Cosmetic tooth bleaching is a £2.56 billion global industry, according to market analysts, and it’s getting bigger fast.  It’s easy to see why. Strikingly white, bright smiles dominate TV and social media, and people tend to prefer the bright teeth of youth rather than those that have been yellowed by trauma or age.

In the UK only dental professionals registered with the General Dental Council can whiten your teeth. These include professional dentists and dental hygienists, therapists and technicians.

Lots of things can cause your teeth to lose their natural whiteness overtime. These include:

  • natural changes in the colour of your dentine (the inner part of your teeth) as you get older
  • eating food and drinks with strong colourings, such as blueberries, tea, coffee and wine
  • smoking, which can make your teeth look yellow
  • tartar (plaque that can build up and harden on your teeth, usually if you don’t brush your teeth properly)
  • tooth fillings used for root canal treatments
  • taking medicines, such as antibiotics and iron supplements
  • having tiny cracks in the enamel of your teeth that take up stains

So what are the different ways?

Basically there are three options:

  1. In-office whitening (done by a dentist),
  2. At-home bleaching with custom-made flexible plastic trays (called nightguard vital bleaching),
  3. Over-the-counter (OTC) products.

Within each of these classes the technique can vary, as does the concentration of bleaching solutions and duration of treatment.

The in-office bleaching solutions are the strongest, so precautions must be taken by the dentist to protect the gums from coming in contact with them.

As for comparisons among the three options, one study found that a six-shade change required either: three in-office applications of 38% hydrogen peroxide; one week of 10% carbamide peroxide used at home nightly in a custom-made tray; or 16 daily application of 5.3% hydrogen peroxide on a strip.

A 10% carbamide peroxide treatment in a custom-fitted tray is generally the safest, most cost-effective, best-researched whitening treatment available.

Of course, your own preferences, lifestyle, and finances will also come into play when making a treatment choice. It’s important to keep in mind that all three of these options should eventually achieve the maximum whiteness allowed by the tooth given enough time to work.

Over-the-counter teeth whitening products use the same chemicals as professional teeth whitening products at the dentist. The difference is the store-bought kits have these chemicals in much lower concentrations, so they are less powerful and not as effective. Also you run the risk of safety as many of the store brought kits are not regulated by dentists and could cause damage to your teeth if used unsafely.

If you’re looking for whiter teeth, don’t skimp on safety! Tooth whitening isn’t a quick-fix beauty treatment. It’s a dental procedure that needs to be taken seriously. Before you commit to having any whitening treatment, make sure you know what to expect and who’s carrying it out.