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Teeth Whitening Trays

Maxine Lipner Headshot
Written by
Maxine Lipner
Medically Reviewed by 
Dr. Erica Anand
7 Sources Cited

What Are Teeth Whitening Trays?

Whitening trays are a time-saving tool used for brightening smiles. Trays are a noninvasive way for adults to upgrade their appearance. Some older teens may be able use whitening trays if they are cleared by their dentist. 

These trays come custom-made or as generic options found over the counter (OTC). Results from teeth whitening trays vary depending on your teeth’s unique characteristics. But in many cases, these trays whiten teeth efficiently.

Ideally, whitening trays fit snugly over teeth, ensuring the bleaching gel is in contact with all tooth surfaces. Trays also prevent the gel from touching gum tissue, which can cause irritation. 

How Do Teeth Whitening Trays Work?

Bleaching agents, such as carbamide peroxide or premium gel bleach, help remove coffee, tea, wine, and other dark stains on teeth. Trays also provide even whitening because they cover all of your teeth while in use. 

Take-Home vs. OTC Whitening Trays

When it comes to removing stains on teeth, there are different kinds of bleaching trays to choose from. Some people opt for custom trays made by a dental professional. Other people prefer options available in stores. 

Custom teeth whitening trays, which align with your bite, ensure optimal lightening. You can take these home, but under your dentist’s supervision. Among dentists, this is the most common teeth-lightening approach for people who want to brighten their smiles.1 

These custom teeth whitening trays are designed for comfort and minimize contact between the whitening gel and the gingiva. This reduces gum irritation and sensitivity. 

Meanwhile, generic whitening trays will not fit your teeth exactly, which means the gel may not cover the teeth as well. There might be more accidental contact between the teeth whitening gel and the gum, which can lead to gum irritation.

Besides the bleaching trays, most over-the-counter (OTC) whitening kits also include peroxide-based whitening agents such as hydrogen or carbamide peroxide. These tend to be in lower concentrations than those prepared by a dentist.

For some people, teeth whitening trays may only need to be used for as little as 2 to 4 hours a day, while other people wear them overnight. This is because some people’s teeth may require more whitening than others’.

The process usually takes longer with over-the-counter kits, which use lower concentration whitening gels, than with custom trays.3 

Pros and Cons of Teeth Whitening Trays

While teeth whitening trays are a popular way to achieve a bright smile, there are also some drawbacks.

Pros of teeth whitening trays include:

  • A custom mouth tray is a safe, effective way to whiten teeth
  • They are easy to use and reduce time spent at the dentist’s office4 
  • Results are fast, and teeth may be up to two shades lighter in just a few days3 
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) teeth whitening trays, in particular, are usually affordable

Cons of teeth whitening trays include:

  • Using higher concentrations of teeth whitening gel or applying it for an extended time can lead to sensitive teeth
  • If whitening trays don’t fit right, gum irritation can occur2 

Alternative Treatment Options

There are a variety of other teeth whitening tools: 

1. Professional Whitening 

The best teeth whitening usually happens in a dentist’s office because they use higher concentration peroxide gels. Dentists also use a light-activation system to optimize the bleaching process. 

Some dentists offer power bleaching, which involves applying a concentrated hydrogen peroxide solution for about 30 minutes.2

Teeth whitening usually occurs more quickly with in-office approaches than with OTC teeth whitening kits and custom, at-home trays. 

2. Whitening Strips

Whitening strips are designed to fit on the outside surfaces of teeth. A thin layer of peroxide or carbamide peroxide gel, which is on the strip’s top layer, removes stains on the outer and inner sides of each tooth. 

These strips can make your teeth one to two shades lighter after 2 weeks.3 

3. LED Whitening Kits

Some teeth whitening kits include an LED (Light Emitting Diode) light source. The idea is that the LED can enhance lightening agents. 

The LED allows gels such as hydrogen or carbamide peroxide to decompose faster into a form that can efficiently whiten teeth.5 

LED whitening kits may contain trays, whitening strips, and the necessary light source. Some kits that offer the LED light include:

4. Whitening Toothpaste and Mouthwash 

Toothpaste can also play a role in the whitening process. Teeth whitening toothpastes typically contain abrasives that help remove stains. These sometimes contain peroxide-based whitening agents. 

Whitening toothpastes can help whiten extrinsic stains from food and dark colored beverages. These stains develop on the surfaces of teeth. They also remove general plaque, which helps make teeth appear brighter. 

You can usually get your teeth one or two shades lighter with these toothpastes.3

Many people also use whitening rinses. These often contain low levels of hydrogen peroxide. If you use these rinses twice a day, for 1 minute at a time, you can expect your teeth to lighten by one or two shades in 3 months.3 

How Much Do Teeth Whitening Trays Cost?

The cost of bleaching trays varies somewhat. They can range anywhere from $150 to $600 for custom trays made by professional lab techs.

Summary

Teeth whitening trays offer a chance to create a brilliant smile. Dental professionals can make custom-made trays, or you can find over-the-counter kits at the store. 

To obtain the quickest results, consider dentist-supervised treatment. But keep in mind that over-the-counter kits are the least expensive option.

An LED light works to activate teeth whitening gels, potentially brightening your smile quicker. 

Ultimately, finding the best whitening process for you is what’s important.

Last updated on April 14, 2022
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on April 14, 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. Demarco FF, Meireles SS, Masotti AS. “Over-the-counter Whitening Agents: A Concise Review.” Braz Oral Res. 2009
  2. American Dental Association (ADA). “Whitening.
  3. Carey CM. “Tooth Whitening: What We Now Know.” J Evid Based Dent Pract. 2014
  4. Barry TN, Bailey CW, Ashcraft-Olmscheid D, Vandewalle KS. “Effect of a New Bleaching Gel on Tooth Whitening.” Oper Dent. 2017 Sep/Oct
  5. Hayward R, Osman Y, Grobler SR. “A Clinical Study of the Effectiveness of a Light Emitting Diode System on Tooth Bleaching.” Open Dent J. 2012
  6. Epple M, Meyer F, Enax J. “A Critical Review of Modern Concepts for Teeth Whitening.” Dent J (Basel). 1 Aug. 2019 
  7. Delta Dental. “Costs for Whitening Your Pearly Whites.
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