Thinking of using over-the-counter whitening strips? “They do a wonderful job for people who have minor discoloration and are looking for a way to brighten up their teeth,” says Matthew Messina, DDS, an Ohio-based dentist and the American Dental Association’s consumer advisor spokesperson. Here, expert suggestions for how to stay safe and get the best results.
Do keep your teeth clean before whitening.
Whitening strips are designed to be used in a healthy mouth. So here’s another reason to brush and floss, as well as see your dentist, regularly: You want to whiten your tooth enamel, not the buildup. For best results, maintain great oral care and schedule your annual checkup right before you start whitening.
Don’t prolong exposure to staining food and drinks.
Think about what you’d be worried about spilling on a white tablecloth: coffee, tea, blueberries, wine, etc. Consume less of these things while whitening. You don’t have to give them up completely, but brush and rinse as soon as you finish eating them.
Do check the expiration date.
Often, whitening products that are on sale at big box stores have been marked down for fast resale because they’re close to their expiration date -- so make sure to verify the date on the box before you buy them. As long as you plan your whitening before the product expires, you should be OK.
Don’t leave whitening strips in your car on a hot day.
Since heat can inactivate the peroxide in whitening strips, leaving them in a steamy trunk while you run errands is a bad idea. By the same token, if you don’t plan to use them right away, storing them in the refrigerator can help slightly extend their shelf life.
Do give yourself touch-ups.
After undergoing the initial whitening process with at-home strips, Messina recommends doing one day’s application once or twice a month to avoid having to restart the process again in six months (which is what the directions on most products recommend). Be careful not to apply the strips more often than that, though, since overuse can irritate gums.
Don’t assume generics are the same as brand-name options.
While generics may be cheaper, they're not tested to ensure effectiveness. Yes, these products have the same active ingredient (peroxide gel) as brand-name strips. But since you can't be certain how the different inactive ingredients interact with the peroxide, you won't know before trying them out. With brand-name whiteners, the results are guaranteed because they have been tested extensively.
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