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All About Tray Whitening

Apr 16, 2012
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Last Updated 4/16/2012 - Sometimes, even in a field as trendsetting as teeth whitening, progress takes us back to where we started. That appears to be the case today as many dentists nationwide are choosing to forego in-office laser or LED-light activated whitening systems in favor of take-home whitening kits featuring custom-fitted mouth trays.

Tray Whitening Kits are used at home and typically consist of mouth trays & individual doses of peroxide in syringe form. You inject the peroxide into the mouth trays and wear them over your teeth for a certain amount of time each day (or sometimes overnight), usually for up to two weeks. The results are striking, yet gradual, permitting you or your dentist to monitor progress, specify shade whiteness and minimize sensitivity.

Developed in the early 1900's, tray whitening kits were once the only options for those with stained or discolored teeth. Yet, as teeth whitening moved into retail stores with toothpaste formulations, and conventional dentists purchased expensive in-office light-activated systems, the tray procedure was largely overshadowed.

Wearing teeth whitening trays for extended periods of time and the discomfort it could cause, were two of the primary reasons tray whitening fell out of favor with consumers, especially compared to the concept of super-fast "lunch-hour" whitening promoted by light-activated system manufacturers.

Recent studies, however, are showing, that tray teeth whitening may still be the best and most effective way to dramatically improve your smile. Tray whitening kits are generally less expensive than in-office procedures, and because either you or your dentist may choose the strength of the hydrogen peroxide solution used, there's more control over results and less chance of side-effects. In this article we will be covering Over-the-Counter Tray Whitening and Professional Take-Home Tray Whitening. You will learn that there is an important distinction between the two.

The Tray's the Thing

Tray whitening kits are prescribed by dentists or purchased directly over the counter or online. If your dentist prescribes a kit for you, chances are good it will involve the creation of CUSTOM-FIT MOUTH TRAYS. Custom trays help to reduce the amount of wear time by ensuring the maximum amount of bleach-to-tooth contact. They can also be reused for touch-ups or spot whitening. It is the "gold standard" for tray whitening.

To create custom-fit mouth trays, your dentist will take an impression of your teeth and then have exact molds made of your tooth arches (upper, lower or both). At home, you'll fill these trays with the specified peroxide solution in the manner your dentist directs - usually minutes or hours every day for up to two weeks.

Some over-the-counter tray whitening kits may also feature custom-fit trays, although since you'll be taking the impression yourself, you should be aware that the match might not be exact. More than likely, though, kits you purchase yourself will contain either BOIL AND BITE MOUTH TRAYS or STOCK or ONE-SIZE MOUTH TRAYS.

"Boil & Bite" trays offer some customization to enhance bleach-to-tooth contact. They're made of a malleable substance that, when gently heated and applied directly to teeth, conforms to the shape of your own mouth. Stock or One-Size Mouth Trays are exactly as they sound - inexpensive plastic shells that fit the general shape of average upper and lower arches. In addition to their lack of exact fit, stock mouth trays are often also made with a thicker type of plastic than their custom or boil & bite counterparts. Thicker walls in turn may add to discomfort, increase salivation (which further dilutes the whitening agent) and interfere with bite patterns.

Still, when comparing results to cost, many consumers find that they're satisfied with the whitening effects of self-purchased kits, especially since they're generally less expensive than those kits prescribed by regular or cosmetic dentists.

The Ideal Solution

While mouth trays are one key differentiator between tray whitening kits, the other key difference between them is in the intensity of the peroxide solution these kits deliver. Because whitening takes place over time with tray whitening, the peroxide is usually in a lower concentration than with in-office procedures, and this isn't a bad thing. Lower concentrations of peroxide minimize side effects and permit a gradual whitening of teeth - so you or your dentist can stop when you've reached the proper shade.

Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide are the two kinds of peroxide used for bleaching teeth. Hydrogen peroxide is a very strong whitening agent that needs to be fresh to deliver its full power - and it requires dental supervision to be correctly applied. Carbamide peroxide is a more user-friendly, shelf-stable version of hydrogen peroxide - meaning that it isn't quite as strong and can be kept fresh for a longer time than hydrogen peroxide - an important consideration, especially for do-it-yourselfers purchasing pre-packaged kits.

Still, carbamide peroxide is a strong whitening agent and caution should be used when making the decision to whiten teeth without dental supervision. Unreasonable expectations can lead to the mis-use or overuse of whitening trays and the results may be harmful to teeth and gums.

Supervision & Sensitivity

So, should you order a tray whitening kit online, buy one at the discount store, or see your dentist? Here are the things to consider:

  • Teeth whitening is a bleach-based chemical process that can have serious side effects. If your teeth or gums aren't in perfect shape, whitening can cause pain and even damage. Only a thorough dental examination can grant you a clean bill of oral health. When was your last check-up?

  • All thumbs when it comes to motor skills? If you're thinking about taking your own impressions for custom-fit mouth trays, know that the resulting mold will only be as good a match as you're able to finesse - and that can have an effect on the final whitening results you achieve. Remember, the goal is maximum bleach-to-tooth contact.

  • Do your teeth or gums react intensely to heat or cold? You might be the sensitive type, so if you're planning on do-it-yourself whitening, then do your homework and pick kits with lower peroxide concentrations or peroxides formulated especially for sensitive teeth.

  • Confident about your whitening skills? Tray whitening kits come in a wild variety of configurations. You can purchase trays and bleach together or separately, get a complete kit with aftercare products included (toothpaste etc.). But do your homework and make sure you either ask your dentist for or order something you can administer with confidence.

  • Use common sense. Teeth whitening is an almost unregulated field - with many foreign & domestic companies offering fraudulent products and kits. Before you put chemicals in your mouth, make sure you can trust the source of those chemicals - and stick with companies and brand names you know.

The Price of Perfection

People of all ages whiten their teeth. From teenage girls to Fortune 500 CEOs, a whiter smile says a lot about confidence, health, vitality and the desire to be attractive. Tray whitening kits don't have to break the bank to boost your self-esteem and deliver a brighter smile.

As we've said before, dentist-prescribed tray whitening is generally less expensive than in-office light-activated procedures and runs around $350 - $600 (or more for hard-to-treat cases) based on a national average. Do-it-yourself kits can cost as little $15.00 and run as high as $120. But again, almost any company from any country can manufacture and sell tooth whitening products - do some research and ask some questions before you decide about a specific kit's value.

With a little careful thought and a good plan, you don't have to spend a fortune to get the smile you've always wanted. That's the reason is here to help you. We love to see you smile.

View Over-the-Counter Teeth Whitening Tray Reviews here
View Professional Take-Home Teeth Whitening Tray Reviews here

Reviewed by Dr. Alan Zweig
Dr. Alan Zweig runs a private dental practice in Beverly Hills, CA. With over 30 years of experience in cosmetic dentistry, Dr. Alan Zweig is a teeth whitening veteran. Hes been trusted by major celebrities, business leaders, and patients from over six different continents.

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