Updated on February 9, 2024
11 min read

Teeth Whitening Treatment

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Teeth whitening is the process of achieving whiter teeth either at home or in a dental office. You may receive varying results from different whitening treatments. This is because some options may be more suitable for you than others.1

There are multiple types of teeth-whitening products, kits, and procedures. Most of these products contain one of these three ingredients:

  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Carbamide peroxide
  • Phthalimido-peroxy-hexanoic acid (PAP)

These ingredients are bleaching agents. They remove tooth stains by penetrating tooth enamel. 

They are safe as long as you apply them correctly and in the proper concentration. That said, phthalimido-peroxy-hexanoic acid (PAP) is considered better for sensitive teeth.1,2

Types of Teeth Whitening Treatments

Here are some of the most common types of teeth whitening: 

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

Over-the-counter (OTC) whitening methods are ideal if you’re on a budget and have mild teeth staining. They won’t lighten your teeth dramatically or as quickly as professional dental treatments. However, they are much less expensive.

OTC whitening products include:

  • Mouthwash – You swish this solution around your mouth after brushing your teeth
  • Toothpaste Switching regular toothpaste for whitening toothpaste can help you achieve whiter teeth
  • Whitening gels These are directly applied to your teeth and have teeth-whitening ingredients
  • Strips Whitening strips come with gels, and you apply them to your teeth around 10 to 20 minutes a day

These often contain peroxide ingredients to produce a whitening effect. However, natural whitening products are also available. These include:

  • Charcoal
  • Coconut oil
  • Peroxide-free toothpaste and whitening strips

These natural products often have mild abrasives to produce a whitening effect, which can be problematic because they can wear away the tooth enamel over time.

Dental professionals recommend using them not more than once a week. You should also check the instructions to ensure you use them correctly. 

InexpensiveTakes longer than other whitening treatments to see results
Easily accessible — can be bought in drugstores or onlineCan only lighten teeth one to two shades
Can easily replace your normal toothpaste and mouthwash with whitening alternativesMust be repeated more frequently
Gels can be used for specific problem areasStrips may not stay firmly in place
Less sensitivity

2. LED Teeth Whitening Kits

LED teeth whitening uses a bleaching agent, such as hydrogen peroxide, and 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 the following:

  • A teeth-whitening gel or serum that contains the bleaching agent
  • Tray or mouthpiece containing LEDs, which you’ll wear 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 identical results to professional in-office whitening treatments. Although they may take longer.3,4,5

LED teeth whitening kits can save money compared to in-office whitening. They are, however, more expensive than over-the-counter toothpaste or whitening strips.

Inexpensive — most kits cost under $200Takes longer than in-office treatments
Enamel-safe ingredientsMany require a fixed power source, meaning you have to stay in one place during treatment
Specifically designed for at-home use
Gels can be used for specific problem areas
Short treatment time

3. Tray-Based Whitening Systems

Some whitening systems use a tray you place in your mouth and leave in for several hours daily or overnight. Teeth whitening trays work like at-home LED whitening systems. They contain a tooth-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 a few days.8 You can purchase these systems from various places, including:

  • Grocery stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Online
  • Your dentist (requires a prescription)
Professional dental advice and instructionTakes longer
Whiten teeth in the comfort of your own homeCan result in temporary sensitivity
Whiten teeth at your own paceNon-custom trays can lead to uneven whitening
Less expensive than completely in-office whitening treatments 

4. Teeth Whitening Pens

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

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

Like toothpaste, mouthwashes, and other whitening products, whitening pens are available over the counter (OTC). Follow the directions included with the pen for best results. 

Can easily access hard-to-reach areas of the mouthCan take longer for results to show
Easy to bring around and use dailyGel may need some time to stay on the teeth before rinsing
Accessible over the counter

5. Whitening Foam

Whitening foam is a relatively new method of teeth whitening. It gently whitens teeth while helping to clean your clear aligners, retainers, or night guard.

SNOW makes a clear aligner whitening foam that can be applied to clear aligners, certain retainers, and night guards.

You just pump the foam and spread it across your dental appliance. Most foams can be left overnight or used multiple times a day.

Most can be used overnightCan take longer for results to show
Easy to use and affordableSome customer reviews mention faulty containers
Simultaneously whitens and cleans your device

6. Professional (In-Office) Teeth Whitening

A dentist provides in-office whitening procedures. Professional teeth whitening treatments will cost more, but they 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, your dentist may use a stronger concentration of carbamide peroxide. Your dentist will 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

Contain higher concentrations of the bleaching agentCosts between $500 and $1,000 per treatment
Dentists provide gum shields to protect the gumsCan result in temporary sensitivity
Brightens teeth more than any other treatment
Only needs to be repeated every 6 to 12 months
Provides instant results

Get your brightest smile with NewMouth's top teeth whitening picks for 2024.

Types of In-Office Teeth Whitening Treatments

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

Zoom! Chairside

Waterpik Sonic Fusion

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.

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

The gel and light penetrate your teeth, removing 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’s not covered by dental insurance.

Opalescence Boost™

Waterpik Sonic Fusion

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 light to speed up the whitening process.

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 your teeth while in use.

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

KöR Whitening

Waterpik Sonic Fusion

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 leading brands like Zoom.

KöR Whitening costs around $500 per treatment. It’s not covered by dental insurance.

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’s not covered by dental insurance.

Sapphire Teeth Whitening 

Waterpik Sonic Fusion

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. 

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’s not covered by dental insurance.

How long teeth whitening lasts will depend on the method used, your oral hygiene habits, and your dietary habits.

How Much Does Teeth Whitening Cost?

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

  • Toothpaste 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 of 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 work better for you. They can also help determine what results to expect for your specific situation.

Potential Risks and Side Effects of Teeth Bleaching

Teeth whitening treatments have 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
  • Tooth hypersensitivity due to exposed dentin
  • 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.

Talk to your dentist if you’re concerned about the potential adverse effects of whitening treatment. 

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Stains

Teeth whitening treatments can remove extrinsic stains. Intrinsic stains are deeper, so they’re resistant to the treatment. Here are some differences between extrinsic and intrinsic stains:

Extrinsic Stains

Extrinsic stains are stains on the surface of your teeth. Some causes include:

  • Tobacco
  • Coffee or tea
  • Red wine
  • Sodas
  • Poor oral hygiene

If you have deep extrinsic tooth stains that are more than a year old, you may need professional whitening over at-home treatments. 

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

Intrinsic Stains

Intrinsic stains develop within teeth rather than on the surface. They can be caused by trauma or exposure to certain chemicals or minerals. These stains also develop with age.

While professional teeth whitening can be effective for most people, it’s 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 caused by excessive fluoride exposure; 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

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
  • Limit foods and drinks that stain
  • Use whitening toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association (ADA)6
  • Drink plenty of water7
  • Use reusable straws to prevent dark beverages from leaving stains

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 can stain your teeth
  • Avoid smoking and excessive drinking

Alternative Treatments for Teeth Whitening

If you identify with any of the above, teeth whitening treatment may not be suitable for you. Alternative options include:

  • Veneers ⁠— Veneers are the most expensive option; usually made from porcelain or resin bonded to the teeth
  • Dental bonding This is a cheaper alternative wherein a tooth-colored resin is applied to the tooth and hardened with a special light
  • Dental crowns ⁠— Crowns serve as a “cap” placed over the tooth to restore its appearance


  • Teeth whitening is the process of getting a brighter smile at home or a dental office
  • There are different teeth-whitening methods to choose from
  • The effectiveness of teeth whitening will depend on each person’s teeth
  • In-office treatments are best for people with deep stains that are more than a year old
  • Some people may be more suited for veneers or dental bonding

Last updated on February 9, 2024
8 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 9, 2024
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).
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