How Does Teeth Whitening Work?


Having whiter teeth has been a common desire among people for many years. Three questions frequently arise; how much does it cost, how long does it take, and will it hurt. To get to the answers to these and other questions, let’s look into how teeth whitening actually works.

Whether treatment is done at home or at a dental clinic, peroxide is the main ingredient to any teeth whitening kit or procedure. Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide serve as a bleach for teeth when oxygen molecules mix with the peroxides to lighten and reduce the appearance of stains through chemical breakdown. Is there a difference between home kits and in-office treatments? Yes.

How Does An At-Home Teeth Whitening Kit Work?

There are a few options to choose from when considering an at-home teeth whitening kit. Some toothpaste brands labeled with the ADA Seal of Acceptance are marketed as stain removal toothpaste. This kind of toothpaste will work, but only for surface stains, so your smile may still lack the bright white color you are looking for if a more in-depth procedure is needed.

Whitening strips commonly sold at grocery stores and supermarkets will penetrate deeper than toothpaste. Still, the whitening or bleaching agent used will be a lower concentration than the one your dentist uses. Like in-office treatments, the peroxides used in over-the-counter strips will reach a slightly deeper level of the tooth enamel, but having a lower concentration means the white look may not last as long or be as white as hoped for.

Before using whitening strips, it is best to talk with your dentist to see if they are right for you and discuss any precautions or concerns about the product.

Another option for an at-home treatment is one custom-made just for you from your dentist. Since there is no true one-size-fits-all mouth tray, dentists take individual molds of patients’ teeth and create unique mouthpieces that hold the whitening gel when in use. This method’s cost and length of treatment are unique to each patient depending on their desired outcome and recommended plan. To learn more about take-home kits, we encourage you to contact your personal dentist for pricing, treatment plans, and any other questions you may have for them.

How Does In-Office Teeth Whitening Work?

In-office teeth whitening can vary in the number of appointments needed to reach a white smile. Some patients are lucky enough to have one treatment, while others may require multiple. Each appointment usually takes up to one hour, and a whitened smile typically lasts two years or longer with proper oral hygiene.

At the beginning of the whitening appointment, the teeth are cleaned and polished to ensure the bleaching agent has optimized working conditions. Before the peroxide gel is applied to the teeth, a protective barrier is established on the gums. This barrier can be done with a solution brushed onto the gums or a rubber shield. Once the protective barrier is in place, the bleaching agent used by your dentist is applied to the teeth.

An ultraviolet (UV) light is then placed between the lips and the teeth to activate the whitening solution. The UV light and solution work together to break down the discoloration and stains located within the enamel and dentin microcracks. With a quick rinse after the treatment ends, you will be on your way to a brighter and whiter smile.

How Much Does Teeth Whitening Cost?

Stain removing toothpaste is the cheapest of the options and can be used daily or in an alternating pattern with another toothpaste. Costs for specified stain removal toothpaste generally run the same as any other toothpaste on the market, but brand selection may offer different prices.

At-home whitening strips are typically sold in a set of weekly or monthly amounts. Kits sold with monthly quantities average between $25-$50 depending on the brand and which store they were bought. Supercenters and grocery stores will sometimes cost less than drugstores or private stores.

Custom-made whitening trays and in-office treatments are at the discretion of the dental clinic. Some insurance companies may cover a portion of the kit or treatment, but teeth whitening is an out-of-pocket expense more often than not. Kits and treatments can range from $50 to $100 or more if multiple treatments are needed.

Discounts may be offered for services paid in full at the time of the first appointment, but the best way to understand the final cost of a teeth whitening treatment is to contact your dentist’s office directly.

How Long Does Teeth Whitening Take?

Generally, over-the-counter teeth whitening products will take anywhere from fifteen to forty-five minutes. The time specified on the package should be followed directly not to cause any damage to your teeth or gums. In-office treatments will typically be around one hour with less chance of injury since the procedure is done by a trained professional.

As mentioned earlier, not everyone will get a bright white smile from either professionally done or in-home whitening kits. The amount of discoloration, cause, and underlying health conditions all play a role in the final result achieved from a teeth whitening treatment plan.

The food we eat and the liquids we drink are not created equal. Chromogens, intense color pigments can be found in some of our favorite foods and beverages. Red wine, tea, and coffee are three of the most common drinks that contain chromogens. The chromogens will attach themselves to the tooth’s outer, white part and leave a stained appearance.

Tobacco is another well-known culprit to stained teeth. As tar and nicotine enter the mouth, a yellow-like color stains the surface of the teeth. Tar has a natural dark color, but as oxygen and nicotine mix, it leaves the teeth with a yellow surface. Like the yellow stains left behind from tobacco, the age of teeth will also show through as a more yellow color due to the enamel getting thin and more of the dentin being exposed.

The more stained the teeth are, the more difficult it becomes to remove all the discoloration. Any whitening treatments will help reduce the number of stains, but make sure to ask your dentist what to expect and what is recommended before starting any care plans.

Jason Smith

I am a Marine who now works as a Web Developer. I have five US States left to visit. I like whiskey, wine, and coffee, soaking in hot springs or in my hot tub.

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