A guide to teeth whitening

We Brits may not renowned for our gleaming gnashers but the desire for a Hollywood smile has caught on in recent years, and there are now many teeth whitening options available.

Teeth whitening options

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The best and most effective method of teeth whitening is to go to a professional - either a dentist or a specialist clinic. Both will be able to advise you on the right method for your teeth and will carry out the procedure with the benefit of expert knowledge and experience.

Bleaching gel
A dentist will most commonly use a bleaching gel to achieve whiter teeth. The gel contains a peroxide bleaching agent which lightens the tooth enamel.

The gel is placed in a tray which in turn, is fitted onto your teeth and left to work its magic for the next 45 minutes (or sometimes longer). The gums are usually protected during this process.

Alternatively, your dentist may provide a professional at-home whitening kit - using a custom-made tray and a milder bleaching gel, this option means you can be in the comfort of your own home while your teeth are whitened but, due to the reduced peroxide content, the process may take longer. It is, however, a slightly cheaper option (between £200 and £400, rather than a £300 to £700 price tag).

Laser teeth whitening
By using a laser applied to the bleaching gel, the professional laser whitening option is designed to enhance the results. Once the gel has been applied, the laser is used to speed up the process and brighten the teeth further.

However, even the professionals can't help some gnashers - false teeth, crowns, veneers and fillings are not affected by tooth whitening so you may end up with an uneven smile if you have had any such dentistry work. Pregnant or breastfeeding women, under-18s and those with very sensitive teeth are advised to avoid teeth whitening.

It is worth remembering too, that years of coffee, red wine and cigarettes may mean more than one trip to the dentist and the results may vary depending on the colouration of your teeth.

DIY kits
Major pharmacies across the UK now stock over-the-counter tooth whitening kits. Many of these contain the mouth trays and bleaching gel your dentist would use. In general, these contain less hydrogen peroxide and as a result, may not achieve the results a professional whitening would.

Care should be taken, however, if you opt for a home tooth-whitening kit as some have been found to contain too much peroxide or other ingredients, such as baking soda and ash, which can damage the tooth enamel and gums. Products approved by the British Dental Health Foundation may prove the safest.

Whitening toothpastes
The number of whitening toothpastes on the market is growing by the day but your dentist would undoubtedly prefer you avoid them. The majority work by using abrasive elements to 'whiten' the teeth and can cause lasting damage to the enamel.
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