What is Laser Teeth Whitening?
Teeth whitening is a simple, conservative way to improve the appearance of a smile and reduce tooth discoloration. Whiter teeth can make one look younger and, as most people agree, more attractive.
The options for teeth whitening today are almost endless, and one of the more popular professional options is laser teeth whitening.
Laser teeth whitening treatment is a cosmetic laser dentistry procedure that adds the use of a laser to in-office teeth whitening.
The procedure is completed in a dental office. It involves placing a concentrated whitening gel on your teeth and then using a laser to heat it up, which whitens your teeth quickly.
What Causes Tooth Discoloration?
Extrinsic tooth discoloration affects the outside of teeth. Certain foods and beverages such as tea, soda, red wine, dark berries, and coffee cause this type of discoloration. These stains can be easily removed with at-home whitening products.
Intrinsic discoloration develops on the inside of teeth. It can be caused by certain diseases and medical treatments (like chemotherapy), genetics, trauma, medications, and aging. These stains are more difficult to remove and typically require professional teeth whitening.
Laser Teeth Whitening vs. Other In-Office Whitening Treatments
Many people confuse other types of teeth whitening procedures performed in the dental office with laser teeth whitening.
Most in-office teeth whitening products, like ZOOM! and Sapphire, use a light, not a laser. They may appear to have similar steps as you undergo the procedure, but they function differently.
In true laser teeth whitening, the laser is required to activate the chemicals in the whitening gel, producing faster and more effective results.
In whitening techniques using lights, including those products you can use at home, the light only functions to produce heat. When whitening gel containing peroxide chemicals heats up, it works faster.
Laser Teeth Whitening Procedure Steps
Laser teeth whitening is completed in a dental office, and the procedure consists of a few simple steps:
- First, your dentist will place a plastic or rubber guard in your mouth to keep it open.
- Then they will apply a protective layer over your gums to shield them from the bleaching gel. These layers typically harden, creating a rubber-like layer on your gums. This helps prevent gum irritation and burning.
- Once the protective layer forms, your dentist will carefully apply the whitening gel to your teeth. Then they'll use a pen-like laser to activate the gel. The gel will foam, which means it's working to remove stains from your teeth.
- The gel is left on your teeth for a few minutes. Then your dentist will remove it with a small vacuum. The dentist will repeat these steps up to three or four times until your teeth reach the desired shade.
- Your dentist will rinse your mouth out and remove the protective layer over your gums.
Side Effects of Laser Teeth Whitening
Laser teeth whitening is a safe and effective procedure. It is unlikely to cause serious side effects but can cause temporary discomfort.
Tooth sensitivity and minor gum irritation are the most common side effects. They are typically mild and short-lasting but can be severe in some people. An allergic reaction is also possible.
To prevent these adverse effects, avoid hot and cold substances for a few days after the procedure.
Lastly, pregnant and nursing women should not undergo laser teeth whitening (or any form of teeth whitening).
Laser Teeth Whitening Aftercare
After your laser teeth whitening session, drink only clear liquids for at least two hours. Then, after this time has passed, only eat foods that won't stain your teeth. Avoid eating dark-pigmented foods, coffee, tea, and soda for at least 24 hours.
Pros of Laser Teeth Whitening
When a properly trained and certified dentist performs laser teeth whitening, there are several advantages.
- Noticeable results develop within a single laser teeth whitening session.
- The dentist does all the work in the office, so the patient does not have to use any materials or techniques at home.
- The whitening results are faster than those achieved by take-home products.
- Having a dentist perform the procedure reduces the risk of complications like soft tissue burns or damage to the nerves inside the teeth.
Cons of Laser Teeth Whitening
Laser teeth whitening has certain disadvantages when compared to other whitening methods.
- Laser teeth whitening is typically the most expensive form of teeth whitening available.
- It requires an in-person visit with the dentist for an hour or more.
- As with all teeth whitening, the results do not last forever. People who drink coffee, tea, or red wine and/or use tobacco will experience a relapse in their whitening results and need to repeat the process.
- There is no guarantee of results with laser teeth whitening. It typically does perform better than other whitening methods, but some people have deep stains that do not whiten easily.
Laser Teeth Whitening vs. At-Home Teeth Whitening
Compared to traditional teeth whitening treatment that uses either over-the-counter products or professional products used at home, laser teeth whitening differs in several ways.
A dental professional must perform laser whitening because it uses a much higher concentration of the active ingredient. This high-strength gel can cause chemical burns on the soft tissues of the mouth, so professional oversight is mandatory.
The procedure length of laser teeth whitening is relatively short. Most appointments take only about an hour. The dentist will monitor the whitening process continuously throughout the procedure.
As teeth whitening increases in popularity, so do the options for professional teeth whitening.
Lasers are a commonly used dental instrument for various procedures, and whitening may involve the use of different types of lasers. These include argon, KTP, diode, and Nd:YAG lasers.
Because there is so much variety in the types of lasers used, the settings used with each laser, and the type and concentration of whitening gels, making one concise statement about the effectiveness of laser teeth whitening is impossible.
In order to make that claim, there must be more research and some standardization. For this reason, we cannot say with certainty that it produces better results than other forms of in-office whitening.
How Much Does Laser Teeth Whitening Cost?
The cost of laser teeth whitening is tough to pin down. Because it is a cosmetic procedure and not covered by dental insurance companies, there is no “standard” fee. Depending on your location, the cost can range from $400 to $1,500.
To the surprise of some, the cost is usually a little higher in rural areas where there is less competition among dentists. In a city or suburb with a dentist on every corner, they will offer more competitive pricing for procedures not covered under dental insurance.
A reasonable price for laser teeth whitening is more likely to fall within the $600 to $800 range. This is consistent with the cost of the supplies needed for the procedure and an hour or more of the dentist’s time.
Laser Teeth Whitening Alternatives
If you do not want to invest in laser teeth whitening, there are less expensive at-home solutions to choose from.
What’s the Takeaway?
Laser teeth whitening is faster, but not necessarily better than other teeth whitening methods.
Those in a hurry or wish to avoid the hassle of performing the tasks of whitening at home are the most likely to spring for the extra cost of in-office laser teeth whitening.