Teeth Whitening: Do You Really Need It?

If you’re thinking about whitening your teeth, read this comprehensive guide first. Find out which whitening products to use, how much to spend, and how to do it.

Teeth Whitening

Image from Rupert Taylor-Price on Flickr.

The discoloration of tooth enamel is no rare thing. In fact, millions of people have stains and permanent marks on their teeth, as a result of wear and tear. This is one of those things that even patients with excellent dental hygiene can experience, because a thousand different factors can contribute to enamel discoloration.

Over time, teeth simply begin to show their age. They yellow slightly (or a lot, if you are a smoker), lose strength, and take on stains from food and drinks more easily. For many people, dental discoloration is something to be hidden and concealed. It can ruin an attractive smile and destroy self-confidence, so it is definitely a problem.

Fortunately, teeth whitening is one of the most routine and easy to perform dental treatments. It doesn’t even have to be done at a clinic or surgery. You can now buy high quality whitening and bleaching kits to apply at home, independently. As long as you follow the instructions carefully, the process is very safe and pretty much guaranteed to brighten up your smile.

As such, teeth whitening products are very popular. Every year, scores of patients decide to give at home bleaching a try and most are delighted with the results. However, there is no substitute for a full and professional clean or whitening treatment from a dentist. If you want to get the best result, you need to make sure that an expert is doing the job for you.

This handy guide to teeth whitening will tell you everything that you need to know about putting the sparkle back into your smile.

Making Sure That You Are Eligible

There are virtually no risks associated with teeth whitening, so there are few people who cannot safely perform it or have it carried out on their teeth. Generally speaking, it is suitable for all patients. The exception is if your teeth are discolored with deep set intrinsic stains (more on that later).

While whitening is effective, it cannot perform miracles. It will produce the best results for people with mild to moderate stains. Your dentist should be able to advise you on whether or not this kind of treatment will give you a satisfactory outcome. It is your decision whether or not you want to go ahead, but your dentist will probably have their own opinion.

Non-Eligible Patients and Unsuitable Candidates

There are some people for whom teeth whitening is not recommended or cannot be provided. For example, anybody with fabrications or restorations on their front facing teeth. So, this includes porcelain veneers, dental crowns, and dental bonding. This kind of material will not react to bleaching compounds.

You may go ahead with whitening, if you are happy to accept that your veneers will end up being a different colour to the bleached teeth. You will probably have to change them for whiter ones after the treatment. This is the main reason why dentists discourage this type of patient from whitening procedures.

If you have intrinsic stains or white spots caused by a ‘dead’ tooth, whitening treatments may not be effective. These stains affect the deeper parts of the tooth and may be too stubborn to remove. Again, a dentist is unlikely to refuse you the treatment at a surgery, but they might advise you against it, particularly if they do not think that it will produce noticeable results.

For patients with very sensitive teeth, whitening can be a bad choice, because it intensifies these sensations. The same goes for conditions like bruxism and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). The chemicals in the whitening compounds may aggravate your symptoms. If you have any of these conditions, you are advised to consult with your dentist before applying any kind of whitening product.  

You may still be eligible for a whitening treatment, but it will probably be a professional ‘in clinic’ procedure, so that the dentist can monitor your mouth for signs of pain and oversensitivity. If you are unsure about whether or not whitening is right for you, it is always best to discuss the options with your specialist.

Working Out the Cost of Teeth Whitening

The cost of a teeth whitening treatment varies, depending on what kind of technique is involved. Clearly, picking up an at home whitening kit is going to be a cheaper option than paying a dentist to carry out the treatment. Yet, it is worth remembering that a professional procedure will always be more effective than take home kits.

The very cheapest over the counter kits range from $5-50. They can be bought in drugstores, pharmacies, and supermarkets, and they are fairly popular. They are also some of the least effective products, so it is important to take your time and weigh up your options carefully. Where possible, avoid using products that contain high amounts of hydrogen peroxide.

The slightly more premium at home kits, many of which are dentist approved, cost around $200-400. Ask your dental specialist for advice on which of these products is best for you. You should get the full package, including all whitening trays and gels. For a professional dental treatment, you will need anywhere between $300-1000.

The final cost will depend on how many whitening sessions you have and what kind of equipment is used to perform them. For example, laser whitening is usually a more expensive option. The above figures are estimates, based on current market prices, but you should remember that the cost of products and treatments will vary according to location, brand, and surgery rates.

Ultimately, teeth whitening is an entirely cosmetic and aesthetic procedure, so you may not be able to pay for it with regular dental plans. While it can have a remarkable impact on appearance and self-esteem, going without a whitening will not harm the health of your mouth. So, you can afford to wait and save up for a treatment if necessary. Or, find out more about what the dental membership plan from carefreedental.com can do for you.   

Picking the Right Dentist for Whitening

If you have decided to go with a professional whitening, the first step is deciding where you want to have the treatment. It is not necessarily the best idea to immediately opt for your regular specialist, because a dentist with more cosmetic experience may be able to do a better job. This decision is entirely up to you, however, so think about it carefully.

For the best possible outcome, look for a dentist who is certified by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. It is preferable for this specialist to have lots of experience with whitening teeth. If you are keen to try a specific method (laser whitening or deep bleaching), make sure that your chosen clinic does offer this option.

Ask your dentist for photographs of past patients. There should be photographic evidence of the work done – clear, colour images of mouths before and after the treatment. As a lot of people who inquire about teeth whitening are not completely sure at first, seeing actual images of genuine results is a good way to make the possible outcomes clear.

And, of course, it is always helpful to be on good terms with your dentist. In fact, this makes the decision for a lot of patients and many do end up sticking with their regular specialist. As long as they have experience with whitening treatments, this should fine. If you are comfortable, relaxed, and happy with your dentist, the procedure will go quickly and smoothly.

Your dentist should arrange a consultation session before carrying out any work. This is important because it gives them a chance to examine your teeth and determine whether or not whitening is a worthwhile idea. A trustworthy dentist will never recommend that you have treatments you don’t need just to get your cash. So, if a specialist says that you do not need or should not have whitening, consider the decision carefully.

Over the Counter Methods and Products

There are quite a lot of different over the counter products available and this can make choosing one fairly tricky. The following descriptions will help you to distinguish between the different products and pick a suitable one.


This is the mildest form of whitening product and should not be relied upon for removing anything but the lightest stains. It will not bleach your teeth, but it does have a gentle abrasion effect which scours away discolored patches. Do not start brushing with hydrogen peroxide products unless you are happy for your teeth to be lightly bleached each time.


Whitening gels come in a similar type of packaging as toothpaste, but they are left on the teeth to ‘set’ rather than just being used for brushing. They can be used to remove mild to moderate stains, but do pick your strength of gel carefully.


The majority of whitening rinses contain small amounts of hydrogen peroxide. They are used in exactly the same way as regular mouthwash products. Do not leave whitening rinses in your mouth for any longer than you usually would. If your teeth are moderately discolored, this level of exposure may not be enough.

Commercial Whitening Trays

These products imitate the more professional kits approved and prescribed by dentists. However, they rarely work as well and they can be very uncomfortable. They are not personalised for your mouth, so they are likely to leak, slide, irritate, and come loose. If you are going to use a whitening tray, get one from a dentist.


The whitening strip is a slightly more powerful whitening option. You leave these little pieces of plastic over the front of your teeth for around half an hour every day. After about two weeks, teeth should start to look noticeably whiter and cleaner. Whitening strips come highly recommended by most dentists, because they are easy to use, safe, efficient, and effective.

Customised ‘Take Home’ Kits and Trays

If you are willing to spend a little more, you can get a personalised whitening tray from your dentist. These kits provide a significantly better quality experience than over the counter treatments. Yet, they are fairly affordable and serve as a good option for patients who do not have the money for a fully professional whitening.  

These trays are used in the same way as commercial ones, but they fit in the mouth better and are less likely to leak and ooze mess. The treatment only uses a small amount of hydrogen peroxide so it poses no risk to gums. It is rare for whitening trays of this kind to cause irritation or soreness in the mouth.

Full and Professional Whitening Treatments

The comprehensive and professional treatments use a higher volume of hydrogen peroxide. If you have sensitive teeth or gums, discuss the suitability of this option with your dentist before going ahead. Most commonly, a whitening gel is applied to the teeth and it destroys the links between stained molecules. This results in a brighter and noticeably whiter smile.

However, it is becoming increasingly common for dentists to use things like lasers and specially designed lights to achieve the best possible outcomes. For example, a whitening gel may be applied to the teeth and a high powered light used to activate its properties. In most cases, light and laser technologies enable the whitening compounds to penetrate deeper.

Getting Ready for Your Whitening Treatment

Ordinarily, whitening appointments start with a full clean of the teeth and gums. If food morsels and other bits and pieces are allowed to remain, they could disrupt the whitening powers of the gel or trays. After this preliminary work has been done, the dentist will then apply the whitening gel directly to the tooth enamel.

This may take some time because the dentist needs to make sure that the coating is even. The last thing that you want is for some areas of your mouth to be noticeably whiter than others. The gel will be distributed and brushed over every exposed surface of your smile. Be patient and keep still during this process, because it takes skill to be able to coat the teeth and avoid the gums; sudden movements will disturb the treatment.

Your specialist will probably apply a protective barrier to your mouth anyway, as a way to safeguard the gum tissue from unwanted contact. This will feel strange and unusual, but it should not be painful. For some patients, wearing the guard for a prolonged period makes their jaw ache, but it is a small price to pay for sparkling white gnashers.

Letting the Whitening Gel Get to Work

The typical professional whitening treatment lasts for around sixty minutes. And, in this time, a smile can become up to eight shades lighter in color. The dentist will be moving inside and around your mouth for the full hour, as the gel coating does need to be changed multiple times. There is usually a 5-7 minute rest period between gel applications.

Ultimately, the longer the gel stays on the teeth, the whiter they get, but it is rare for a treatment to last longer than ninety minutes. It is much better to carry out treatments in individual sessions, if needed, than risk damage to the teeth by leaving a gel on for too long. For most patients, two sessions are needed for optimal results.

There is no limit to the amount of times that you can have a whitening treatment, as long as you leave a reasonable amount of time between sessions. You can have a whitening session every 3-4 months or a couple of times per year; it all depends on how much you are willing to pay and how white you want your teeth. Your dentist will be able to advice you on how regular appointments should be.

Over the Counter Vs Clinic Based Treatments

While all whitening products have to satisfy certain regulatory requirements in order to make it to stores, the reality is that over the counter kits are not as reliable as professional services. They can also contain some rather [harsh bleaching compounds, so if you are unsure about how to whiten your teeth independently, just opt for an ‘in clinic’ treatment.

This is the only guaranteed way to remove stains, because a dentist can penetrate the enamel in a safe and controlled manner. They also have access to sophisticated machinery and technology. There are certainly some very good commercial kits out there, but finding them can be a real process of elimination. At least with a dentist by your side, you know that your teeth and gums are going to make it through the process unscathed.

If you do decide to use over the counter whitening products, follow the instructions extremely carefully. Keep gels, creams, and other tools away from clothing and hair. Perform the whitening treatment in a clean environment and make sure that you have somewhere to sit down while counting the time until completion.

If you are prone to fidgeting, occupy your hands with something else so that you are not tempted to touch or fiddle with teeth. You must never exceed the recommended exposure time. This could end up damaging the enamel on your teeth. You are responsible if you choose this option, so consider it carefully.


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