How To Get a Whiter, Brighter Smile for Prom Pics

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As prom season approaches, it’s time to pin down your aesthetic for the night. And while there are about a million different ways you could take your beauty look, we’ve found that a bright smile pairs well with every conceivable option, from a smoky eye to a vibrant lip.

Here’s the deal: hardcore smile prep takes 2-3 weeks, according to cosmetic dentist Dr. Gregg Lituchy of Lowenberg, Lituchy, and Kantor. In order to make sure your teeth are fully prepped for all photo situations, it’s helpful to decide ahead of time whether you want to go the in-office or at-home route. To get the details on safely whitening your teeth, we checked in with Dr. Lituchy and cosmetic dentist Dr. Michael Apa. Below, we’ve gathered all of their pro tips for an eye-catching, flash-friendly grin.

Should you consider professional treatments?
Think about getting your teeth whitened at the dentist’s office as a jump-start; the procedure uses more concentrated ingredients, so you’ll see results in just one session. “In-office lasers typically use about 35% hydrogen peroxide, instead of over-the-counter products that typically contain between 7% and 10%,” explains Dr. Lituchy. Since you’ll be dealing with a higher concentration of bleaching agents, Dr. Apa recommends talking to your dentist about any existing issues you may have with teeth or gums.

While the ingredients are stronger, they definitely shouldn’t hurt your teeth. “Some people may experience sensitivity, but it’s not painful,” says Dr. Lituchy. While the bleaching agent used can be irritating on gums, your dentist will apply a gel at the edge of your teeth to prevent the solution from coming into contact with the gum line. If you do experience sensitivity, make sure to communicate that. “You may experience a zapping sensation in teeth that can last up to 10 hours post-whitening,” he notes. “To reduce sensitivity, we apply a desensitizer after treatment, which has potassium nitrate and fluoride ions.”

What’s the deal with DIY whitening?
If you’d rather DIY your prom-ready smile, there are plenty of great options available, provided you pay attention to the ingredients. “Effective, at-home bleaching systems use peroxide in the form of hydrogen peroxide or carbide peroxide," explains Dr. Apa. “These materials deliver peroxide into the enamel and create an oxidation process, allowing the tooth to have a lighter appearance.” Dr. Apa’s pick, the Apa White Duo, pairs a bleach dispenser (20% carbamide peroxide) with films containing 18% carbamide peroxide. The system is meant to be used over a period of five days, for 90 minutes each day. “It’s great for upkeep,” he says.

For those on a budget, Dr. Lituchy recommends the Crest 3D White Luxe Whitestrips. “The bleach within the strips remains in contact with the tooth enamel long enough to deliver noticeable results,” he says. “They’re not as effective as in-office bleaching because of the weaker percentage of hydrogen peroxide, but they’re the best at-home option.” Note that whitening strips reach their maximum effect in two weeks, so time accordingly. “The whitest your teeth will be is the day you stop,” he explains. And pre-prom, don’t forget that frequently drinking coffee, tea, and certain sodas can also dull your teeth.

Can your toothpaste make a difference?
When brightening your smile, you should keep two types of toothpaste in mind: one to counteract possible sensitivity, and one to prevent discoloration.

“Desensitizing toothpastes like Sensodyne are good for people whose teeth become sensitive to the whitening procedure,” says Dr. Lituchy.

When picking out a whitening toothpaste, he likes to look for those that contain hydrated silica, which makes the formula more abrasive and helps remove surface stains. As for ingredients to avoid, he cautions against using toothpastes with sodium lauryl sulfate, a harsh chemical that has been proven to cause microscopic damage to the oral tissue on the inside of your mouth (translation: canker sores). To prevent your whitening toothpaste from wearing away enamel, Dr. Apa recommends alternating it with your regular, non-abrasive toothpaste.

One cool trick for a brighter smile in five minutes? Dr. Lituchy pointed us toward Luster Now! Whitening Toothpaste, which contains shine-enhancing, blue micro-particles. If you’re running short on time, it’s the perfect way to create the optical illusion of whiter teeth.

Which other teeth-whitening products should you check out?
It might be time to switch out your toothbrush, too. Dr. Lituchy introduced us to the Colgate Optic White Toothbrush + Whitening Pen — the brush contains a combo of rubber cups and polishing bristles that make quick work of surface stains, while the built-in pen helps further whiten teeth. And for pictures, the best trick we learned involved Apa Tooth Gloss, adapted from the runway trick of polishing up teeth with Vaseline (trust us: this way is much better). The formula is safe to smooth directly onto teeth, and performs the triple threat of reflecting light, freshening breath, and fighting germs at the same time.

All that’s left for you to do is to “say cheese!”