Dentistry
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Updated on August 18, 2022

Teeth Whitening Treatment

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Teeth Whitening Overview

Many people seek teeth whitening treatments to enhance their smile. There are various at-home and in-office teeth-whitening methods and products available.

Not everyone gets the same results from teeth whitening treatments. Some whitening options may be more suitable for you than others.

The effectiveness of teeth whitening, and which type is best, can depend on the type of stain your teeth have:

  • Extrinsic stains are stains on the surface of your teeth. Certain foods and drinks and tobacco can contribute to extrinsic staining.
  • Intrinsic stains develop within teeth rather than on the surface. They can be caused by trauma or exposure to certain chemicals or minerals. They also develop with age.

What Stains are Best Removed Professionally?

If you have deep extrinsic tooth stains, you might want to choose professional whitening over at-home treatments. Dark-colored foods and drinks like coffee, red wine, and tea, as well as tobacco products, can cause this type of discoloration. 

Poor oral hygiene can also cause extrinsic tooth stains. These stains are usually located on the surfaces of teeth and tend to form where the enamel is rough and thin.

If your teeth are only slightly yellow or discolored, you may benefit from cheaper at-home treatments like LED whitening kits and whitening strips

What Stains are Resistant to Whitening?

While professional teeth whitening can be effective for most people, it is not the best option for everyone. For example, your teeth will likely be resistant to whitening treatment if you have:

  • Tooth trauma that causes the dentin (layer under your enamel) to darken
  • Fluorosis, which is caused by excessive fluoride exposure, and results in white spots on the teeth
  • Antibiotic-related tooth stains caused by tetracycline antibiotics and similar medications 
  • Thin enamel, leading to dentin exposure (which is naturally yellow and cannot lighten)
  • Other inorganic tooth stains not caused by poor oral hygiene, dark-pigmented foods, natural aging, or tobacco use
  • Developmental defects, which are genetic or environmental lesions that cause the tooth to have a “ditch” or discoloration

If you identify with any of the above, teeth whitening treatment may not be right for you. Alternative options include veneers (most expensive) or dental bonding (cheaper option).

Be sure to speak with a dentist before whitening if you have:

  • Sensitive teeth
  • Serious tooth discoloration or staining
  • Any dental restorations, such as fillings, crowns, or dentures

These factors can impact the results of whitening treatments. In some cases, they may impose risks that outweigh the benefits of whitening.

white woman getting LED whitening treatment

Teeth Bleaching vs Teeth Whitening?

Whitening is the overarching term for getting whiter teeth. Tooth bleaching is one type of whitening process.

Whitening is the process of restoring teeth to their natural shade, whereas bleaching usually involves whitening teeth to a shade beyond their natural color.

Often, the terms are used interchangeably. Both can be done either in a dental office or at home.

Bleaching products contain either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. These react to oxygen to brighten teeth. Dentists may use lasers or lights to accelerate the whitening process.

Types of Teeth Whitening Treatments

There are multiple types of teeth-whitening products, kits, and procedures that bleach the teeth. The chemicals used to whiten teeth are generally considered safe as long as they’re applied correctly and in the proper concentration.

Most whitening products contain either hydrogen or carbamide peroxide, which breaks down into hydrogen peroxide and urea. Both compounds are known as bleaching agents because they remove stains by penetrating tooth enamel.

Another bleaching agent is phthalimido-peroxy-hexanoic acid (PAP). Some products use PAP instead of peroxide because it might be better for sensitive teeth.1, 2

1. Over-The-Counter (OTC) Teeth Whitening 

Over-the-counter (OTC) whitening methods include mouthwashes, toothpastes, whitening gels, and strips. These products are ideal if you’re on a budget and only have mild teeth staining.

Natural whitening products, such as charcoal, coconut oil, and some toothpastes and whitening strips, which contain little or no peroxide, are also available. These products act as mild abrasives, removing surface stains.

Even peroxide-containing toothpastes and similar products won’t lighten your teeth as dramatically or as quickly as professional dental treatments. However, they are much less expensive.

Abrasive whitening products can cause sensitivity over time because they wear away the outer layer of enamel. Don’t use them more than once a week, and check the provided instructions to make sure you’re using them correctly.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easily accessible — can be bought in drugstores or online
  • Can easily replace your normal toothpaste and mouthwash with whitening alternatives
  • Gels can be used for specific problem areas
  • Less sensitivity

Cons

  • Takes longer than other whitening to see results
  • Can only lighten teeth one to two shades
  • Must be repeated more frequently
  • Strips may not stay firmly in place

2. LED Teeth Whitening Kits

LED teeth whitening works by using a bleaching agent, such as hydrogen peroxide, along with blue light from a light-emitting diode (LED). Some kits may use PAP as an alternative to peroxide for people with sensitive teeth.

An at-home LED whitening kit will contain a:

  • Serum or gel that contains the bleaching agent
  • Tray or mouthpiece containing LEDs, which you’ll place after applying the gel

The light from the LED speeds up the chemical reaction of the whitening agent, penetrating the enamel to lift away deeper stains.

According to several studies, these at-home kits can provide comparable or even identical results to professional in-office whitening treatments, even though they may take longer to do so.3, 4, 5

LED teeth whitening kits can also save you a lot of money compared to in-office whitening. They are, however, more expensive than over-the-counter toothpastes or whitening strips.

Pros 

  • Inexpensive — most kits cost under $200
  • Enamel-safe ingredients
  • Specifically designed for at-home use
  • Short treatment time

Cons

  • Takes longer than in-office treatments
  • Many require a fixed power source, meaning you have to stay in one place during treatment

3. Professional (In-Office) Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening is also available as an in-office procedure provided by a dentist. A professional teeth whitening treatment will cost more, but it will also have more dramatic and immediate results.

Before performing the whitening treatment, the dentist will examine your mouth and note any issues that may impact the effectiveness of whitening. They will also check any sensitivities or allergies you may have.

For this kind of treatment, a stronger concentration of carbamide peroxide may be used. Your dentist may apply a protective layer to your gums before adding the bleaching agent.

In-office whitening treatment may also include blue light from LEDs or a laser. However, there is evidence that using high-intensity light may not improve the effects of bleaching. It may contribute to tooth sensitivity and even phototoxic damage.6, 7

Pros

  • Contain higher concentrations of the bleaching agent
  • Dentists provide gum shields to protect the gums
  • Brightens teeth more than any other treatment
  • Only needs to be repeated every 6 to 12 months
  • Provides instant results

Cons

  • Costs between $500 and $1,000 per treatment
  • Can result in temporary sensitivity

4. Tray-Based Whitening Systems

Some whitening systems use a tray that you place in your mouth and leave in for several hours a day or overnight. Like at-home LED whitening systems, these trays contain a bleaching agent such as carbamide or hydrogen peroxide.

If you use a tray-based system according to the instructions, your teeth may be one to two shades lighter in just a few days.8 You can purchase these systems from grocery stores, pharmacies, or online. Stronger whitening trays can be purchased from your dentist with a prescription. 

Pros

  • Professional dental advice and instruction
  • Whiten teeth in the comfort of your own home
  • Whiten teeth at your own pace
  • Less expensive than completely in-office whitening treatments 

Cons

  • Takes longer
  • May cause sensitivity
  • Non-custom trays can lead to uneven whitening

5. Teeth Whitening Pens

Teeth whitening pens are plastic tubes with brush tips. They dispense a bleaching agent in gel form. The pen’s shape and size help reach places on teeth that might be hard to get to otherwise.

You may need to leave the gel on your teeth for a certain amount of time to get the maximum effect. Some pens dispense a gel that dries in less than one minute, making it easy to leave on.

Like toothpastes, mouthwashes, and other whitening products, whitening pens are available over-the-counter (OTC). Follow the directions included with the pen. 

Pros

  • Can easily access hard-to-reach areas of the mouth
  • Easy to bring around and use daily
  • Accessible over the counter

Cons

  • Can take longer for results to show
  • Gel may need some time to stay on the teeth before rinsing

Types of In-Office Teeth Whitening Treatments

All of the following professional whitening treatments use a similar active ingredient (hydrogen or carbamide peroxide). Some incorporate the use of an LED light to speed up the whitening process:

Zoom! Chairside

Zoom! Chairside whitens teeth quickly and effectively (up to 90% of their maximum brightness). This office whitening treatment is also FDA-approved and takes one hour to complete.

Zoom Logo

The procedure begins with covering your lips and gums, leaving only your teeth exposed. Then your dentist will apply a whitening gel to your teeth, which is designed to be used with a specially designed light. 

The gel and light work together to penetrate your teeth, removing any surface stains and discoloration. With proper care, Zoom’s whitening effects can last up to a year.  

Zoom! Chairside costs $500 to $1,500 per treatment. It is not covered by dental insurance.

Opalescence Boost™

Opalescence Boost is another popular in-office whitening treatment that uses a chemically activated gel to brighten teeth within one hour. This treatment does not involve using a light to speed up the whitening process. 

opalescence boost logo

Instead, Boost uses a 38 percent hydrogen peroxide power bleaching gel to whiten your teeth. The gel is very sticky, so it won’t fall off of your teeth while in use. 

This treatment also has a slightly lower risk of tooth sensitivity because it contains PF. This is a mix of potassium nitrate that reduces the risk of sensitivity and tooth decay. It also strengthens your enamel. 

Opalescence Boost costs around $500 per treatment. It is not covered by dental insurance.

KöR Whitening

KöR whitening uses a refrigerated, high-potency gel. This gel is combined with a scientifically designed application system to deliver visibly whiter teeth after just one use. KöR also claims to provide less tooth sensitivity than other leading brands like Zoom.

KoR Whitening logo

The first treatment is completed in a dental office, and the follow-up treatments are done at home. You will use the whitening trays once a month to maintain results.

KöR costs between $500 and $1,000. It is not covered by dental insurance.

Sapphire Teeth Whitening 

Sapphire Teeth Whitening is a quick, easy, and pain-free experience that takes about 15 minutes to set up. The entire whitening process only takes an hour. 

sapphire whitening system logo

During the treatment, your gums are covered with a protective gel. Then your dentist will apply a hydrogen peroxide formula to your teeth. This whitening gel is activated via a light, which speeds up the bleaching process and reveals dramatically whiter teeth after one use.

After removing the gel, your dentist will create a custom tray from your teeth impressions. You’ll receive the tray and an at-home whitening gel so you can touch up your teeth at home. The effects can last for years with proper care.

Sapphire costs around $500 per treatment. It is not covered by dental insurance.

How Long Does Teeth Whitening Last?

How long teeth whitening lasts will depend on the method used, as well as your overall oral hygiene.

The longest-lasting results usually come from LED and tray-based treatments, especially professionally applied ones. One session of in-office teeth whitening can yield whiter teeth that last up to a year.8

On the contrary, whitening toothpastes and mouthwashes need to be used multiple times a week consistently to see results.

Many OTC whitening pens, LED systems, and whitening trays are somewhere in the middle. You may need to use them more than once a month to maintain their benefits.

Oral hygiene and dietary habits are an important factor as well. The effects of whitening treatment may not last as long if you consume a lot of stain-causing foods and drinks, such as:8

  • Red wine
  • Coffee and tea
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Certain fruits, such as blueberries
  • Dark chocolate
  • Soda

Inconsistent or improper brushing and flossing can also cause plaque and debris to build up on your teeth. Over time, this compromises the benefits of whitening treatment.

To get the best and longest-lasting results from teeth whitening:

  • Follow your dentist’s or whitening product’s instructions
  • Brush, floss, and rinse daily
  • Be mindful of foods and drinks that stain teeth
  • Avoid smoking and excessive drinking

How Much Does Teeth Whitening Cost?

Teeth whitening treatments vary widely in cost. The following are price ranges for common whitening products and systems:

  • Toothpastes and mouthwashes — $2 to $15
  • Whitening pens and strips — $10 to $50
  • Over-the-counter LED and tray-based systems — $50 to $300
  • In-office treatments — $200 to over $1,000

When to See a Dentist

At-home teeth whitening options may not always provide the same results as professional treatment. Contact a dentist about teeth whitening if:

  • At-home whitening products aren’t creating the desired results
  • You’re concerned about the risks or accidentally misusing at-home products
  • You have specific allergies, sensitivities, or dental restorations
  • Professional in-office whitening is within your budget

A dentist can examine your teeth and explain why some products may work better for you than others. They can also help determine what results to expect for your specific situation.

Potential Risks and Side Effects of Teeth Bleaching

Teeth whitening treatments come with risks and possible side effects, whether they work via abrasion or a bleaching agent

Excessive or incorrect use of these treatments may cause:

  • Erosion of enamel, the outer layer of your teeth
  • Tooth hypersensitivity due to exposed dentin, the layer underneath the enamel
  • Loss of living cells in your teeth if the bleaching agent is too concentrated9
  • Irritation to your gums and other areas if the bleaching agent reaches beyond your teeth
  • Leftover gray or yellow areas on your teeth due to incomplete coverage with the bleaching agent
  • Allergic reactions in rare cases

To minimize these risks, use whitening products correctly. Don’t apply them more frequently, or for longer periods, than the instructions recommend.

If you’re concerned about the potential adverse effects of whitening treatment, talk to your dentist. They can identify any issues with your oral health that may be risk factors. They can also advise which treatments are best for your situation.

Best Teeth Whitening Treatments

With so many at-home teeth whitening options available, finding what will work best for you might be difficult.

If you’re on a budget, you will want to use a whitening product that is cost-effective.

Our experts at NewMouth have compiled a list of the best teeth whitening methods. We’ve tested products, compared reviews, and consulted studies to ensure the products we recommend are safe and effective, whether you:

  • Have sensitive teeth
  • Have a specific method you’d like to try
  • Simply want your money to go as far as possible

Tips for Preventing Tooth Discoloration 

Your teeth might be more prone to staining right after you whiten them. To prevent them from discoloring again, you can:

  • Give up smoking — Tobacco contains the chemicals tar and nicotine, both of which stain teeth. Smoking also increases the risk of many other health issues.
  • Limit foods and drinks that stain — Tomato-based sauces, dark-colored sauces, coffee, red wine, and dark sodas contain compounds that stain your teeth.
  • Use whitening toothpaste — Using a whitening toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association (ADA) can help maintain white teeth.6
  • Drink plenty of water — By drinking a glass of water after eating or drinking, you can help rinse away any acids or particles that cause stains.7
  • Use reusable straws — Reusable straws allow liquids to bypass your front teeth. This prevents dark beverages from leaving stains.
9 Sources Cited
Last updated on August 18, 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. Pascolutti, Mauro, and Dileusa de Oliveira. “A Radical-Free Approach to Teeth Whitening.” Dentistry journal vol. 9,12 : 148.
  2. Bizhang, Mozhgan et al. “Effectiveness of a new non-hydrogen peroxide bleaching agent after single use - a double-blind placebo-controlled short-term study.” Journal of applied oral science : revista FOB vol. 25,5 : 575-584.
  3. Zekonis, Ruta, et al. “Clinical Evaluation of in-Office and at-Home Bleaching Treatments.” Operative Dentistry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2003.
  4. Basting, RT, et al. “Clinical Comparative Study of the Effectiveness of and Tooth Sensitivity to 10% and 20% Carbamide Peroxide Home-Use and 35% and 38% Hydrogen Peroxide In-Office Bleaching Materials Containing Desensitizing Agents.” Operative Dentistry, Allen Press, 1 Sept. 2012.
  5. Gerlach, RW, et al. “A Randomized Clinical Trial Comparing a Novel 5.3% Hydrogen Peroxide Whitening Strip to 10%, 15%, and 20% Carbamide Peroxide Tray-Based Bleaching Systems.” Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry, Europe PMC.
  6. He, Li-Bang et al. "The effects of light on bleaching and tooth sensitivity during in-office vital bleaching: A systematic review and meta-analysis." Journal of Dentistry vol. 40,8 : 644-653.
  7. Baroudi, Kusai, and Nadia Aly Hassan. “The effect of light-activation sources on tooth bleaching.” Nigerian medical journal : journal of the Nigeria Medical Association vol. 55,5 : 363-8.
  8. Carey, Clifton M. “Tooth whitening: what we now know.” The journal of evidence-based dental practice vol. 14 Suppl : 70-6.
  9. Redha, Ola et al. "Compromised dental cells viability following teeth-whitening exposure." Scientific Reports vol. 11 : 15547.
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