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Teeth Whitening and Ways to Brighten Your Smile Today

Dentist from the 17 century treating a patient

A Brief History

The roots of teeth whitening trace back to ancient civilizations where appearance held significant social importance. The ancient Egyptians, renowned for their beauty rituals, were among the first to experiment with teeth whitening. They concocted a paste from ground pumice stone, wine vinegar, and oxen hooves. For them, a bright smile symbolized virility, wealth, and sensual appeal.

Similarly, the beauty-conscious Romans were meticulous about their dental hygiene. Historical records reveal their use of urine for teeth cleaning—a practice that seems shocking today but was effective due to the ammonia in urine, a natural bleaching agent. Like the Egyptians, the Romans also used chew sticks to maintain their oral health and appearance.

By the 12th century, teeth whitening had become a topic of medical advice. Physicians of the time recommended various pastes and powders, including mixtures of sage and salt rub. These methods were rudimentary but demonstrated an ongoing interest in achieving whiter teeth.

Fast forward to the 17th century, and the process took a more abrasive turn. People seeking whiter teeth would visit their barber, who would file the teeth to make them more porous and then apply a potent nitric acid to bleach them. Although this method was effective in whitening, it caused significant enamel damage.

The 19th century brought more scientific approaches to teeth whitening. Dentists began using chlorine as a bleaching agent to remove the yellowish tinge from teeth. However, by the early 20th century, hydrogen peroxide and fluoride had become the preferred materials. In 1918, the use of a heating lamp alongside hydrogen peroxide was discovered to speed up the whitening process. By the 1960s, soaking teeth in peroxide overnight became a popular method, thanks to its superior results. Today, teeth whitening is more accessible than ever. From whitening toothpastes and strips to professional treatments at the dentist’s office, the options are vast.

What Is Teeth Whitening 

Teeth whitening refers to a variety of processes designed to make natural teeth appear brighter and whiter. This cosmetic procedure involves different methods, including bleaching agents, sanding down stains, and even ultraviolet (UV) light therapy. Whether done at home or in a dentist’s office, teeth whitening has become widely accessible, catering to the desire for a gleaming smile.

How It Works

The primary mechanism behind most teeth whitening methods is the use of peroxide-based bleaching agents. These agents break down stains on the enamel and dentin, the two outer layers of the teeth. The effectiveness of the whitening process depends on the concentration of peroxide and the duration of its application. Generally, higher concentrations yield quicker results but may increase the risk of side effects.

The terms “whitening” and “bleaching” are often used interchangeably when it comes to the world of dental care, but they don’t always mean the same thing. Understanding the difference between these two processes can help you choose the right method for achieving a brighter smile.


Teeth whitening generally refers to the process of removing surface stains and debris to restore the natural color of the teeth. This can be done using non-bleaching products such as toothpastes, mouthwashes, and chewing gums that contain special abrasives. These abrasives are designed to polish the teeth and improve their appearance by eliminating surface stains caused by foods, drinks, and tobacco use. While whitening products can effectively enhance the brightness of your smile, their impact is limited to surface stains and does not alter the intrinsic color of the teeth.


On the other hand, bleaching involves the use of products that contain peroxide, which can change the natural color of the teeth. Peroxide-based bleaches penetrate both surface and deep stains, making teeth whiter than their natural shade. This process can effectively lighten teeth that have become discolored due to various factors such as age, certain foods, beverages, and tobacco. There are two primary types of bleaching: vital and non-vital bleaching.

Teeth Whitening Options

When it comes to teeth whitening, there are a variety of options available, ranging from at-home remedies to professional treatments performed by your dentist. Each method has its benefits and considerations. Here’s a detailed look at both approaches:

At-Home Teeth Whitening

Whitening Toothpaste and Mouthwash 

Over-the-counter (OTC) whitening toothpaste and mouthwashes are some of the most accessible options. These products often contain mild abrasives, such as baking soda or charcoal, which help to remove surface stains.

Whitening Strips and Gels 

Whitening strips and gels are popular affordable OTC options that involve applying a peroxide-based solution directly to the teeth. While they can lighten your teeth by one or two shades, the results are temporary, lasting around four months. 

Tray-Based Systems 

Tray-based tooth whitening systems involve filling a mouthguard-like tray with a peroxide-based gel or paste and wearing it for several hours a day. These trays can be purchased OTC or custom-fitted by a dentist for a more tailored fit. While effective, this method requires consistent use over several weeks to achieve visible results.

Whitening Rinses and Chewing Gums 

Whitening rinses, which contain hydrogen peroxide, are used to rinse your mouth for 60 seconds twice a day, helping to gradually whiten teeth. Whitening chewing gums can also help prevent stains after consuming stain-causing substances like coffee or tobacco. These methods are less intensive but can help maintain whiteness over time.

In-Office Teeth Whitening

Professional teeth whitening performed at your dentist’s office can deliver faster and more dramatic results compared to at-home treatments. The bleaching solutions used by dentists are much stronger, and the procedure is often enhanced with heat, light, or a combination of both to intensify the whitening effect.

Power Bleaching

Power bleaching involves applying a powerful hydrogen peroxide solution to the teeth, which is then activated with heat or light. This method can achieve significant whitening, often lightening teeth by three to eight shades in just one or several sessions. Each session typically lasts 30 to 60 minutes, and some systems, like Zoom, can deliver results in a single two-hour appointment. However, this professional treatment comes at a higher cost, typically from $500 to $1,000.

Laser Whitening 

Some dentists use laser therapy with bleaching agents to speed up the whitening process. While there is currently no strong evidence proving the superiority of laser whitening over other methods, it is a popular option for those seeking rapid results.

While at-home whitening options are convenient and more affordable, there is no substitute for professional advice and treatment from a certified dentist. Dentists can tailor the whitening process to your specific needs, monitor for any adverse reactions, and ensure the health and safety of your teeth and gums. Overuse or improper application of whitening products can lead to tooth sensitivity, gum irritation, and enamel damage. Therefore, it’s essential to consult with your dentist to determine the most appropriate and effective whitening method for you.

What are some changes I can make today?

A bright, healthy smile doesn’t just come from professional whitening treatments—there are plenty of natural solutions and habits you can adopt to improve the brilliance of your smile. Here are some practical steps you can start today:

1. Practice Good Oral Hygiene

The foundation of a radiant smile begins with diligent oral care. Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste or a toothpaste containing baking soda, which helps to remove surface stains. Floss at least once a day to eliminate plaque and food particles from between your teeth. Drinking fluoridated water can also support your dental health by helping to rebuild enamel.

2. Eat Foods That Promote Oral Health

Incorporate foods into your diet that protect and enhance the health of your teeth:

  • Dairy Products: Milk, cheese, and unsweetened yogurt are rich in calcium and phosphates, which help to strengthen and rebuild tooth enamel. 
  • Fruits and Vegetables: High-fiber foods like apples, celery, and broccoli act as natural toothbrushes, scrubbing away plaque while increasing saliva flow. Strawberries contain malic acid, which can help prevent stains.

3. Avoid Foods and Drinks That Stain Teeth

Certain foods and beverages are notorious for staining teeth. To keep your smile bright, try to limit your consumption of:

  • Black Teas and Coffee: These beverages are rich in tannins, which can cause staining.
  • Wine: Both red and white wines contain acids and tannins that can discolor teeth.
  • Sports Drinks and Sodas: The high acidity and sugar content can erode enamel and lead to staining.

Consult with Your Dentist

While natural methods can help maintain and enhance the brightness of your smile, there is no substitute for professional teeth whitening. At Florence Dentistry, we offer our patients regular check-ups to ensure that their teeth and gums are healthy and that any potential issues are addressed early. Our dentists will provide personalized advice on the most effective ways to keep your smile bright.