It was 1999 when Friends’ Ross Geller famously bleached his teeth to glow-in-the-dark effect-giving beauty writers everywhere rich fodder for years to come. So poignant was that reference, so timeless, that it continues to pervade the teeth-whitening realm nearly two decades later. We’re forever in pursuit of that ageless, immaculate smile-one that appears both unreal yet totally natural. And, mercifully, our whitening options have evolved right along with the American sitcom. (Death to the laugh track!) We asked top cosmetic dentists on both coasts for their favorite smile-brightening strategies-so you can yuk it up with complete confidence.
The Instant In-Office Fix
The fastest and most tech-forward whitening method offered by dentists, the Philips Zoom WhiteSpeed combines a 25 percent hydrogen peroxide bleach with a supercharged blue LED light, which speeds the destruction of stains, so you’re out of the chair within an hour-smiling brighter than you did at check-in. (Just how much brighter is debatable: Some dentists say one to four shades, others claim up to eight. It really depends on your starting point-as “everyone has her own natural shade of white,” says New York City dentist Victoria Veytsman-and your affinity for tannin-rich Bordeaux and French roast.)
Upon illumination, the peroxide releases oxygen molecules, which penetrate the tooth enamel to dissolve deep-set stains. Because “the light doesn’t heat up the teeth as much as the lasers traditionally used in whitening, there’s less sensitivity,” says Marc Lowenberg, a cosmetic dentist in New York City. Plus, “peroxide concentrations have increased, so we can bleach the teeth in about a third of the time it previously took.”
Though the Zoom system is outfitted with adjustable settings for comfort control, Veytsman says about one in 10 people still experience minor sensitivity-what dentists call “zingers”-during or after treatment. To help improve the odds, and curtail those sharp, stinging sensations, dentists paint a masking agent over the gums and any areas of recession before starting. The procedure is then divided into three 15-minute cycles. “We’ll sometimes do just one cycle on someone who’s very sensitive, or maybe two, but usually not all three,” says Kevin Sands, a Beverly Hills dentist whose appointment book boasts names like Kardashian, Bieber, and Longoria. Docs typically apply a desensitizing gel right after whitening, as well, to counter any lingering zings in the 24 hours following.