Professional teeth whitening, also called in-office whitening, is the fastest and safest way to whiten your teeth. Although effective, professional whitening is expensive, but the results can last for months to a year.
Unlike at-home whitening systems that use low-dose whitening agents, professional whitening occurs in a dental office, where you’ll be closely monitored for a pain-free and controlled whitening experience. Dentists are also trained to use higher dose bleaching agents, providing results that are visible right away.
Most in-office whitening treatments take about an hour. Your teeth will be two to three shades lighter in just one visit. And the best part is that you’ll only need retouches every six months.
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.(4)
Professional whitening can remove deep surface stains fast (within one visit). Over-the-counter teeth whitening products can take weeks or longer to see results.
Learn more about the best teeth whitening methods.
However, if your teeth are only slightly yellow or discolored, you may benefit from cheaper at-home treatments like LED whitening kits and whitening strips.
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:
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 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, 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 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.
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 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.
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 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 is not covered by dental insurance.
Laser teeth whitening is similar to the whitening treatments listed above. However, it incorporates the use of a laser instead of a light to whiten your teeth.
During laser teeth whitening, the laser activates the chemicals in the whitening gel, producing faster and more effective results.
Laser teeth whitening is a safe and effective procedure. It is unlikely to cause serious side effects but can cause temporary discomfort (like sensitive teeth and gum irritation).
LED whitening kits, teeth whitening strips, whitening toothpastes, mouthwashes & professional treatment:
Laser teeth whitening costs between $400 and $1,500 per treatment. It is not covered by dental insurance.
At-home teeth whitening options (like whitening strips, toothpaste, and LED kits) take longer to whiten your teeth. You'll need to use the products three or more times to see noticeable results (on average). They also require more upkeep to maintain brightness.
Unlike professional whitening that only requires treatment every six months to a year, at-home teeth whitening kits need to be used a few times a month.
Home teeth whitening is also not completed in a controlled environment, so it is easy to overuse and misuse the products. As a result, these treatments have a higher risk of complications, including tooth sensitivity, enamel erosion, and gum irritation.
Sensitivity occurs because the dentin (inner layer of a tooth) is exposed during the bleaching process.(5) Some whitening toothpastes are also highly abrasive and should not be used for more than four weeks. Doing so can lead to enamel erosion and damage.(6)
Although at-home whitening takes more time, the products are much cheaper than in-office whitening. For example, whitening strips cost between $30 and $50 for 20 or more treatments.
Most LED whitening kits cost between $50 and $200. Professional whitening is more expensive and can cost up to $1,500 per treatment.
To determine if professional teeth whitening is right for you, review the pros and cons below.
(1) BJ;, Kleber CJ;Putt MS;Nelson. “In Vitro Tooth Whitening by a Sodium Bicarbonate/Peroxide Dentifrice.” The Journal of Clinical Dentistry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9835828/.
(2) Bortolatto, Janaina F, et al. “Effects of LED–Laser Hybrid Light on Bleaching Effectiveness and Tooth Sensitivity: a Randomized Clinical Study.” Laser Physics Letters, vol. 10, no. 8, 2013, p. 085601., https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/pho.2006.2025.
(3) Carey, Clifton M. “Tooth whitening: what we now know.” The journal of evidence-based dental practice vol. 14 Suppl (2014): 70-6. doi:10.1016/j.jebdp.2014.02.006 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4058574/.
(4) Li, Yiming. “Stain Removal and Whitening by Baking Soda Dentifrice: A Review of Literature.” The Journal of the American Dental Association, Elsevier, 19 Oct. 2017, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002817717308115#bib7.
(5) Markowitz, Kenneth. “Pretty Painful: Why Does Tooth Bleaching Hurt?” Medical Hypotheses, vol. 74, no. 5, 2010, pp. 835–840, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306987709008019?via%3Dihub.
(6) 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, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/idh.12090.
(7) “Tooth Discoloration: Causes, Treatment & Prevention.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10958-tooth-discoloration.
(8) Goldstein, Ronald E., et al. Ronald E. Esthetics in Dentistry. Wiley Blackwell, 2018.