you may not want to show them off as much.  

At-home whitening products are pretty popular, and for good reason. They're a cheaper alternative to getting your teeth professionally whitened, but they still get the job done. However, if you're looking for a longer-term solution to whitening your teeth and are willing to spend some money, professional whitening procedures are extremely effective.

Before you do any whitening, though, there are a few things you should know. Here is what three dentists want you to know about the whitening process — both at home and at the dentist's office.

The Whitening Process Removes Surface Stains

One of the most important things to know about getting your teeth whitened is what's actually happening during the procedure. A peroxide solution is used on your teeth to remove surface stains. Depending on your dentist, the peroxide may be activated with a laser or with a light.

Cosmetic dentist Dr. Marc Lowenberg of Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor in New York says that his office uses the light rather than the laser for the integrity of your teeth. "Today's power lights do not heat up the teeth as much and are more effective in whitening the teeth," he says. 

This solution will whiten your teeth, but the results can vary based on what your teeth look like when you start. "​​Patients with teeth that have a grayish tint, tetracycline staining, fluorosis, or other dental conditions may not see the dramatic results expected with in-office whitening procedures," says Dr. Marina Gonchar, DMD and owner of Skin to Smile.   

Clean Teeth Will Whiten Better

If you're considering a professional whitening treatment, schedule it for after you get your teeth cleaned, as the whitening will take better. Your best bet is within a week or two of the cleaning. "Whitening doesn't work effectively through plaque and tartar, and having healthy gums is ideal," says Dr. Matt Nejad, Beverly Hills biomimetic and cosmetic dentist.  

You can also prep for the whitening by making sure your teeth are prepared for the sensitivity you may experience after the fact. "Prior to a professional whitening session it is recommended that patients use a fluoridated toothpaste to help avoid any post whitening tooth sensitivity often associated with this procedure," Dr. Gonchar says.

But if you currently have any dental issues, do not get your teeth whitened, as it can exacerbate some of those concerns. "It is also recommended that any in office whitening procedures are delayed after implant placement, gum surgeries, or if the patient is undergoing orthodontic treatment," Dr. Gonchar says. "Whitening procedures should never be performed in patients with active periodontal disease, as it can lead to further inflammation and exacerbation of their dental condition." 

Restorations and Fillings Won't Whiten

If you have any fillings or dental implants, the typical whitening process won't work on them. "Before whitening, you must determine if there are any restorations that may need to be replaced after whitening," Dr. Nejad says. This is also something to keep in mind when it comes to cost, as you may need to factor in an extra expense for these replacements.

Teeth Whitening
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Professional Whitening Can Last Up to a Year

Technically, when you get your teeth professionally whitened, it's a permanent procedure. However, your teeth will most likely start to stain again naturally. Getting them whitened yearly would be a good idea to keep up the pearly color you're after. Just be careful of how often you're whitening, even if your teeth start to look dingy too quickly. "Professional whitening more often than twice a year is not necessary and can dry out enamel," Dr. Lowenberg says. "That drying out of enamel from over-whitening will make teeth sensitive and chalky looking."

The Cost of Professional Whitening Can Vary

Getting your teeth professionally whitened is not cheap, but the price will vary based on where you live and the procedure you have done. You can look to spend somewhere between $500 and $1,200, give or take. Dentists in larger, more expensive areas of the country will probably charge a bit more than a dentist in a smaller town, and dentists who use more advanced procedures — like a light over an older laser — might also charge more. Check with your dentist to see what they charge and if payment plans are an option, if need be.

You May Want to Change Your Diet

To prolong the whiteness of your teeth, Dr. Lowenberg says. "The length of time your teeth will stay whiter varies and is influenced by how often you drink coffee, tea, dark soda, red wine or smoke," he says. And these changes should happen right away for the safety of your teeth. Avoiding these drinks, plus foods like blueberries or tomato products, is important during the first 48 hours following the whitening process. "During the first 48 hours the dental tubules (the pores of the tooth) are still open and can take up the dyes in food and drinks just as easily as it took up the peroxide solution utilized during whitening, leading to immediate loss of the results achieved," says Dr. Gonchar.

At-Home Whitening Products Are a Quick Fix

Getting your teeth professionally whitened isn't always feasible, because the cost can be restrictive. At-home whitening products like whitening strips or whitening trays have a lower concentration of peroxide in them, which means they won't produce quite as bright results, but they can be effective. Dr. Gonchar notes that professional whitening can whiten up to eight shades whereas the at-home techniques usually only whiten one to two shades. 

"Crest 3D White Luxe Whitestrips are a great option for at-home whitening on a budget," Dr. Lowenberg says. "The whitening gel within the strips remains in contact with the tooth enamel long enough to deliver noticeable results. Whitening strips combined with daily use of a whitening toothpaste are an affordable alternative to maintaining a bright smile."

Dr. Nejad also recommends a whitening procedure in a tray, as the overnight method can produce decent results. "At-home whitening with custom fabricated bleaching trays is much more effective and allows for longer application duration overnight," he says. He notes that the typical at-home product is more of a short-term method, which means the results may be minimal.

Use Whitening Toothpaste

On its own, a whitening toothpaste probably won't do much for your teeth. However, if you use a whitening toothpaste with a whitening product, like at-home or professional whitening, it can prolong the whiteness of your teeth. "Using both whitening strips and whitening toothpaste is a good one-two punch for a quick whitening fix," Dr. Lowenberg says. "If you have a lot of stains, they will remove stains and teeth will appear whiter, but they do not soak into the enamel and bleach the teeth."