But even if you cut out most of the staining foods and beverages after your appointment — Dr. Lowenberg says raw, crunchy fruits and vegetables, like carrots, celery, and apples are always a good choice because they not only don’t stain but actually help mechanically remove surface stains from teeth — you’re looking at around six months of results. 

“[Patients] will eventually need another whitening session, but more so, they may also need professional cleaning to keep out the staining,” Dr. Lewis says. 

But you shouldn’t whiten too often

To achieve and maintain your whitening results, you shouldn’t need to get a treatment more than twice a year. More than that, and you risk some negative side effects. 

“Professional whitening more often than twice a year is not necessary and can dry out enamel,” says Dr. Lowenberg. “That drying out of enamel from over-whitening will make teeth sensitive and chalky-looking.”

Even if it’s your first time getting your teeth whitened at the dentist’s office, you should be aware of potential issues. For example, Dr. Lowenberg says, if the whitening gel is left on too long, it can cause irritation to the nerves or teeth, or inflammation to the gums.

Both Dr. Lewis and Dr. Shafee say this is very unlikely, however, when performed by a qualified dentist, because they take the correct, thorough precautions. “If the gums are healthy and there are no nerves that are exposed, office whitening is very safe and would not cause any structural damage,” says Dr. Shafee. 

You can achieve similar results at home — but not quite the same

Ultimately, for the brightest, fastest, and long-lasting results, in-office whitening is the gold standard. However, achieving similar results with at-home products is not out of the realm of possibility. But depending on a number of factors, it may take longer, have less even results, or lose brightness sooner.

“If you use the same ingredients used in the dental office, you will achieve very similar results,” says Dr. Shafee, adding that the power of the lights used during office treatments tends to speed the whitening along more than what at-home systems and products can.

While the ingredients may be the same in an at-home product, they won’t be present at the same strength. “Results from over-the-counter products do not last nearly as long as in-office whitening because they use a lesser concentration of hydrogen peroxide,” Dr. Lowenberg explains. 

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