All about Teeth Whitening

A common cosmetic procedure, teeth whitening can be done either in a dental office or at home. A walk through any local pharmacy or grocery store can illustrate how many are trying to cash in on the procedure’s popularity, but the choices quickly become overwhelming when looking down the aisle lined with competing products.

Here’s what you need to know.

Most Teeth Can Be Whitened

Darkening occurs for lots of reasons. These include general everyday wear and tear, eating certain foods, drinking certain drinks, and tobacco use. Thankfully, stains from any of the above reasons can be lightened. The only exceptions are teeth stained a very specific and dark shade of grey or those stained by childhood antibiotic use.

Professional vs. Over-the-Counter


There are two main advantages to over-the-counter teeth whitening kits: cost and ease of use. Many consumers enjoy the convenience of at-home products that allow them to skip an extra trip to the dentist.


As you might expect, professional teeth whitening treatments offer better results than do-it-yourself, over-the-counter kits. There are a number of limitations put on how much an over-the-counter kit can do for you, and those are all eliminated with a professional visit when you have expert hands doing the work.

Going to your dentist for teeth whitening provides three main benefits.

First, professional jobs are done with custom trays. These ensure an even coat of whitening solution  is applied across your teeth. Even distribution results in even whitening.

Second, the gel concentration is significantly higher. This means that you can get better results in a shorter time span.

The third perk is access to professional counsel. This is particularly important if you have any colored fillings or crowns. These do not whiten like natural teeth when the gel is applied. Many people who go the over-the-counter route in whitening their teeth find patches of discoloration where the gel affected their fillings or crowns differently than their teeth, leaving them with a spotted smile. A dentist can work to provide more consistent results. Additionally, this professional counsel can work towards establishing your optimal shade and working around any sensitivity you may be concerned about.

Types of Whitening

There are two types of teeth whitening procedures available: bleaching and non-bleaching.


Bleaching procedures often rely on carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide as the active ingredient. This helps to remove both deep-set and surface stains.

  • Light-activated whitening, also called chairside bleaching, provides results almost instantly. Annual follow-up treatments are typically necessary to maintain results.
  • Custom mouthpieces for in-home bleaching are another option. These can be worn for several hours a day, or overnight, for up to two weeks. Once you notice your teeth beginning to stain again, you can just begin a new two-week cycle wearing the mouthpiece.
  • Over-the-counter teeth whitening products often include a boil and bite tray molding similar to what you find with boxing or football mouthpieces. They do not provide the best fit, or the best results, but are considerably less expensive.


These work via a physical and/or chemical reaction that removes surface stains. Just like brushing your teeth, this depends on applying mild abrasion to the surface to remove surface stains. Whitening toothpastes also contain a polishing agent that helps buff out stains.