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.
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.
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.
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The primary causes of extrinsic and intrinsic tooth discoloration include:
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Whitening treatments are ideal for patients who already have discolored teeth and are looking for a cost-effective fix.
Popular teeth whitening methods include:
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).
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 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 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 consistently to maintain results. You can also use them in combination with LED whitening kits or other products to keep your smile bright.
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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.
Popular LED teeth whitening kits include:
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.
AuraGlow combines professional whitening gel with LED light technology. It costs $60, is safe for enamel, and claims that users will see whitening results quickly.
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.
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.
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)|
NewMouth recommends LED teeth whitening systems to achieve a brighter smile. They are affordable, easy to use, produce minimal side effects, and highly effective.
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.
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:
Even though teeth whitening is safe, it is not recommended for everyone:
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:
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Perdigão Jorge. Tooth Whitening: an Evidence-Based Perspective. Springer, 2016.
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Markowitz, Kenneth. “Pretty Painful: Why Does Tooth Bleaching Hurt?” Medical Hypotheses, vol. 74, no. 5, 2010, pp. 835–840.
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.
“Tooth Discoloration: Causes, Treatment & Prevention.” Cleveland Clinic.
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.