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How can I whiten my teeth if they are permanently stained?

What causes permanent teeth stains?

There are several factors that can lead to permanent stains on teeth:

  • Drinking coffee, tea, red wine, and other dark-colored beverages over many years can cause deep set stains that penetrate the enamel.
  • Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes can also cause stubborn brownish stains on teeth.
  • Certain antibiotics like tetracycline taken during childhood while teeth are developing can cause permanent grayish or brownish discoloration.
  • Fluorosis, which is overexposure to fluoride during childhood, can result in white specks or streaks.
  • Trauma to the mouth and teeth can damage the enamel allowing stains to set in more deeply.
  • Aging and thinning enamel allows more of the yellowy dentin underneath to show through.

These types of stubborn stains can be difficult to remove with normal brushing and flossing. But there are still options to significantly whiten teeth and improve their appearance.

Professional Teeth Whitening From a Dentist

Seeing a dentist for in-office whitening treatments can provide the most dramatic results for whitening heavily stained teeth. There are two main options:

In-Office Laser Teeth Whitening

Laser whitening done at a dentist’s office can lighten teeth by up to 8 shades in just one 60-90 minute session. During the procedure, a peroxide-based whitening gel is applied to the teeth before shining a specialized blue light on them to accelerate the whitening process.

Some of the advantages of laser whitening include:

  • See visible results immediately with up to 8 shades whiter teeth in one visit.
  • Higher peroxide concentrations up to 35% can be safely used under supervision of a dentist.
  • The light energy helps peroxide penetrate deep set stains faster.
  • Gums are protected from irritation by dental dams.

One downside is that laser whitening costs more per session than other methods. Prices range from $500-$1,000. Results can last 1-3 years with touch-up sessions, but vary person to person.

At-Home Whitening Trays From a Dentist

Custom-fitted whitening trays that are filled with a peroxide-based gel are another very effective whitening method that can lighten teeth up to 6 shades. A dentist first takes impressions of your teeth and makes ultra-thin, comfortable trays that fit your teeth precisely.

You’re given whitening gel to place in the trays at home, then wear the trays for 1-4 hours a day or overnight. Treatments are done over the course of 2-4 weeks until desired whiteness is reached. You can expect to pay $400-$800 for custom trays from a dentist.

Benefits of dentist-supervised at-home trays:

  • Significant whitening of up to 6 shades whiter.
  • More affordable than in-office treatments.
  • Convenient whitening at home on your schedule.
  • Custom trays provide optimal gel contact with your unique tooth shape.

Downsides include the longer treatment time of up to 4 weeks and higher overall costs than over-the-counter methods.

Over-the-Counter Teeth Whitening Products

For more moderate staining, over-the-counter (OTC) whitening strips, toothpastes, rinses, gels, and other products can provide cheaper and easier ways to whiten teeth 1-3 shades without visiting a dentist. Consider the following options:

Whitening Strips

Whitening strips that adhere directly to teeth are an easy and inexpensive way to remove surface stains. Name brands like Crest and Rembrandt use peroxide gel to safely bleach teeth. Results are seen in just a few days.

Pros Cons
Up to 3 shades whiter in 1-2 weeks May cause gum irritation
Low cost of $30-60 for treatments Results do not last as long (3-6 months)
Easy to use for touch-ups Not as effective for deep stains

Whitening Toothpastes

Whitening toothpastes like Crest 3D White contain mild abrasives and chemical polishers to help scrub away surface stains with regular brushing. Do not expect dramatic whitening, but they can lighten teeth up to 1 shade over 2-4 weeks.

Pros Cons
Improves teeth 1 shade when used regularly Results take weeks
Low cost around $5 per tube Not effective alone for severe stains

Whitening Rinses

Whitening mouthwashes like Listerine Instant contain hydrogen peroxide to help reduce surface stain between teeth cleanings. Best used as a supplement to brushing and flossing for gradual whitening over time.

Pros Cons
Convenient way to fight new stains Marginal whiteningbenefit alone
Low costaround $8 per bottle Must use daily for gradual effect

Lifestyle Changes For Preventing New Stains

Professional whitening treatments and products can get your teeth their whitest, but maintaining your bright smile involves tweaking a few daily habits:

  • Brush and floss thoroughly twice a day – Proper oral hygiene prevents new stains from forming.
  • Drink staining beverages in moderation – Coffee, tea, wine, soda, berries, and tomato sauce can stain, so use a straw to minimize contact.
  • Drink lots of clear water – Rinsing with water helps wash away pigments left over from food and drinks.
  • Chew gum with xylitol after meals – Xylitol gum boosts saliva flow to help clear staining residue.
  • Use an antibacterial mouthwash – Reducing bacteria prevents the tartar that can trap stains.
  • Stop smoking – Smoking causes brownish-yellow stains that penetrate the tooth enamel.

What About Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal toothpastes and powders have garnered attention for whitening teeth through abrasive action. But many dentists warn that excessive scrubbing of charcoal over time can actually damage tooth enamel and increase sensitivity. Milder store-bought whitening toothpastes are likely a safer option. Always consult your dentist first before using charcoal.

Should I Get My Teeth Professionally Whitened?

For anyone with deep set intrinsic stains or discoloration several shades beyond normal, professional whitening from a dentist provides the most dramatic results. Shop around for a qualified cosmetic dentist that uses the latest technologies and techniques to find the best value.

With moderate extrinsic staining, over-the-counter whitening strips, toothpastes, and rinses can improve your smile at a more affordable cost with a little patience. Maintaining your newly whitened smile then becomes easier with preventive daily habits.