Teeth Whitening

Quick Facts About Teeth Whitening

Recovery Time: None
Average Cost: $500-$1,500
Procedure Time: 45 minutes-1 hour
In/Outpatient: Outpatient
Anesthesia: None
Duration of Results: Depends of various lifestyle factors
Financing Available. Apply Now
What you should know

What Is Teeth Whitening

Professional tooth whitening and dental bleaching can be significantly more effective than over-the-counter home remedies, which is a major reason why the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) says in-office teeth whitening treatments have increased more than 300 percent over the past five years.

From celebrities with gleaming grins to a plethora of ads for home bleaching kits, teeth whitening is a popular treatment for good reason.  But the level of white you can achieve may be limited by both genetic and lifestyle factors that play a major role in the color of your teeth. “The starting condition of the enamel is a major determining factor in how white the teeth can get,” says Atlanta cosmetic dentist Ronald Goldstein, DDS.

You’ll want to learn about the pros and cons associated with the level of bleaching you can realistically achieve whether using in-office dental bleaching or at-home treatment teeth whitening options.

Treatment Methods

In-Office Dental Bleaching Methods

In-office whitening treatments performed by your dentist commonly means choosing a laser treatment or making custom trays for at-home bleaching.

  • Lasers use light energy to accelerate the process of bleaching. The effects of bleaching can last for several months, but may vary depending on the lifestyle of the patient. The dentist polishes away superficial stains, applies a bleaching solution, and then uses a special lamp or laser to optimize results. You may also be sent home with a gel to use every day for up to several weeks.  You can expect your teeth to be up to eight shades lighter; they will be instantly brighter from six months to two years after light-accelerated bleaching.
  • Professional Trays, custom-made to conform to your teeth by your dentist, penetrate deeper to whiten the teeth and the results also last longer than those seen with over-the-counter whitening strips because the entire tooth is exposed to the whitening gel. “Strips can whiten the surfaces of the teeth, but they don’t really get into every nook and cranny,” says New York cosmetic dentist Timothy Chase, DMD. Many strips only bleach the fronts of the teeth, but since teeth are translucent it’s important to address both the front and the back—which trays do.  Expect your teeth to be lightened by 4-8 shades after a week or two using professional tray bleaching.  Results will last from six months to two years.

What the experts say: For optimal results, look no further than your cosmetic dentist. Professional whitening treatments—including custom trays made by a dentist for at-home use—penetrate deeper to whiten the teeth and the results also last longer than those seen with drugstore-bought counterparts. Another reason professional treatments are superior to store-bought strips is because the entire tooth is exposed to the whitening gel.

“Strips can whiten the surfaces of the teeth, but they don’t really get into every nook and cranny,” says Dr. Timothy Chase.  But over-the-counter strips can play a role in keeping your smile bright. Ft. Lauderdale, FL, cosmetic dentist Nadja Horst, DMD, says, “They can be used to touch up and prolong the effects of in-office whitening or at-home trays.” 

Results: Immediate with in-office treatments; within a few weeks for at-home bleaching.

Hydrogen Peroxide Gel

This light emits little to no heat and no ultraviolet light, and it gets the job done with less intense bleaching agents as it is matched with a solution containing only 15 percent hydrogen peroxide. Most in-office bleaching agents run in concentrations of 25 percent or higher.

Though clinically proven safe for the teeth, skin and gums, a small percentage of patients may experience temporarily increased tooth sensitivity, as with most whitening procedures.

Bleaching

Unlike the trays you find in over-the-counter kits, professional dental bleaching trays for at-home use are made to fit your individual teeth, which will maximize comfort and lessen sensitivity and irritation because they fit better and the peroxide solution used to bleach the teeth goes where it’s supposed to go. You can continue to use to reach your ideal shade of white. Trays must be worn over the course of one to two weeks, depending on stain level.

Laser

Because high-powered lasers are easily controlled each tooth only gets exposed to the laser 30 seconds at a time for a total of 20 minutes. This drastically reduces time spent in the chair, about 30 minutes total including whitening gel application.

The smaller light source from this laser only illuminates from four to five teeth simultaneously. And since laser devices are some of the most expensive, not many offices have them.

Trays

To whiten your teeth at home, simply fill custom-made trays with the doctor-dispensed whitening gel every few nights (or as instructed by your dentist), and place them over your teeth while you sleep. Unlike over-the-counter whitening strips, trays allow every part of your teeth to be saturated with the bleaching gel, including the backs.

Custom-fitted bleaching trays, used at home, are an easy way to keep your smile white and bright. “The best results are achieved through a combination of in-office whitening, followed by at-home maintenance,” says Charlotte, NC, cosmetic dentist Robert Lowe, DDS. “Bleaching trays custom-fitted to your smile allow you to maintain and enhance your results, providing quick touch-ups when needed,” he adds.

At home trays are comparable to professional bleaching by cosmetic dentists, upper and lower mouthpieces can be made at home to create personal whitening trays. Available kits include bleaching gels and are recommended for daily use.

Many dentists recommend a combination of initial in-office whitening and maintenance with custom-made at-home trays. With the combination, “you’re getting whitening from all different directions and from all different levels,” New York cosmetic dentist Steven Roth, DMD says.

Ultraviolet Light

Zoom!’s ultraviolet light doesn’t emit that much heat because an infrared filter is used to reduce it. Reduced heat equals less pain.

Small amounts of UVB light emitted from the Zoom! lamp can burn uncovered tissue. Make sure your dentist protects all of the soft tissue in and around the mouth with a barrier.

Who it is for

Find the source of your stains to determine if teeth whitening or dental bleaching is right for you. You will want to sort through your list of problem areas. Typical problems teeth whitening can address are:

Food and Beverage Stains
Similar to surface stains caused by smoking, discoloration that results from the beverages you drink (coffee, tea, cola, red wine) and the foods you eat (dark berries, soy sauce) can be eliminated with a professional cleaning or bleaching.

Fluoride
White spots, also known as calcification, can result from too much fluoride during childhood or orthodontics during adolescence. Bleaching can actually make these imperfections more obvious in the early stages of treatment, since they respond faster, so it can take a few weeks for the rest of the tooth to catch up.

Smoking
The yellow or brown stains caused by the nicotine, tar and other chemicals found in cigarettes can be minimized with regular cleanings and bleaching, but more severe stains may require a longer course of whitening with trays at home.

Heredity 
There’s a genetic aspect to the color of the teeth. “Some people just have brighter enamel and dentin,” says Ft. Lauderdale, FL, cosmetic dentist Nadja Horst, DMD. “But their teeth also respond well to whitening.”

Antibiotics
When taken during childhood, certain antibiotics, such as tetracycline, can deposit a layer of medicine with the developing tooth structure and turn the tooth blue, gray or dark brown. These stains are generally unresponsive to whitening treatments, and are often best addressed with veneers.

A Dark Tooth
A lone, dark tooth usually results from trauma that cuts off blood supply to the tooth and leads to the death of the nerve. In these cases, you need to make sure the tooth has been treated from a root canal perspective. In addition to bleaching, a veneer or crown is also an option.

Who It Is Not For

Anyone who is satisified with their smile. It's also important to note that teeth with worn-down enamel or large pulps (interior structure of tooth) might be too sensitive for the treatment.

What to expect

Looking to get the smile of your dreams? Along with the help of your cosmetic dentist, and proper at-home care, the perfect smile can be closer than you think. Regardless of your lifestyle and budget there are a variety of options available, from quick fixes to more permanent solutions that will improve your smile.

Here are some smile secrets to keep in mind:

Trying to mask darkly stained teeth with porcelain veneers is not that easy. Ask your dentist to send a picture of the color of the prepared teeth to the laboratory, so the ceramist preparing your veneers knows how much opacity to put into the porcelain as he or she fabricates them.

To keep your breath fresh and bacteria at bay, brushing at least two times a day is key. Make sure to always brush at a 45-degree angle, in small circular strokes, and follow with flossing to remove any excess food and debris that can get lodged in between your teeth.

Years of drinking red wine, coffee, tea, soda and even smoking, coupled with natural pigment changes and the day-to-day wear and tear that your teeth are exposed to can cause stains and discoloration to arise. But according to Phoenix, AZ, cosmetic dentist Steven Morales, DDS, routine cleanings followed by a light-activated whitening system are some of the easiest and most effective ways to get your teeth looking white and bright. According to New York cosmetic dentist Irwin Smigel, DDS, teeth that aren’t white can convey a subliminal message about your age. “When you whiten your teeth, it lightens up the face and makes the lips a focal point. And, an older-looking face instantly becomes rejuvenated.”

Even if you use an at-home whitening product, you still may need to get your smile touched up from time to time to keep it looking its best. To prolong your results, avoid stain-causing foods and drinks like coffee, tea, red wine and red sauce for at least 48 hours after your whitening treatment.

Laser bleaching

In-office bleaching may achieve your desired shade of white in as little as two to three hours. During the treatment, your dentist will first use a thick gel or a rubber shield to protect your gums from interacting with the bleach. “Everything must be protected. We even put sunscreen on the lips. Additionally, we protect the interiors of the cheeks, tongue and palate with gauze,” says Phoenix, AZ cosmetic dentist Steven Morales. The whitening agent is then put directly onto your teeth and a special light may be used to speed up the process.

While tooth whitening is a pretty painless procedure, Dr. Steven Morales notes that some patients do experience tooth sensitivity, especially if they become dehydrated during the process. Even though the results of your whitening are immediately visible, at-home care and maintenance are necessary to keep a smile bright. “It is almost impossible to avoid foods that stain, so to improve the longevity of the treatment, touch-ups are essential,” he adds.

At-home trays

Your dentist may suggest you be fitted for at-home bleaching trays. Place the bleaching gel into the trays every few nights (or as instructed by your dentist), and place them over your teeth while you sleep to continue the whitening process. Unlike over-the-counter whitening strips, trays allow every part of the tooth to be saturated with the bleaching gel.

“With at-home bleaching, it’s important not to over bleach since it can damage both the teeth and the gums,” says New York City dentist Irwin Smigel, DDS. “If your teeth have tetracycline or deep, dark intrinsic stains, if they’re slightly misaligned, if there are spaces, or if you feel that your teeth are too small, veneers can restore your smile and give it a more youthful shape,” says Chicago cosmetic dentist Kimberly Caldwell, DDS.

Teeth Whitening Secrets from the Experts

Smiles are not one-size-fits all and there are some misconceptions about what can realistically be achieved with tooth whitening treatments.

Here are some added tips about dental bleaching and maintaining your smile.

  • The only way to lighten veneers or crowns is to replace them. And if you try to bleach at home, and you don’t have veneers on every tooth, there will be a color difference between your natural teeth and your ceramic restorations.
  • The first line of defense for removing stains is non-abrasive toothpaste formulated to gently dissolve discoloration at the source. “When plaque and stain-causing bacteria attack the teeth, they attach to a clear layer of protein called the protein pellicle that continually forms on your teeth. Plaque, bacteria and stains attach to this layer,” says New York cosmetic dentist Irwin Smigel, DDS. Opt for products that are specifically designed to dissolve this pellicle.
  • The natural juices found in apples, pears and strawberries, for example, act like astringents to naturally whiten teeth.
  • Drink more water. It flushes away food particles that can stick to, discolor and erode the teeth.
  • Houston, TX, cosmetic dentist Guy Lewis, DDS, says to opt for raw, fibrous vegetables, like broccoli, spinach, celery, cauliflower and carrots. “The rough texture naturally exfoliates teeth, removing stains, debris and plaque. And when these foods are combined with saliva, it helps to keep the mouth moist, thus reducing unwanted bacteria.”
  • Dr. Guy Lewis also cautions to stay away from fruit juices because they contain sugars, which can implant themselves on and in between teeth, leading to cavities.
  • Any untreated cavities must be addressed and filled before your teeth can be whitened since the bleaching solution can potentially seep into the decay and inner tooth, causing extreme sensitivity.

THANK YOU FOR SUBSCRIBING TO THE

NEWSLETTERS