We all want a brighter, whiter smile — you know, one that doesn’t need contrast edits on your phone before you post a photo. But the pursuit of those pearly whites can come at a high cost (and in particular, a high level of discomfort) if you don’t do it steadily and safely.
If you’ve ever had your teeth whitened before — professionally, or at home — then you’re likely familiar with the “zingers,” which is the exposed nerves in your teeth sending sharp pains through your head, since their enamel has been stripped bare. While stripping the enamel is part of teeth whitening, that’s exactly the thing you don’t want to mess up. Because it’s also the thing that protects your teeth when you chew, and also shields the tiny pores in each tooth. With the enamel stripped bare, these pores easily absorb the particles of anything you consume, and those colors can deposit themselves inside the teeth, only to be sealed off with the newly formed enamel days later. On top of that, your gums can sustain severe sensitivity and damage in any whitening job gone wrong. Fun, right?
So, let’s re-emphasize that it’s important to follow any prescribed instructions with your teeth whitening product of choice. And, to read over the list of tips below, which should serve as a guidepost for the safest — and brightest, whitest — results.
1. If possible, start with a professional treatment (or at least a professional cleaning)
It’s obviously counterproductive to tell you that the best way to whiten teeth at home is to get a professional (often expensive) treatment at the dentist’s office. However, doing one professional base whitening is also the best way to begin the long-term job of “maintaining” a white smile, rather than trying to improve your own brightness on extremely dull or yellow teeth.
Plus, your dental hygienist can give you a thorough cleaning to ensure that you aren’t applying any whitening products over top layers of plaque. (And your doctor can make sure you aren’t worsening or building towards any cavities.)
I think it’s important to experience both the zingers and see the terrific results of a professional whitening job, too, so that you aren’t alarmed by a few zaps during the DIY treatments — and, again, so that you have something to “maintain” instead of something to work towards.
Lastly, if you have any unnatural/artificial teeth, you will want this doc to weigh in on how to color-match the tooth with the rest of your grill, which furthers our argument about starting with a professional job, matching all the teeth, and simply maintaining from there.
2. Use hydrogen peroxide whiteners
There are a few different teeth whitening hero ingredients out there, but the ADA stands squarely behind hydrogen peroxide as the safest option. On top of that, it’s also antiseptic, so it’ll neutralize your mouth in the meantime.
Dentists will typically use carbamide peroxide in their formulas, which breaks into hydrogen peroxide during the process.
For what it’s worth, our favorites are Crest’s 3D white strips (read our review of them here) and Burst’s whitening strips.
3. Floss and brush thoroughly before whitening
You want a clean canvas before you do any whitening. Otherwise, it’d be like painting a wall but leaving a framed photo on the wall and trying to paint over that instead of the wall itself. Use a water flosser for a more assured flush between your teeth, if you have one readily available.
4. Regardless of your product preference, choose one with the ADA seal
We could spend all day comparing and debating between trays, strips, gels, light-activated treatments, and so forth. The bottom line is, different means of delivery work for different people, and no two products in each of these categories is going to deliver the same results (purposefully, by design).
So, educate yourself on what each one will do, as well as how to get the best results. Some are worn overnight. Others, for 5 or 15 minutes. The same goes for use frequency; some are weekly, others monthly, and some even nightly for a window of time. Just follow those directions to a T.
But most importantly, make sure that the product bears the seal of the ADA, the American Dental Association. This proves that the product has cleared safety protocol and testing by the toughest critics. Trust no other products. Period.
5. Avoid dark-colored foods and beverages as you recover
One of the reasons we prefer the further-apart teeth whitening treatments (like monthly touch ups, or even annual dental touch ups as a sole means) is because it’s easier to buffer out the days to recover. This is the window of time when those zingers steadily wear away, but also the period wherein you need to avoid anything that will stain the teeth. That’s because they are exposed, sans enamel, and can absorb the color deposits of anything they encounter, like marinara sauce, red wine, chocolate, coffee, and so forth.
If it can stain your clothes, it can stain your teeth. (Smoking is a big offender, too. If something can stain your teeth in general, it will only be magnified in the 72 hours after whitening.)
So, if you are doing a steady whitening plan (like, nightly for one week), then avoid any of these foods and beverages during that entire period, and in the 3 days to follow. Hey, you can always use a straw and switch to lattes instead of black coffees, and sauvignon blancs instead of cabernet for those days.
To the same tune, it helps to avoid extremely hot and cold meals in this timeframe, too, due to the sensitivity and exposed nerves. Unless you love those painful zingers…
6. Take NSAIDs for any pain relief
If you experience any pain after whitening, then stick with NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen to calm the agony without any compromise to your smile — as opposed to any topical gels that might affect the brightness.
And while you’re at it, it doesn’t hurt to help the process by avoiding these 3 mistakes while brushing your teeth.
Photo via Colgate