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Everyone loves a bright, white smile, but most people don’t have the brilliant teeth made popular by Hollywood.

At-home whitening products such as strips and gels, or dental office procedures, such as chairside bleaching, are some of the ways people brighten teeth and reduce surface stains.

No matter what type of tooth whitening process you use, it won’t last forever. At-home products may give minimal-to-great results that last for a few months. Professional dental procedures may extend that time up to 2-3 years.

Read on to learn the effects of whitening procedures and products to consider. We’ll also let you know how long you can expect them to last and what you can do to prolong tooth whitening.

The length of time you can expect tooth whitening to last is based upon the type of whitener you’re using. Your lifestyle habits also have an effect.

Tooth whitening treatments are designed to reduce stains, not repel them. If you have good oral habits and keep your teeth clean, at-home products and dental procedures will last longer.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic stains

Keep in mind that the degree and type of tooth discoloration or stain you have matters. There are two types of tooth stains:

  • intrinsic (internal): caused by aging, trauma, infection, and medication. These deep, internal stains are harder to eliminate but can be removed, given the right type of treatment.
  • extrinsic (external): caused by food, cigarette smoke, and drink. Most whiteners only work on extrinsic stains.
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Here are some of the most popular whitening treatments and how long they last.

Whitening toothpaste

If you use a whitening toothpaste twice daily, it may take anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks before you see any results. Users say these results can last for up to 3 or 4 months.

Whitening toothpaste can be used every day or several times a week. They contain ingredients that polish or whiten teeth, such as:

  • hydrogen peroxide
  • carbamide peroxide
  • mild abrasives

Toothpastes that only contain abrasives tackle surface stains and can’t change the internal color of teeth. Those that contain peroxide can whiten teeth and remove stains to varying degrees.

You may be able to prolong these effects if you continue to use whitening toothpaste. But some people are sensitive to the ingredients and find that their gums or teeth become uncomfortable with prolonged use. Many toothpastes containing abrasives are also not meant for long-term use.

Long-term use of whitening toothpaste may thin tooth enamel. If you plan to use whitening toothpaste long term, try alternating with a toothpaste designed to protect and strengthen enamel.

Whitening mouthwash

It may take up to 3 months before you see any effect from a whitening mouthwash.

Whitening mouthwashes usually contain hydrogen peroxide. You can use a whitening mouthwash daily, to help remove small degrees of surface staining.

Whitening mouthwash may be most effective when used to prolong the effect of other treatments, such as in-office whitening or whitening strips. When used alone, its effects are not dramatic, or long-lasting.

Whitening strips

Whitening strips vary in the number of treatments needed before you see results. Some strips provide superior results, which can last for up to 6 months.

Whitening strips are one of the most effective over-the-counter treatments for whitening teeth at home. Some brands are easier to use and more effective than others. Some use LED accelerator lights to provide more intense stain removal.

Whitening strips use peroxide to bleach teeth and remove stains. When used incorrectly or too often, they may be uncomfortable or harmful to teeth.

When used correctly, high-quality brands of whitening strips can remove both extrinsic and mild intrinsic stains, by bleaching teeth to make them whiter in color.

Whitening pens

Whitening pens take from 2 days up to a week. They provide minimal results that are usually not long-lasting.

Whitening pens are small, plastic tubes containing whitening gel that are transportable and used for spot stain removal. The gel washes away easily, so you can’t eat, drink, or rinse your teeth for about an hour after application.

At-home whitening gel trays

You should start seeing results from a whitening gel tray in about a week, with maximum results seen in 2 to 4 weeks’ time. The amount of whitening you see will vary based on the strength of the peroxide used and length of time worn.

When combined with proper oral hygiene, at-home, dentist-supervised whitening gel trays should give you long lasting results of a year or longer.

Your dentist can fit your mouth for a custom-made tray that you fill with gel whitener at home. The whitener supplied by your dentist is stronger than the type used in over-the-counter products.

Your dentist will supervise this treatment and guide you as to how long and how often you should use it. In some instances, you may need to keep the tray on your teeth for several hours or overnight daily, for a week or longer.

Chairside bleaching (in-office tooth whitening)

If you maintain good oral hygiene, a chairside (or in-office) procedure should provide long-lasting results for 1 to 3 years.

This procedure is done in your dentist’s office. It usually requires only one visit.

This procedure uses a strong bleaching agent, such as highly-concentrated hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Heat or light may also be used, to further accelerate the bleaching agent.

The active ingredients in tooth whiteners can cause sensitivity to occur in teeth and gums. This is typically not long lasting. Some people find that long-term use of any whitener with peroxide or abrasives is uncomfortable.

There is also the potential for more serious side effects, including:

  • Gum burns and irritation: This is more likely to occur from at-home gel tray use or chairside whitening, but can be avoided by covering the gums completely prior to treatment and using custom fitted trays. If they do occur, gum burns and irritations are usually mild and temporary.
  • Gum whitening: The gums may become bleached, losing their color for a short period of time.
  • Gastrointestinal irritation or distress: If you swallow a whitening product, you may feel a burning sensation in your throat or a mild stomach ache.
  • Damage to tooth enamel or dentin: Research on this is inconclusive. Surface grooves on teeth and thinning enamel may occur from any type of whitener that uses strong bleaching solutions or abrasives.

Some users report tooth pain during or after whitening. If you experience pain, burning, or extreme sensitivity, call your dentist.

In some instances, the whitener may get into a cavity or cracked tooth, causing significant pain and a necessary dentist visit.

Why are my teeth discolored?

Teeth can become yellow or gray over time due to many factors:

  • what you eat and drink
  • smoking cigarettes or vaping
  • age and heredity factors
  • medications like tetracycline can cause deep stains if taken in childhood when permanent teeth are forming
  • trauma or infection can cause teeth to turn yellow, bluish, or gray
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Keeping teeth clean and flossed will not only help to prevent cavities and gingivitis but also help keep teeth their whitest.

  • Brush at least twice a day, especially after meals.
  • Brush after a meal if you eat or drink things that stain teeth, unless you eat or drink something acidic, then it is better to wait 30 minutes.
  • Chew sugar-free gum or rinse with water after eating.
  • Add a whitening toothpaste or rinse to your regular dental routine between whitening treatments.

What you eat and drink can stain your teeth, particularly if you don’t brush regularly. Some common offenders are:

  • coffee
  • tea
  • red wine
  • grape juice
  • cola

If you enjoy these regularly, make sure to brush, floss, and rinse often.

Chewing on sugar-free gum, parsley, or mint can also help clean your mouth by stimulating the flow of saliva.

There is a wide range of at-home and in-office tooth whitening products and procedures.

At-home treatments such as whitening toothpaste, rinses, and pens do not last very long, but may help to prolong the benefits of other, more effective whitening treatments.

White strips are the most effective over-the-counter whitening treatment you can use without a dentist’s supervision.

At-home gel trays that are customized to fit your mouth by your dentist and chairside whitening provide the longest-lasting whitening.