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What is Teeth Whitening Treatment?

Teeth whitening is an effective and conservative cosmetic treatment that lightens discolored teeth. Whitening has been practiced in dentistry for many centuries.

Teeth whitening is one of the most common elective dental procedures because it is inexpensive, highly effective, and produces fast results.

Many people invest in whitening treatments to improve their appearance and boost their confidence. Teeth whitening is also less expensive than other cosmetic procedures (like veneers).

Treatment success is different for every patient. Everyone has different tooth characteristics, including opacity, translucency, gloss, and fluorescence. Some patients require more treatments to see results, while others require less upkeep.

Fortunately, if you want whiter teeth, you don't have to cut out your favorite foods and drinks. There are many effective teeth whitening products to choose from today. From in-office treatments to at-home whitening kits, you can lighten your teeth quickly and effectively.

Our Top Recommendations

Best Overall (Editor's Pick)Snow All-In-One Whitening Kit

Best for Sensitivity — Hismile PAP+ Teeth Whitening Kit™

Fastest Results GLO Brilliant Teeth Whitening Kit

What Causes Tooth Discoloration & Staining?

The color of your teeth is dependant on lifestyle, diet, habits, and oral care practices. Tooth discoloration is also separated into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic tooth stains are superficial surface stains that are naturally picked up over the course of a person’s life. They are caused by consuming dark-colored foods/beverages like coffee, tea, red wine, and curry. Tobacco products can also cause extrinsic discoloration.

Intrinsic tooth stains are deeper stains that develop on the inner layer of teeth (dentin). These stains are more difficult to remove than shallow enamel stains (extrinsic). Intrinsic discoloration is commonly caused by excessive fluoride use and certain medications.

The primary causes of extrinsic and intrinsic tooth discoloration include:

  • Genetics: Everyone has different colored teeth and enamel structures, which affects tooth color. Some people are also born with thicker teeth or darker enamel.
  • Cancer treatments: Some cancer treatments can cause tooth discoloration, including chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Natural aging: As people age, the outer layer of enamel naturally wears down, resulting in tooth discoloration and yellowing.
  • Amalgam dental restorations: Amalgam restorations (silver cavity fillings) can cause black tooth discoloration because they contain sulfide.
  • Certain medications: Tetracycline, antihistamines, antipsychotics, and high blood pressure medications can cause tooth discoloration.
  • Tobacco products: Smoking or chewing tobacco causes tooth discoloration over time. Dentists recommend quitting to ensure your teeth, gums, and body stay healthy.
  • Dark-colored foods and drinks: Surface stains are commonly caused by the excessive consumption of coffee, dark teas, soda, and red wine. Even dark-colored fruits like blackberries can cause discoloration.
  • Taking tetracycline while pregnant: Mothers who take tetracycline (antibiotics for bacterial diseases) while pregnant can cause tooth discoloration in their children.
  • Fluoride: Excessive fluoride consumption, specifically from tap water that is naturally high in fluoride, can cause discoloration or leave white streaks on teeth.

How Does Teeth Whitening Treatment Work?

Teeth whitening treatments typically use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as the active ingredient. Research shows that these chemicals are effective and safe teeth whitening agents (as long as they aren't overused or used improperly). Hydrogen peroxide is also safely absorbed by the body.

Hydrogen peroxide whitens your teeth by oxidizing them. Since teeth are porous, your enamel and dentin can easily absorb peroxide-containing teeth whitening gels. The result is whiter and more vibrant teeth.

Most treatments do not cause significant changes in tooth enamel. However, some treatments can cause tooth sensitivity and changes in enamel if you leave the serum on your teeth for a long time.

Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

With centuries of research-backed evidence on teeth whitening treatments, both professional and over-the-counter teeth whitening solutions are safe and effective.

However, the key factor in safety is doing it properly and following the directions provided by your dentist (or the product label for over-the-counter products).

Do not overuse a whitening product or use high concentrations of a whitening gel at home. This can result in increased sensitivity, gum irritation, or enamel erosion (irreversible enamel damage).

Most at-home teeth whitening products typically contain 5 to 10 percent hydrogen peroxide or 35 percent carbamide peroxide. They are applied for 10 to 30 minutes for multiple days in a row. These treatments are considered safe.

In-office treatments contain 25 to 40 percent hydrogen peroxide and stay on your teeth for a shorter time. These treatments are completed by a dentist (to prevent complications) and are only needed every six months to a year.

Are Whitening Toothpastes Safe to Use?

Some whitening toothpastes are highly abrasive and should not be used for more than 4 weeks. Doing so can lead to enamel erosion and damage. Abrasive particles are also not effective for whitening. They only remove stained plaque and do not penetrate the enamel. 

Instead, choose a whitening toothpaste that contains enzymes such as Papain and Bromelain. These enzymes are more effective at reducing naturally occurring stains than abrasive pastes. They destroy the tooth film where bacteria and stains form. 

Types of Teeth Whitening Treatment

Whitening treatments are ideal for patients who already have discolored teeth and are looking for a cost-effective fix.

Popular teeth whitening methods include:

Professional Teeth Whitening (In-Office Treatment)

Common in-office whitening treatments include 1-hour ZOOM, BOOST, and Kor whitening. These treatments are very effective and provide the quickest results.

All of these treatments have a similar active ingredient (hydrogen or carbamide peroxide) and may or may not use a light.

They take about 30 minutes and can make your tooth color two-three shades lighter in one visit. In-office whitening can also be done during routine dental cleanings (every six months).

At-Home Teeth Whitening Solutions (Professional)

These treatments are more intensive and take longer than professional whitening treatment. First, you will visit a dentist and have impressions made of your mouth. From there, they will make custom trays that are designed to fit your mouth.

Your dentist provides you with at least six months' worth of trays and whitening gel at a time, depending on how often you use it. You can purchase refills of the professional strength gel and use it in the original trays.

This is the best option for patients who are seeking an aggressive teeth whitening experience.

Over-The-Counter Whitening Products

Over-the-counter whitening products are the cheapest option. Although inexpensive, they take much longer to see results than in-office or at-home whitening solutions.

Common over-the-counter whitening products include whitening strips and gels, whitening toothpaste, and certain mouthwashes. These products are not ideal for those who want a quick fix.

Whitening Pens

Whitening pens are great for people on the go. These compact whitening pens can fit in your bag, and only require a few minutes a day of whitening. They are also relatively inexpensive. 

While convenient, whitening pens must be used c onsistently to maintain results. You can also use them in combination with LED whitening kits or other products to keep your smile bright.  

LED Teeth Whitening Kits (At-Home)

LED teeth whitening is another at-home treatment option. You can order these kits online or on Amazon. They use whitening gel, an accelerating-warming heat, and LED light technology to whiten your teeth.

An LED light alone will not change the color of your teeth. It helps speed up the whitening process when combined with a tooth-whitening agent. When this interaction occurs, the blue LED light penetrates the enamel and lifts stains.

LED lights are not the same as ultraviolet (UV) lights, which can cause the mutation of cells. An LED light does not raise the same risks (like cancer). It simply speeds up the whitening reaction, making your teeth whiter in half the time. 

Our favorite LED teeth whitening kits are:

snow all in one teeth whitening kit

Snow Teeth Whitening

Best Overall

Snow claims that users will have whiter teeth in as little as nine minutes per day with its light-activated whitening gel. You can whiten for as long as 30 minutes per session for quicker results. The kit costs $149.

hismile PAP+ Teeth Whitening Kit™

Hismile PAP+ Teeth Whitening Kit™

Best for Sensitivity

Hismile's teeth whitening kit uses three powerful, enamel-safe ingredients to provide instant results without any sensitivity:

  1. Hydroxyapatite (nHAp) rebuilds the protective layer of teeth and replaces lost minerals
  2. Phthalimidoperoxycaproicacid (PAP) is clinically proven to whiten teeth without sensitivity or gum irritation
  3. Potassium citrate helps relieve pre-existing sensitivity and provides long-term protection

Hismile is also peroxide-free. Peroxide is a bleaching agent can cause sensitivity, gum irritation, and the demineralization of teeth.

GLO Brilliant Deluxe Teeth Whitening

GLO Brilliant Deluxe Teeth Whitening Device Kit

Fastest Results

Glo uses an accelerating-warming heat and LED light technology to whiten your teeth. It costs $149 and promises whiter teeth after just a few uses.

At-Home vs. Professional Teeth Whitening

At-home teeth whitening is a cheaper alternative to professional teeth whitening. It is also less expensive but requires more upkeep.

Professional whitening treatments only need to be done every six months to three years. Over-the-counter products, like whitening strips and gels, must be used consistently to see results.

LED whitening kits are more expensive than over-the-counter whitening products. However, they only need to be used sparingly after the desired whiteness is achieved. LED kits can also be used in between professional whitening treatments to keep your teeth bright.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends talking with your dentist before using any at-home whitening products. Some products can cause severe harm like gum irritation, sensitivity, and enamel erosion when misused

How Much Does Teeth Whitening Cost?

The cost of teeth whitening treatment depends on the type. However, since teeth whitening is cosmetic in nature, it is not covered by insurance.

Professional teeth whitening $500-$1,400 (per treatment)
Teeth whitening trays and gels $250-$500 (reusable tray) $15 (gel)
Over-the-counter teeth whitening products (strips, toothpaste, mouthwash, etc.) Under $100
LED teeth whitening kits $50-$300 (per kit)

How Long Does Teeth Whitening Last?

How long whitening results last depends on a few different factors. For example, your lifestyle, diet, habits, and the type of whitening treatment used all impact effectiveness.

For at-home treatments, it is recommended to get a booster treatment every six months. For more invasive professional treatments, such as the Kor whitening system, you typically won’t need another treatment for at least a year or longer.

Side Effects of Teeth Whitening

Tooth sensitivity is the most common side effect of teeth whitening treatment. Sensitivity occurs because the dentin layer of your teeth is exposed during the bleaching process. Dentin is the layer below your enamel (the white layer covering your teeth). 

For over-the-counter whitening, the sensitivity will only go away when you stop treatment.

In terms of professional whitening, your dentist can take steps to avoid and/or treat any sensitivity that arises.

Gum irritation can also occur when the whitening gel comes into contact with your gums. This discomfort typically disappears within 24 to 48 hours. It will continue if the gel touches the gums.

Other possible side effects of at-home teeth whitening (not dentist-supervised) include:

  • Reversed whitening effects (teeth appearing more discolored than before)
  • Loss of tooth enamel (protective layer of teeth), which can lead to cavities
  • Increased risk of tooth fracture and damage

Who Shouldn’t Whiten Their Teeth?

Even though teeth whitening is safe, it is not recommended for everyone:

  • Small children: children who still have primary (baby) teeth should not receive whitening treatment because their gums, teeth, and jaws are still developing.
  • Pregnant women and nursing mothers: the chemicals from whitening treatments can be passed along to developing babies.
  • Previous restorative treatment: dental restorations, including veneers, crowns, and fillings, will not whiten because they are made of composite, porcelain, or metal. Only your natural tooth structure can change color.
  • Cavities, gum disease, and exposed tooth roots: if you have gum disease, cavities, gum recession, or worn enamel, teeth whitening treatment is generally discouraged until these oral conditions are fixed.

Tips for Preventing Tooth Discoloration

Neglecting basic oral care (e.g., brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash) can cause tooth stains.

Plaque buildup from coffee, tea, dark-pigmented foods, soda, tobacco, and red wine can also lead to discoloration. This plaque is more difficult to remove over time, potentially causing cavities and gum disease.

To prevent tooth discoloration, keep these tips in mind:

  • Get professional teeth cleanings twice a year
  • Do not smoke or use tobacco products
  • Avoid junk food and artificially colored substances
  • Brush your teeth twice a day and floss before bed
  • Limit your intake of staining products like soda, red wine, tea, coffee, foods with dyes, etc.
  • Use whitening toothpaste and mouthwash a few times per week (don't overuse them)
  • Whiten your teeth with over-the-counter or professional products
Last updated on April 25, 2022
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on April 25, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Carey, Clifton M. “Tooth whitening: what we now know.” The journal of evidence-based dental practice vol. 14 Suppl : 70-6. doi:10.1016/j.jebdp.2014.02.006.
  2. Perdigão Jorge. Tooth Whitening: an Evidence-Based Perspective. Springer, 2016.
  3. Whitening: 5 Things to Know About Getting a Brighter Smile.” Mouth Healthy TM.
  4. Markowitz, Kenneth. “Pretty Painful: Why Does Tooth Bleaching Hurt?” Medical Hypotheses, vol. 74, no. 5, 2010, pp. 835–840.
  5. Patil, PA, et al. “Comparison of Effectiveness of Abrasive and Enzymatic Action of Whitening Toothpastes in Removal of Extrinsic Stains – a Clinical Trial.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 21 July 2014.
  6.  “Tooth Discoloration: Causes, Treatment & Prevention.” Cleveland Clinic.
  7. T. Attin, C. Hannig, et al. “Carbamide Peroxide Bleaching Agents: Effects on Surface Roughness of Enamel, Composite and Porcelain.” Clinical Oral Investigations, Springer-Verlag, 1 Jan. 1970.
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