‘I’m a Cosmetic Dentist, and This Is How To Get Your Teeth To Really Sparkle’

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Photo: Stocksy/Paige Stumbo
In our quest for a a gleaming smile, you've probably wondered whether at-home whitening strips are damaging your teeth and eroding enamel as they brighten. According to Michaela Tozzi, DMD, a dentist in Las Vegas who specializes in oral hygiene and cosmetic dentistry, you're not alone. While there are a few exceptions, for most people, whitening strips are the best way to whiten your teeth if you choose the right product.

Before you buy, chat with the one who knows your teeth best. "Overall, your best bet is to check with your dentist before using whitening strips to avoid any future dental problems," says Dr. Tozzi. "Patients with active decay or periodontal problems may want to avoid at-home whitening treatments, as they can cause extreme sensitivity in these cases." Most people are generally okay to whiten their teeth at home, she says, but it's best to ask your dentist for help when deciding decide if its right for you.

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While there may be shelves of whitening kits at the store, there are basically two main types of bleaching systems. "The biggest difference between the two is that one system utilizes a light to activate the whitening gel and one does not," Dr. Tozzi says, noting there are also pastes and mouthwashes.

Of all the options, Dr. Tozzi prefers whitening strips over other common methods because of how well they get the job done. Specifically, she's a fan of Crest Whitestrips ($45). "They're safe and effective, and I get great feedback from my patients who have used them," she says. (Plus, they have the American Dental Association's seal of approval.)

But beware any of the popular charcoal-based whitening pastes on the market, says Dr. Tozzi; they can destroy precious enamel, leading to sensitivity. "On top of that, if charcoal-based whitening pastes are used for an extended period of time, they can actually cause the teeth to appear more yellow," she says. And that's the last thing you want when you're trying to whiten your teeth.

No matter which route you go, when using whitening strips, stick to reputable brands and steer clear of products that don't have ingredient transparency. "The two most active ingredients in whitening treatments are carbamide peroxide and hydrogen peroxide," she says. (You'll also want to avoid any strips using chlorine dioxide as the active ingredient.) And pay attention to the directions. Most packages recommend using them once a day for 30 minutes, and that's typically the way to go when you want a white smile the safe way. "I’d say to back off of them once you’ve reached your preferred shade or if your teeth start to get sensitive," says Dr. Tozzi. "And if you start to see chalky white spots, it’s probably time to stop whitening and consult your dentist."

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