In today's image conscious society an increasing number of people are following the example of Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Victoria Beckham, Nicole Kidman and a host of other celebrities and adding a bright white smile to their shopping list. But, with so many tooth whitening treatments available today, how do you go about picking the method that is best for you?The tooth whitening industry is growing at an alarming rate and now represents a $2 billion dollar a year business in the US with companies falling over themselves to introduce new products almost on a daily basis and investing millions in advertising. Everywhere you look you see offers for the latest, fastest, most effective and cheapest new product, so how do you set about making your choice?Before you choose any treatment at all it is important to understand that tooth whitening works ? but only up to point!If your teeth have been ravaged by years of drinking tea and coffee and smoking twenty cigarettes a day then no treatment is going to give you the smile that you see on the advertising posters or on the television commercials. In the many cases you will see an improvement with which you will be more than satisfied, but if you have your heart set on that perfect brilliant white smile you are going to be disappointed.Additionally, tooth whitening treatments do not last forever and, whatever results are achieved, in the weeks and months following treatment your teeth will again start to discolor.There are three main methods of whitening available today ? whitening strips (and similar over-the counter products for use at home), professionally fitted custom whitening trays which are worn while you sleep and whitening carried out by your dentist. In choosing the method that best suits your needs you need to look at three things ? safety, cost and effectiveness.As far as safety is concerned, whichever method you choose, you should always visit your dentist for a checkup before you start any tooth whitening treatment. Problems with your teeth or gums could lead to a painful whitening experience or permanently damage the enamel of your teeth, so start by making sure that your teeth and gums and healthy.The simplest, quickest and cheapest method of tooth whitening is the use of whitening strips with generic brands costing as little as $13 and branded products such as Rembrandt, Colgate and Crest running at about $35. In addition there is now a new range of products with names such as White Light and Ionic White which are claimed to be faster than the traditional strips and which run at about the same price of between $30 and $40.These products will not produce anything like satisfactory results from just a single application and need to be used repeatedly over a period of time which raises the question of safety. Like the vast majority of tooth whitening products the active agent used to clean (or bleach) the teeth is hydrogen peroxide or a similar compound known as carbamide peroxide. Used infrequently and in small quantities these will not harm your teeth, but excessive use (all too easy with simple "at home" whitening methods) they will cause permanent damage to your teeth and gums.The effectiveness of these products is also questionable and it is probably fair to say that the majority of users are disappointed with the results.A much better option in terms of the results achieved is the use of a professionally fitted tray which is worn at night over a period of about two weeks. This is, however, not a popular method as most users find that it is not easy sleeping with the tray in place and often give up before the end of the treatment. The services of the dentist to make and fit the tray also make this a much more expensive option, typically running anywhere between $300 and $1,000.The final option is to have your teeth professionally whitened by your dentist. A popular choice, often referred to as laser tooth whitening or zoom whitening, the procedure takes less than an hour is certainly the most effective option. You also have the peace of mind of knowing that this is being carried out under the supervision of your dentist should you run into any problems. The cost of professional tooth whitening varies widely but you can expect to pay at least $500 with most treatments running around or above $1,000.Like most things in life tooth whitening is very much a case of "you get what you pay for". If you opt for the lower end of the scale your pocket book will be happy but you are likely to come away feeling that even at $30 or $40 you have wasted your money. On the other hand, your pocket book may well squeal at giving up $1,000 for the professional services of your dentist, but you are much more likely to feel that it was well worth it.