White smiles

Q: I was trying on wedding dresses and realized, up against a white dress, my teeth look really yellow. I'll be smiling a lot for the camera on my big day, so I'd love to get some pearly whites to match my dress. What are the best ways to get teeth whitened, and do those over-the-counter whitening treatments work?

Knowing the pros and cons to whitening will help you determine if it’s the proper treatment for your teeth. Whitening is not effective for all stains. Always check with your dentist prior to whitening in order to determine which whitening system would be most beneficial for you. Have your teeth professionally cleaned prior to whitening; you don’t want to whiten over build up.

Most over-the-counter whitening products, such as whitening toothpastes and mouth rinses, are effective to a degree, but they often cause cold sensitivity. Make sure that any product you use is American Dental Association (ADA) approved and has the ADA seal. Your dental office has plenty of options to whiten your teeth, including bleach, veneers or crowns.

Whitening products generally contain the bleaching agents hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which both have been proven to whiten teeth. These can cause sensitivity to hot and cold or sporadic pain, which will stop when you stop whitening. It can take up to 21 days to see results when bleaching, but the results can last six to 12 months.

Once you whiten, you will want to prevent your teeth from staining. You can reduce your intake of red wine, staining berries (such as blueberries, strawberries or raspberries), and tomatoes (including tomato sauces). These types of stains can be removed with bleach but can be avoided. If you are going to drink dark-colored sodas or wines, drink through a straw.

There are some stains that cannot be removed with bleaching alone. For instance, tetracycline stains and decalcification stains will need to be covered up.

Veneers and crowns create an ideal smile. You can choose how white you want to go and with veneers and crowns. You can even fix little misalignments that you may not be happy with. With both veneers and crowns, a small portion of the tooth is prepped to create room for the veneers or crowns to be cemented into place. This procedure can take up to three weeks, so you will need to plan ahead. The results can last up to 20+ years.

Remember to always consult with your dentist to ensure that you are whitening with the products that are best for your teeth and the types of stains that you may have.

Derek Lowe DDS is a dentist at Alaska Dental Arts in Fairbanks. He is a 2006 graduate of the University of Las Vegas of Dental Medicine. Visit