How do Teeth Whitening Strips and Gels Work?

Most people seem to know that teeth are porous. This means that when looked at very closely, for example with a powerful microscope, it can be determined that tiny holes make up the teeth, and as a result of this, stains from food and drink are able to penetrate deep into the structure of the tooth, and remain out of reach for brushes and mouthwashes. When this happens over a period of time, the teeth begin to become discoloured, that is, change from an original shade of white, to a lower shade of white. Inevitably, as people chew with all of their teeth, this discolouring happen to all of the teeth, and also at the same time, over a reasonably long period of time as well.

All of this seemed perfectly fine and natural, until fairly recently, when it emerged that the idea of whiter than white teeth were socially acceptable, a sign of your health (and wealth), and it began to be promoted in public the images of people with dazzling white smiles. This concept caught on to the public’s imagination, and soon every person sought to have perfectly white teeth, in a bid to conform with what they were reading in magazines and seeing on the television. The tooth whitening market has grown from there and nowadays generates tens of millions of dollars in the United States alone every year.

How do Whitening Strips Work?

Of all the many painful dental procedures one has to endure at times, tooth bleaching is not one of them. Coupled with advancement in recipes and application methods, products can be purchased over the counter so that consumers can add whitening to their healthcare routine. Many people choose to use home whitening strips. After ensuring the tooth and surrounding area is clean and free from debris, the gel strips can be placed onto the tooth to be whitened, lining up the straight edge of the strip with the top of the gum line. Each strip is designed to hold the active ingredient against the tooth for around thirty minutes, before being removed and disposed of. People are free to move about their home as the strips are on the tooth.

The active ingredient in all whitening applications consists of hydrogen peroxide, or another substance that breaks down into this ingredient while in the mouth. The peroxide, while being held against the tooth, has the opportunity to penetrate the porous tooth, and the active agent of the peroxide, oxidizers, can begin to break down the stains inside of the tooth. Other options are to have a dentist visit your home or office to apply a stronger, dental grade of whitening, or to visit the dentist’s practice itself.

Are There Any Risks With Gel Strips?

If you obtain gel strips from an authorised dealer or pharmacy, the chances are that you will have got the genuine product, and should have no concerns regarding risks to health. Of course, it is very easy to purchase the strips on-line, and from dealers who are not so scrupulous about checking where their product came from, and more importantly what ingredients went into the making of it. Some internet businesses sell do it yourself kits for home use, and there is a risk that some of these products will contain chlorine dioxide, instead of hydrogen peroxide. Chlorine dioxide is the same acid that is used to clean swimming pools, and is a nasty and dangerous substance to apply to teeth.

Chlorine certainly does whiten, but it achieves this effect by etching off a thin layer of enamel, instead of safely penetrating the tooth to get at the stains inside. For this reason, the whitening results from chlorine based strips last only a couple of days, when a repeat of the process will be necessary to re-whiten. Once this has been done over a period of a few months, the tooth being whitened can be in danger of being weakened to the point of beyond repair, and will be permanently lost. Genuine, authorized products, clearly, are safe and the only risk free way of whitening teeth.

Other Ways to Whiten Teeth

Aside from the eating of fruit and vegetables, which release saliva (which helps to clean teeth) and can remove debris through chewing the flesh, there are only a couple of alternatives to the gel strips. These are:

  • Tooth whitening toothpaste
  • Tooth whitening mouthwash
  • Tooth whitening chewing gum

Most dentists will accept that toothpaste with added active ingredients to whiten teeth will actually improve the shade of teeth by a couple of shades. This area has evolved massively over the years, and now every major brand of toothpaste will have a whitening version of their product, be it through the use of ‘whitening crystals’ or baking soda. Mouthwashes and chewing gum are less well thought of as effective methods to whiten teeth, but both do contain the ingredients to do so, but for one reason or another, are deemed ineffective. Of course, one can visit the hygienist at a dentist’s surgery to have preparation treatment there as well. The added bonus with this way is that the hygienist will be able to remove ingrained surface stains on the teeth, using appropriate equipment. Further, a polish with a motorised brush ensures the teeth are all over clean. The actual bleach strips would then need to be applied by a dentist, or at home using good quality teeth whitening kits.

Chemicals in Gel Strips

There are really only two substances used in the tooth whitening to achieve their results. These two are:

  1. Hydrogen Peroxide
  2. Carbamide Peroxide

Tooth whitening is basically the controlled application of these two substances to a patient’s tooth by a dentist, tailored to fit the patient’s particular and individual needs. Repeated applications by the dentist will be performed, and as a result, four to six shades of whitening can be achieved in one session. Carbamide peroxide, when inside the mouth, will break down into hydrogen peroxide. Inferior products will not contain these two substances, and can be made up with a host of other acids, one including chlorine dioxide, which is potentially very damaging to enamel.

Modern Tooth Whitening

Many people nowadays have chosen to add a do it yourself at home tooth whitening application into their health and beauty routines. The growing desire in recent years to emulate the celebrities we see in the media, some who have impossibly white teeth, has resulted in an ever growing world-wide market for simple, inexpensive ways to whiten teeth at home. Although whitening gel pens are available in some places, applied strips with active ingredients is the preferred way to do it, as during a routine to dress oneself before going out, one can apply the strips and then continue with other things at the same time, allowing the procedure to fit into your routine. This is appealing for humans. As more companies began to realise the potential of the whitening market in a global sense, new and improved products were created and released to the consumer, promising better results, and taking less time.

This takes us up to the present day, when people, mainly women as surveys show, like to be able to whiten their teeth as they walk their dog, or as they tend to their garden. Simply apply a strip, do something else useful for thirty minutes, remove and repeat if necessary. The concept of whitening teeth has evolved to the point that it has become part of a routine not associated with the dentist, more as a personal habit, thanks to the advances by companies producing the gel strips.

What Do Gel Strips Cost?

As usual, prices vary quite an amount from company to company, or even from dentist to dentist. Of course, the best advice is to purchase from a reputable and genuine seller, which at once eliminates any potential risk of inferior ingredients, and therefore the risk to your teeth.
Some companies offer gel strips for around $10, but for this, you won’t get much whitening power for your money. As always, the rule is: the more you spend the better quality you get. The same company will usually have a range of increasing prices for gel strips, and paying around $20 will get you a product that will noticeable whiten your teeth. Even more expensive gel strips are available, up to around $40, and while some write eagerly about the benefits, most see the same results in the products costing around half that. Shopping around for different brands to find which ones work more effectively is also a good idea, as one brand may use a slightly different ratio of ingredients, or have one or two different ingredients altogether (but will still use hydrogen peroxide), so can have different effects on different people. There is a thriving market around the world for products that whiten teeth, and it seems the gel strips remain the method of choice for now.