Consumers face a lot of options in the search for a brighter, whiter smile. It’s no wonder that teeth whitening is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s hard to sort the best treatments from the ones that are a waste of time and money.
Many people look for a DIY method to fix dull, yellowed teeth. Their first stop is the drugstore, rather than choosing to see their dentist. One of the most popular over-the-counter products are teeth whitening strips. But are teeth whitening strips worth it?
What’s Your Budget?
One reason people avoid the dentist for teeth whitening is the cost. Buying teeth whitening strips to use at home is arguably cheaper than whitening at the dentist.
The cost of a package of teeth whitening strips can range from about $20 to $50. This usually includes enough strips for 20 to 30 treatments. Teeth whitening at the dentist costs considerably more. At-home kits provided by the dentist run roughly $400. Professional whitening at the dentist’s office can cost about $650.
That’s a big difference. But it’s important to understand what you’re getting for your money to decide if teeth whitening strips are worth it.
Do Teeth Whitening Strips Work?
There’s a phrase used in marketing and on the packaging of all types of products: “Your results may vary.” When deciding whether teeth whitening strips are worth it, the answer is vague: “It depends.”
Yes, some whitening strips can make teeth noticeably whiter. There are a lot of variables though, when it comes to which ones work and how well.
Different Products Have Different Results
The ADA Seal of Acceptance is awarded by the American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs to over-the-counter dental products that meet their standards for safety and effectiveness. There are currently only three whitening strips on their approved shopping list.
Not surprisingly, those three products are also at the top of the over-the-counter price range. Many less-expensive strips have FDA approval and are perfectly safe to use. They may also claim to do a great job. Unfortunately, advertising and even online reviews aren’t always clear indicators of how well they work. There’s no way to know for sure without a lot of trial and error.
How Bad Are Your Teeth and Why?
The effectiveness of any whitening treatment depends, in part, on the starting point. How badly discolored are the teeth to begin with, and what made them that way?
Discolored teeth can be the result of intrinsic (internal) factors like heredity, aging, or medical conditions, and extrinsic (external) factors such as smoking and what we eat and drink. Whiteners tend to work better on teeth affected by extrinsic factors. Intrinsic tooth discoloration is more stubborn and may need a dentist’s help, or may not be able to be resolved at all.
People who have mild staining caused by things like coffee, wine, or smoking are more likely to see results with whitening strips than those with more severe, intrinsic stains. For those cases, a dentist might be the best option.
How White Do You Want Your Teeth to Be?
Even if you find an at-home product that works, they may not give the results you were hoping for. Professional teeth whitening at the dentist will typically yield more dramatic results than teeth whitening strips or any other at-home method.
Hydrogen peroxide is the main bleaching agent used to whiten teeth. Dentists are able to use solutions that are much stronger than those found in store-bought products. Professional whitening can make teeth several shades whiter than whitening strips and in a shorter amount of time. Again, a lot depends on how bad the teeth are to begin with.
Another consideration is how much of the tooth surface can be covered with a whitening strip. The strips are made of flexible plastic, coated on one side with a bleaching agent. Strips are placed onto the top and bottom teeth, and molded around them to try to cover every surface. It can be difficult to make sure that every visible surface comes in contact with the strip. This is especially true along the gum line and between teeth. This can result in whitening appearing along the front side of the tooth, but discoloration staying in the crevices.
How Long Do Teeth Whitening Strips Take?
Assuming you’ve found a product that works, it still takes time to see the results of teeth whitening strips. Some professional bleaching methods can produce whiter teeth after just one treatment.
Whitening strips are recommended to be worn for as little as five minutes per treatment, or as long as 30 minutes, depending on the product. Some suggest treatments twice a day. They work gradually to lighten teeth shade by shade. Some can take months of regular use to obtain the same shade a dentist can achieve in one visit.
Getting results using teeth whitening strips takes time and patience. The product needs to be used consistently and become part of a daily routine. It’s a commitment that not everyone is willing to take on. Many prefer to leave the work to a dentist and accomplish brightening their smile in a few scheduled visits.
How Long Will Teeth Stay White?
Let’s say you’ve found a product that gives you terrific results. Your teeth are nice and bright. How long will they stay that way?
Neither professional, nor over-the-counter teeth whitening products are not meant to be a permanent solution. Both will need to be repeated for the same shade to be maintained. Whitening provided by dentists, however, does last longer.
On average, whitening strips will help hold consistent whitening for about six months. Dentist’s methods will last up to two years. This is another important factor in whether teeth whitening strips are worth it.
Buying whitening strips at $50 every six months would cost about $200 over a two year period. That is still less than what a dentist can offer. But this assumes that the desired effects are achieved and maintained. If they aren’t, the costs will add up when it needs to be done more frequently.
Safety Considerations of Teeth Whitening at Home
Teeth whitening strips are safe, but they can still cause problems or be misused. Even though they use a milder solution than professional whiteners, strips still contain some harsh chemicals. Some people have adverse reactions to those chemical that include irritated and swollen gums.
In some cases, tooth sensitivity or damage to tooth enamel can occur. This is sometimes because of previously weakened enamel. It can also happen if whitening strips are used too often or for too long. It’s easy to see how someone impatient for visible results may inadvertently do this.
Whitening with a dentist offers a controlled environment. Precautions are taken to protect teeth and gums. Even if you choose to use teeth whitening strips, it is best to consult a dentist first. They can assess the health of your teeth before you start. They may also be able to recommend the best over-the-counter products and give advice on avoiding problems. Our online search tool can help you find a dentist in your area.
The Answer to Your Teeth Whitening Question
So, are teeth whitening strips worth it? The answer is complicated and not the same for everyone.
For someone on a strict budget, the answer might be “yes.” But it requires time and patience to give teeth whitening strips the chance to work.
For those who can afford it, professional whitening services from the dentist can give quicker and longer-lasting results.