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Q: My teeth are yellow. I think it is from high fluoride levels during childhood. What are the different whitening options?
May 12, 2015

High fluoride levels during childhood can cause fluorosis. This results in white spots on teeth. In severe cases, there are brown stains and the enamel becomes pitted. Your yellow teeth probably were not caused by high fluoride levels. The good news is that yellow teeth respond very well to whitening treatments.

Before deciding between in-home and in-office whitening options, you should visit your dentist to make sure you do not need any treatment for cavities or gum disease, particularly if itís been more than a year since your last check-up.

In-home, over the counter whitening strips, gels, and tray-based systems are all peroxide based. These products contain a lower strength bleaching agent that is equivalent to about 3% hydrogen peroxide. In-office whitening products have a higher concentration of peroxide (between 15% and 43%). This means that in-home products take more time to work. Some systems take a week. Others can take more than 4 weeks. It depends upon how discolored your teeth are, and how white you would like them to be.

In-office bleaching provides the quickest way to whiten teeth. The whitening product can be used in combination with heat, a special light, or a laser. Results are seen in one, 30-minute to 60-minute treatment. Even these treatments may require several sessions, depending upon the extent of discoloration and your desired level of whitening.

Whether you use an in-home system or in-office, the side effects are the same. There is a possibility that your teeth may become sensitive, but this typically lasts only 24 to 48 hours. This probably occurs more frequently with in-office whitening, because the strength of the peroxide is much higher. Your gums, particularly in the home systems, can come in contact with the gel and become burned (turn white) from the peroxide. The dentist protects the gum tissue during an in-office procedure. The burn will heal within 48 hours.

Over-the-counter bleaching systems are the least expensive option ($15 to more than $200), while in-office whitening is the most expensive ($300 to $750).

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