Caveats:Since your goal is undetectable dentistry, you may want to whiten your own teeth first and then choose whiter, brighter dental restorations. If you don’t choose to whiten, selecting toned-down shades for your replacement dentistry will keep everything in the same color family. "Either way," Cooper says, "you’ll be amazed at how much better your smile looks when everything blends together."
Age Change: Yellow or Dark Teeth
Why:Over the years, your teeth’s protective enamel thins, becoming less white and more prone to stains. That means the yellowish internal part of the tooth, the dentin, begins to show through the enamel. The pulp inside the tooth may or may not shrink: if it does, it adds to the darkness.
How It Ages You:"The combination of thinning enamel and stains," Zase explains, "makes your teeth look gray."
How to Fix It:Bleaching may be the answer. To test whether it will work for you, hold a piece of printer paper up to your teeth under incandescent light. If your teeth are yellow compared with the paper, you should get good results from bleaching. "You can often get nine or 10 shades lighter with a custom-made tray for home use or an in-office bleaching appointment," Golub-Evans says. "But you can also get good results from over-the-counter strips. They’re a milder version of the active ingredient we’re using in the office — around eight percent, as opposed to 15 or 20 percent — and they can often take you six shades lighter."
If your teeth look brown when you use the paper test, it means that both internal and external changes are responsible for the discoloration and your results from bleaching won’t be as dramatic. It may even turn your teeth slightly gray. And if your teeth look gray with the paper test, the change is caused by internal trauma, and bleaching won’t do a thing. You’ll need veneers or bonding if you want to make your teeth look white again.
What It’s Like:In-office peroxide bleaching, with or without a laser (in the laser procedure, a light activates the bleaching chemicals), takes about an hour and is relatively painless, unless you have sensitive or receding gums. "In that case, the doctor can protect sensitive areas with a gel mask or avoid treating those areas with peroxide — but you may feel some stinging," Zase says. Bleaching can also make your teeth temporarily sensitive to temperature; this will resolve in a day or two after the whitening session. If you opt to use custom-made trays for at-home bleaching, you’ll have to sit through one appointment so the doctor can create molds, but then you can use the trays indefinitely. "You wear them every night for an hour or more for two weeks. Though some people don’t have the patience and others find it a bit uncomfortable, it works just as well as the in-office treatments," Golub-Evans says.
Caveats:Ask your doctor to show you on a color chart just how light your teeth may get from bleaching. "Even though I got a few shades lighter," Lewis says, "it wasn’t as big a transformation as I’d envisioned for $1,500."
Laser bleaching is certainly more expensive, but is it necessarily better? "As long as the dentist is experienced, you’ll get similar results from any of the methods," Golub-Evans says.
Resist overdoing it with home bleaching systems. "People try to get better results by wearing the products for longer than directed or by using them too frequently," Zase says. "Not only can that cause gum irritation and tooth sensitivity, but overwhitening can also make the teeth look bluer or more translucent, especially along the edges."
The Price of a Younger Smile
Over-the-counter strips, about $40 for a two-weeks supply; at-home whitening system, $200 to $500; in-office bleaching, $300 to $2,000
$500 to $750 per tooth; restorations last three to five years
About $3,000 to $6,000
$1,200 to $2,500 per tooth