Let me fill you in about tooth whitening... The greatest, safest thing to hit dentistry in 100 years. 

 A good first step, before you look into tooth whitening, is to determine  why your teeth are dark. You can fix this problem affordably and easily if you understand the source of the problem.

There are two types of staining:

  1. External Staining -  comes from things like coffee, caramel colored sodas, red wine, well water, iron in your drinking water, or tobacco. It can also be from old plastic fillings that are not in good shape. Normal whitening methods work well for teeth with external stain.
  2. Internal Discoloration -  is due to genetics, serious childhood illness or exposure to medicines like tetracycline before the age of 12.  Usually, this type of staining gives the teeth a core brown or grayish tone and normal whitening methods will not work.

And what if the stain is internal discoloration? if the discoloration comes from a source deep inside the teeth (internal discoloration), we have a few wonderful options for you with Cosmetic Bonding or Porcelain Veneers

Either way, we can help you understand your options and start on a path to a beautiful smile. 


Two of the three whitening methods are completely harmless. Systems like "Crest White Strips", and the systems from your dental office that let you bleach over a couple weeks using a custom-made tray, have no damaging effects on the teeth. 

The "one visit" whitening methods that you can get in "tooth whitening parlors" and in the malls are a different story.


There are four basic methods for whitening teeth:

1. Over-the-Counter Whitening Strips or Gels: These products can be purchased at any drug store. Our patients who have tried them get variable results. About half say that they noticed some improvements in the shade of their teeth. Most feel that they would like better results. 

Crest White strips®are an example of this type of method. We have noticed that they work best for college age people with otherwise perfect teeth: no front fillings and very few staining habits. These products treat your teeth with a concentration of 1-3% hydrogen peroxide. This is a rather low concentration that is further diluted with your saliva. The chemistry is not strong enough to remove deep stains. 

This can also get expensive and it is VERY labor intensive given the trouble that you have to go to for weeks and weeks, and this is often repeatedly necessary several times each year. 

Make no mistake: I see some great results in people who are devoted to whitening with strips, but it takes far more time than I could possibly muster for myself. I'm too impatient for strips.

2. Take-Home Whitening Gels with Custom Trays: These are prescription strength (10% - 20%) hydrogen peroxide gels that you get from your dentist. Essentially, the dentist makes models of your teeth and makes you some custom made trays that fit over your teeth (and your teeth only).  You put a strong gel in the tray every day, for 10 -14 days, wearing the gel filled trays for about 1 hours each day. In two weeks, for most people, there will be a wonderful improvement in the brightness of their smile.

These tray/gel systems work FAR better than the whitening strips because a higher concentration of bleach is sitting on your teeth, protected by the trays from your saliva.   

And here's the good news.... If you continue with serious staining habits, you will want to bleach in a year or two, but you don't have a huge reinvestment. All you will need to do is buy some new gel. (We sell the gel separately to our patients, but I'm not sure all dentists do this.) 

In our office, the cost for this whitening process is around $300 initially for both upper and lower teeth. (about $180 for just the upper teeth) But the main expense - the custom trays - is covered in that first investment. After that, you can continue to use your old trays indefinitely!  This is WAY more cost effective than the whitening strips which cost anywhere from $35-$50 a box, several time each year.  

At $16 per tube for the strong gel, it will cost you about $64 to re-whiten every 2 to 4 years, once you have the custom trays. 

(Remember, the dentist office bleach is more than ten times stronger than the bleach on strips, so you will only need to re-bleach after a couple years,.. not months!)  

*** If your problem includes stained old fillings, that plastic will probably not whiten, so you should still plan a visit to the dentist to see about the process of up-dating that dental work.

3. Cosmetic Bonding or  Porcelain Veneers: This is the only way to whiten teeth that have the deep stain from childhood that I called "Internal Staining".

 Both methods - cosmetic bonding and porcelain veneers - basically cover the teeth with plastic or porcelain, instead of trying to change the color. 

Both are good choices if you have deep internal staining.

The process can be affordable with cosmetic bonding, or the Cadillac and longest lasting option is Porcelain Veneers.  

With these options, plastic or glass coverings are permanently bonded over the front surface of each of your natural teeth much like a false fingernail covers your natural nail. We can correct the color, shape and position of the teeth in the smile with both these methods too.

We recommend these to patients whose teeth have any number of imperfections that can not be improved with simple bleaching. You will see endless examples of this type of change in our "smile gallery."




4. "One Session Bleaching": This 4th method of whitening is one that you might want to stay away from. These are the methods that use bright lights and one long visit to the dentist, or to a "tooth whitening boutique". They will report that your whitening can be done in one visit of 3 or 4 hours and you will be charged $500 - $1000. 

***But very good scientific studies show this method is not effective for longer than a few weeks. The leading dental researcher in the world, Dr. Gordon Christenson, found that you will have whiter teeth when you walk out of the office because the process has temporarily dehydrated your teeth giving them a chalky white look.  

By the way: The researchers got the same change in tooth color when they had test subjects drive around for one hour with their head out the car window and their teeth exposed to the sun and breeze from the moving car. 

Word to the wise: A permanent overnight change is unlikely to be the outcome of these "one session" bleaching . One thing that is very likely is that it may make your teeth hurt excruciatingly for 3 or 4 days.   

We have some experience with this: We bought the fancy light and tried the procedure on three willing volunteers. They all said that the whitening changes were temporary (lasted only a few weeks) and their teeth were exquisitely painful for three days after the procedure. The "whitening light" went to the dumpster within a week.  

So, there is an overview of your choices.

If after you read this page, you think your problem may be more than simple staining, take a look at our "Smile Gallery" to see some of our patients' smile transformations.


Whether it's right or wrong, gleaming white smiles have become a sign of youth, sophistication and vigor. A healthy, bright smile has become a key to successful first impressions, in both business and social settings. 

Unlike expanding waistlines, hair loss and sagging eyelids,  there are simple "smile make-overs" that can be quick and affordable if done by a dentist who has a real expertise with all kinds of cosmetic dentistry.

What exactly happens as the teeth “whiten”?

Over the years, the surface of the teeth may soak up large pigmented molecules from the foods we eat or drink, or the chemicals from any other oral habits such as smoking. These molecules are simply too big to allow light to reflect off the surface of the enamel. The molecules absorb light rather than reflect it, so our eyes register this lack of reflected light as a “dark tooth color”.   

Bleaching is simply a process where Hydrogen Peroxide breaks up these large molecules, chemically, into small molecules, which are then no longer in a light-absorbent state.

What if I have a single tooth that is very dark?

Single teeth that have darkened following trauma to that tooth may be successfully whitened with crowns or veneers, or a process called “internal bleaching". Internal bleaching requires that a root canal has been done. It is never a good idea to try to internally bleach a tooth that might have a vertical fracture through the root. It's best to come to see us for a visit if you have single tooth discoloration.

What if you have a lot of old fillings or old dental work that is staining?

The only way to know how simple it might be to correct these problems is to come in for a consultation. I see people all the time for simple "Question/Answer" visits. 

We now have patients who come from as far away as Maine, New York City, and South Carolina for our help with cosmetic dentistry. 

We LOVE cosmetic dentistry at Fiddlehead! It's a gift to us to see lives changed by some of our smile transformations.