Q: Hi Dr. Cruz-Davis, would you please explain some of the options for tooth whitening as far as treatments, cost, and side effects?

—Aarti, Gainesville, FL

A: I'd be happy to. There are several options for tooth whitening out there. The active ingredients found in most tooth whitening products are Carbamide Peroxide and Hydrogen Peroxide. They both work the same way by penetrating the tooth structure and releasing oxygen which breaks the bonds of the discolored molecules in your teeth causing them to become brighter.

The three main choices, from weakest to strongest, are 1) Over-the-counter products 2) Stronger take-home products sold by your dental office 3) In-office products that the dental professional administers. The difference between these products is their potency, which dictates how fast they work and how white they will potentially make your teeth.

With a professional-strength take-home whitening system, the dentist creates custom trays for you into which you insert the whitening gel and wear for thirty minutes to an hour a day, over a few days to a few weeks. On the other hand, you can expect pronounced results after about one hour of an in-office application.

The most common side effect is temporary tooth sensitivity that usually goes away in one to three days. Your dentist can provide you with tooth desensitizing gel that helps decrease the sensitivity. The whitening treatment does not create changes in the structure of the teeth; therefore you don't have to worry about your teeth becoming weaker.

The cost of tooth whitening treatments varies, but in general a professional take-home whitening treatment can range from $300 to $500 and an in-office treatment from $500 to $1000. I hope you find this information helpful and that, if you desire, you soon venture toward getting a brighter smile.

Happy whitening!

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