Teeth whitening strips are a very popular choice for home teeth whitening. It’s easy to understand why; they are readily available, reasonably priced and quite easy to use.
What are teeth whitening strips?
Teeth whitening strips are thin, flexible plastic (polyethylene) strips with a thin film of hydrogen peroxide bleaching on one side. The bleaching agent is applied by placing the strips across your teeth and gently pressing the strips into place to ensure contact with your teeth.
Teeth whitening strips are typically worn for 30 minutes a day, twice a day. As a rule of thumb the treatment should continue every day for about two weeks to get the best results. Some “fast results” whitening strips either use higher bleach content and/or you keep the strips on for an hour rather than 30 minutes. The advantage of the fast strips is you only need to use them for five days rather than fourteen days. If you susceptible to tooth sensitivity I would stick to the 14 day treatment.
Bleach whitening treatments are not permanent; some manufacturers claim the results could last up to 12 months but I suspect that’s the best case scenario.
How to apply the strips
Generally a sachet comes with two strips, one for the upper teeth and a smaller one for the lower teeth. The strips tend to cover only the teeth that are likely to be seen when you smile.
- dry each tooth with tissue or gauze just before applying the whitening strip, don’t worry about every piece of the strip touching the tooth; if the strip is adhered to a dry tooth it will permeate into the teeth
- unpeel the whitening strip from its backing
- it’s generally easier to apply the top strip first
- line up the edge of the long strip with the gum line of your teeth
- press gently to secure it in place
- fold the remainder of the strip over and behind the biting edge of your teeth
- repeat using small strip for lower teeth
- resist temptation to play with the strip with your tongue
- try not to move your lips, it will help keep the strips in place
- if you feel any sensitivity in any part of your mouth remove the strips immediately
- leave the strips on for the recommended amount of time
- gently remove the strips with your fingers
- rinse mouth with water
- brush your teeth
You may experience some sensitivity for a short while after using the strips
Do whitening strips work?
Teeth bleaching methods use carbamide peroxide that reacts with water to form hydrogen peroxide. Carbamide peroxide has about a third of the strength of hydrogen peroxide.
At-home whiteners typically contain carbamide peroxide in amounts ranging from 10% to 20%. Treatments provided by your dentists are allowed to use bleaching solutions that have a higher concentration level of bleaching agent.
Studies have shown that whitening strips can be as effective as the treatments provided by dental practises. How effective they really are has to be judged on a case by case basis but compared to the cost of in-office procedures they are surely worth trying. For less than a tenner you can get a full 14 days treatment.
Can I use whitening strips with braces?
Using whitening products with traditional metal bracket braces is not recommended at all. The whitening agents will only react with the exposed parts of teeth, so any areas covered by any dental appliance will not come into contact with the bleaching agent. You could end up with unevenly coloured teeth when the braces are removed. Some whitening products may damage braces depending on the materials they are made.
Several companies, including Crest, the makers of the best selling 3D Whitestrips, advise against using their products while using dental appliances and braces. If you wear braces and are concerned about the whiteness of your teeth you should consult with your dentist.
What about crowns, veneers and other cosmetic dentistry
If your natural teeth are the same shade of white as any crowned or veneered teeth you have you can end up with your natural teeth appearing whiter than any of your unnatural ones. It’s quite often the case that any crowns or veneers are actually a lighter shade than your natural teeth so whitening strips may lighten your natural teeth enough to blend with any cosmetic work.
When whitening strips are not the answer
Strips can only help whiten the surface of the tooth and are not effective or recommended for anyone with:
- intrinsic stains – staining of the layer beneath the enamel
- your teeth are in poor condition
- your have gum disease
- you suffer from tooth sensitivity
Are whitening strips safe?
Teeth whitening dangers from over-the-counter products are rare if you follow the instructions. They have been available for many years without any serious long-term or irreversible adverse effects to teeth, gums or tooth nerve tissue.
Using whitening strip products has not been shown to be harmful to teeth. Clinical research and trials have not identified any significant effects associated with using them. Even when used outside of normal recommendations.
How well consumers follow the application recommendations and instructions when using whitening strips is another matter. Some dentists report that individuals can overuse whitening products because they like the results so much and keep applying layer after layer hoping for whiter and whiter teeth.
If applied incorrectly or pushed into the gums, extreme sensitivity and soreness may result. Using the strips too often and for too long also can damage tooth enamel and lead to underlying tissue damage below the gums.
Your teeth may become mildly sensitive after you whiten, but it’s usually short term. It might be less of an issue if your teeth and gums are in good shape. If it bothers you, stop the treatment and talk to your dentist.
Possible side effects
Side effects of teeth whitening products usually clear up within a couple of weeks, provided you stop using the chemicals.
- tooth sensitivity
- gum irritation
- bluish enamel
- uneven whiteness
If the bleaching agent seeps into a cracked tooth, dodgy filling or an unfilled cavity a tooth can suffer internal damage that can lead to a root canal. If your teeth are in poor conditions you should not be using over the counter teeth whitening products.
Having whiter teeth was certainly not at the top of my list of priorities when I began my quest for improving my own dental care. Now, having won my own battle with getting my teeth and gums in a healthier condition, it may be time for me to look at my own whitening options. I’ve not decided whether to go with whitening strips or not as yet, I will keep you posted.