Ask the Dentist: Bleaching

Expert answers to your questions about stains and over-the-counter tooth bleaching kits.

Q: How badly can coffee stain teeth? Are over-the-counter bleaching products safe to use?

A: If you drink lots of coffee, cola, and tea, or if you smoke, your teeth will wear the battle scars. Regular brushing and professional cleanings every three to six months can help reduce staining. If you can't brush after your morning cappuccino, drink water right afterward to rinse your mouth.

Teeth brightening or bleaching can brighten your smile. It's best, however, to leave the over-the-counter bleaches on the shelf and head to your dentist's office. Your dentist can safely monitor the bleaching. He or she will fit you with a clear mouth guard that holds a whitening agent to your teeth. How long you wear it depends on the desired result.

Wearing the mouth guard for two to four hours a day for up to six weeks increases brightness about two shades, says Heidi K. Hausauer, a dentist in Castro Valley, California. "It's great," she says. "My whole staff has done it."

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