Teeth Whitening: What Really Works?

I was chatting with a friend recently about how as moms, we take care of everyone but ourselves. Prior to kids, we were diligent about scheduling (and keeping) check-ups, getting health issues examined ASAP, and even carefully considered cosmetic procedures like teeth whitening.

Learn what a dental professional has to say about the most effective methods of teeth whitening.

 Now we have kids- they get braces first even though we would love to have a straighter grin, their dental appointments are usually right at the 6 month mark (even though ours get stretched to a year or more), and when they chip a tooth we phone the dentist the minute they open although we have had a cracked tooth for months (guilty!).

Parents- it is time to make yourself a priority. I have a lot of friends who aren’t pleased with the way their smile looks, me included. You wear your smile every day- it is often the first thing people notice. Also, taking care of your teeth now can prolong or prevent dental complicated procedures in the future. In 2018, I am making myself a priority starting with loving my smile!

Photo: Daisie Foundation Leading Ladies Luncheon

I recently started with a new dentist, Dr. Steve Bacalar of sMilin Dental in Wilmette, and had a chat about how I would like my teeth to look. Here’s a little secret I told him: in photos, I often use the editing tool for teeth whitening.

Ugh. I hate to be that superficial but every time I see a photo of my not-so-white teeth I can’t help whiten them to my ideal shade. Since I have started doing more television appearances though, I realized that HD TV is not kind to gals who love their coffee and red wine.

Yep, time to dive deep into getting my smile shades whiter. Since I have tried EVERY product on the shelf to whiten my teeth to no avail, I asked Dr. Bacalar a ton of questions to figure out what really works and thought I would share his answers with you!

Q: With all of the teeth whitening products out there (strips, whitening toothpaste, trays), which is the best for the majority of patients in your opinion and why?

Dr. Bacalar: When it comes to teeth whitening, and dental treatment in general, the best treatment is what works best for each individual patient. As with any healthcare service, treatment needs to be tailored to each patient’s individual needs, wants and desires. A majority of my patients have tried over-the-counter whitening strips and pastes; typically the results are mediocre but not great. For patients who want an exceptional outcome, I recommend custom trays with professional whitening products, due to their ease of use, ability to control the amount of whitening, and typical excellent improvement in lightening tooth color.

Q: We talked about the activated charcoal whitening powder- what are your thoughts on this trendy product?

Dr. Bacalar: I personally do not have experience with activated charcoal whitening. From what I have read, there are currently no reputable scientific studies demonstrating its safety and effectiveness. Charcoal itself is a very abrasive substance. It would be able to remove surface stains on teeth, but I would be concerned about long-term use and its detrimental effect to the teeth and surrounding gum tissue. Using solely activated charcoal or whitening toothpastes can be more abrasive and worsen areas of gum recession. At the very least I’d recommend alternating with more gentle toothpaste as well.

Q: Why do you recommend professional whitening only under the supervision of a dental professional? 

Dr. Bacalar: Like most medical and dental treatments, professional whitening should be performed under the supervision of a dental professional for numerous reasons. Not every person is a candidate for professional whitening and sometimes patients can experience unpleasant side effects. Patients who have active decay or recession can experience pain or extreme sensitivity if whitening is not closely monitored. Additionally, dental restorations like bondings, caps and implants will not change color with any whitening product. It is also important for the process to be explained and demonstrated for patients to get the best results with the minimal amount of side effects.

Q: How do you determine the level of success of professional whitening? 

Dr. Bacalar: In our practice, we take high-resolution photographs of every patient, their teeth and from many different angles. We utilize these photographs, in conjunction with shade guides to determine a starting shade prior to beginning the whitening process. We have follow-up appointments with more photographs and can customize treatment using different concentrations or formulations of whitening material. The patient and doctor review the photographs together and ultimately the level of whitening success is determined by the individual patient.

Q: Are there any products that people use regularly that can cause harm to the teeth?

Dr. Bacalar: I commonly see patients who vigorously brush their teeth with whitening toothpastes and medium/hard bristled toothbrushes, who think that this will help clean and whiten their teeth. In reality, this combination of home care can cause great harm and even future dental problems. Abrasive tooth pastes/brushes and aggressive brushing is a huge factor in worsening gum recession. When the gums recede or migrate away from the teeth, patients often experience one of the biggest problems I see everyday which is cold sensitivity. Luckily there are measures we can take to slow this problem down and decrease the sensitivity. To learn more about what treatment options are available or questions regarding other over the counter products please contact our office or your dental health professional.

I decided to go with custom whitening trays paired with a whitening gel. I was seriously shocked when Dr. Bacalar took multiple “before” photos of my teeth, and used a shade comparison chart to determine a personalized course of action for whitening. I will show you my before and after photos in a January post!!

Dr. Bacalar is a part of the sMilin Dental team, which includes Dr. Kenneth Milin who recently celebrated 35 years of practicing dentistry on the North Shore. Dr. Milin was rated one of the top 40 dentists in the Chicago area and recently brought Dr. Bacalar on to bring a new perspective to the practice and continue the legacy that Dr. Milin has so lovingly built.

Photo: Albee Andrada

After my first visit, I quickly realized why their practice has been so successful.

You receive a built-in second opinion. Each morning, the entire staff at sMilin Dental meets to discuss the patients and procedures they are seeing for the day.


ALL possible treatment options are discussed. This includes no treatment- the staff gives you the information to make an informed decision about your dental health. Treatment plans are 100% individualized to include your needs, desires, cosmetic concerns and budget.


Their philosophy is the less dental work that is done, the less is required. Unnecessary/premature dental work means more trauma to the tooth, which often results in more work down the line.


They believe in dental education. Intra-oral cameras are available, which allow you to see one or more teeth inside your mouth via a television screen. Dr. Bacalar painstakingly reviewed my dental x-rays with me, pointing out each potential issue and possible treatment options.


They take their time. Dr. Bacalar was with me for well over an hour on my first appointment because of the abundance of questions I had regarding my dental issues. 


They document everything. One of the first things the staff did was take photos of my smile when I sat in the chair. This is the only way to accurately record changes that take place.


If they aren’t the best people for the job, they refer you to the specialist who is. They have relationships with orthodontists, endodontists, periodontists and oral surgeons.


They analyze your dental routine and make modifications and recommendations. Dr. Bacalar pointed out the fact that I was brushing too hard with my electronic toothbrush and needed to floss the correct way.

I cannot recommend their team highly enough! They are offering my readers $100 off any treatment in their office- this includes exams, whitening, anything! Give them a call to schedule your appointment- 847-446-5868 or email: smilin@smilindental.com. Check out their website for testimonials and their extensive list of services!

Cheers to loving your smile and making yourself a priority in 2018!

Disclosure: I received complimentary whitening for review purposes; all opinions are honest and my own as always!

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