How to Whiten Teeth While Wearing Braces

The beautiful Hollywood smile. Everyone wants it! And today, dentistry offers many ways to get it. For some, this process is very complex. But, for most, it can be as easy as braces to straighten your teeth and whiten them for that bright, white smile. Luckily, there are many options for both braces and whitening. A local orthodontist can help choose the right braces for you. So, let’s talk about whitening your teeth while wearing braces.

Key takeaways:
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    Keeping your teeth white while wearing braces can be challenging.
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    Some whitening products are safe and effective to use with all types of braces. These products are usually limited to whitening toothpaste and mouth rinse.
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    These remove mild discoloration around brackets and on the surface of teeth.
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    More complete whitening treatments like whitening strips, trays, or in-office whitening are available for teeth after braces or with removable aligners.
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    While whitening is safe and effective for most people, sensitivity is a common risk. Talking with a dental team can help with choosing the correct treatment for you.
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    The best smile is a healthy and happy smile.

Can you whiten your teeth while wearing braces?

Discoloration and stains are common while wearing braces. Most foods we eat and things we drink have color. These colors get stuck on the surface of teeth and in the tiny pores called tubules. Tooth whitening products can penetrate these tubules and lift the unwanted colors from our teeth. Thus, a brighter smile. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could do this while still in braces? The good news is, YOU CAN!

Safe options to whiten your teeth with removable braces

There are many options available to whiten your teeth while wearing removable braces. Removable aligners make whitening simple. Just pick the time that works for you. Take your trays out. Use your whitening products and put your trays back in. It's that easy. Just make sure to wear your aligners for no less than 22 hours a day.

The most common whitening options while wearing removable braces are listed below.

1. Whitening toothpaste

Whitening toothpaste work by removing and preventing stains on the surface of the tooth. These products are usually more abrasive but do not penetrate deeper into the tooth. Whitening with toothpaste alone can be minimal. Therefore, whitening toothpaste works best when combined with one of the other whitening options.

  • Costs: The price range is usually under $20.
  • Where to purchase: Most major retail stores, pharmacies, or online.
  • How to use: Whitening toothpaste can replace your regular toothpaste. Brush for 2 minutes, 2-3 times a day.
  • Risks: Whitening toothpaste is usually more abrasive and can wear the enamel down, increasing sensitivity.

2. Whitening strips

Whitening strips come as pre-filled sets: one strip for the top teeth and one for the bottom. They usually contain a peroxide whitening gel. This penetrates the tubules of the tooth and bubbles the stains out. Some dental offices have prescription strength whitening strips available. These will have a higher percentage of whitening gel that whitens teeth in fewer days.

  • Costs: The price range varies from $25 to $100.
  • Where to purchase: Most major retail stores, pharmacies, online, or a dental office.
  • How to use: Wear the trays once a day for the allotted time. Usually, between 20 minutes to 2 hours. Repeat this daily for 7-14 days, or until you have lightened your teeth to the desired shade.
  • Risks: Tooth sensitivity is very common in this type of whitening product, especially OTC brands. Some professional brands will have a desensitizer added to help prevent this.

3. Whitening trays

Custom whitening trays are slightly different from the aligner trays made for removable braces. Whitening trays have a small space at the front of each tooth, whereas aligners fit the tooth snugly. It is tempting to simply put the whitening gel into your aligner trays. This can be harmful. Instead, always use trays specifically designed for whitening.

  • Costs: The price of custom whitening trays can be from $150- $500.
  • Where to purchase: These are available from a local dentist or some direct dental companies online.
  • How to use: Place a small bead along the front of the reusable tray. Do not overfill. These trays are usually worn daily for 30 minutes. Rinse the trays after each use.
  • Risks: Overfilling the tray or using improper trays, such as removable aligners, can allow the whitening gel to squish out, causing chemical burns on gums and lips.

4. In-office whitening

In-office whitening is the quickest option for a brighter smile. This type of whitening takes one appointment in most cases. Many in-office whitening systems can brighten the teeth up to eight shades lighter and results typically last longer.

  • Costs: In-office whitening can cost anywhere from $250- $1000.
  • Where to purchase: This whitening is only done in a dental office.
  • How to use: This procedure can take an hour or more depending on what whitening system the office uses. A gel is usually placed, followed by a special light to accelerate the process. Custom home trays are commonly used after in-office whitening.
  • Risks: The most common risks from in-office whitening are gum irritation and tooth sensitivity. It’s usually better within 48 hours. However, most dental offices can minimize these issues.

Safe options to whiten your teeth with metal braces on

Whitening around traditional metal braces can be a bit trickier. Most whitening agents can’t reach the area directly under the brackets. But is it possible to keep a brighter smile with metal braces?

Let’s discuss some options that can help.

1. Electric toothbrush

Proper brushing habits are vital to whiter teeth. An electric toothbrush can help remove more plaque and debris than a traditional toothbrush. The added rotations make it more effective at stain removal.

  • Costs: Electric toothbrushes can range from $20- $200, making it a great option for any budget.
  • Where to purchase: Most retail stores, drug stores, pharmacies, and online.
  • How to use: Most electric toothbrushes have a 2-minute timer. However, more time may be needed while in braces. Use light pressure and gently move the rotating head along all the surfaces of your teeth and around brackets. Repeat 2-3 times a day.
  • Risks: As with a manual toothbrush, a bristle could get caught in a bracket. This can be removed with a tweezer.

2. Flossing

Flossing may not be considered a traditional “whitening product”. It is used to scrub tooth surfaces the toothbrush can’t reach. Flossing with traditional braces is more time-consuming. But, there are floss aides designed to get the string under and around the brackets. This removes food and debris that can stain teeth over time.

  • Costs: This is a very cheap way to help prevent staining. Most floss is under $5. Orthodontic floss aides can range from $5-$10.
  • Where to purchase: Most retail stores, drug stores, pharmacies, and online.
  • How to use: Use a floss aide to guide the string under the wire. Then move the string between the teeth and below the gumline. Pull the floss out and repeat until you have cleaned all in between tooth surfaces.
  • Risks: If using a string type floss, fibers can get caught in the brackets. This can be removed using tweezers. Choosing a tape type floss is recommended.

3. Whitening toothpaste

Whitening toothpastes are useful with traditional braces. Being more abrasive helps scrub the tooth surface and prevent stains around the brackets. Whitening toothpaste does not penetrate the tooth tubules. It is effective for surface stains only.

  • Costs: The price range is usually under $20.
  • Where to purchase: Most major retail stores, pharmacies, or online.
  • How to use: Whitening toothpaste can replace your regular toothpaste. Brush for 2 minutes, 2-3 times a day.
  • Risks: The risks are the same as with removable braces. Whitening toothpaste can be more abrasive and can wear the enamel down, increasing tooth sensitivity.

Sensitivity with whitening

Most tooth-whitening products are safe, effective, and easy to use. However, tooth sensitivity is the #1 risk factor for any whitening product. Sensitivity is usually minor and may go away within 24-48 hours. If it becomes more severe, discontinue all whitening products. Over-the-counter mouthwashes and sensitive toothpaste can help. If the sensitivity persists, see your dental care provider for other options.

Can I whiten my teeth at home?

Home whitening, DIY whitening, and natural whitening methods aim to whiten without using commercial products with peroxides or bleaching. These methods include oil pulling, charcoal, baking soda, and fruit acids. Many of these are abrasive and “buff” the stains off teeth. Traditional whitening products remove stains by oxidizing or “bubbling” the stains from teeth. Over time, alternative methods can remove and weaken enamel. Before choosing one of these methods, see your dental team for a complete checkup. Your dental team will help find the right option for you.

Maintaining white teeth while wearing braces takes work. Brushing your teeth 2 times a day with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing once a day and using a water flosser are musts. But here are some habits to consider adding to your daily routine:

  • Drinking through a straw.
  • Frequently sipping on water.
  • Limiting dark and colorful drinks or food.
  • Rinsing with water after meals if you can’t brush.
  • Avoid tobacco and smoking.
  • Maintain regular dental cleaning appointments.

Taking the extra time to add these things in your daily routine will be worth the effort to keep your teeth brighter. A healthy smile will make a happy smile while wearing braces.

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