Tooth Whitening

First impressions are important, and one of the first things people notice is your smile. Because of this, many consumers are considering tooth whitening to achieve a whiter, brighter smile. However, there are a variety of tooth whitening products on the market today, both in-office and at-home, so how do you know which option is best for you?


Do I need to see a dentist before whitening my teeth?
YES! Whether you chose an in-office procedure at the dentist’s office or an at-home application kit, the first step is to consult with your dentist. They will provide a complete exam, including X-rays, to make sure you are a suitable candidate for tooth whitening and help you select the best option to meet your needs. If even the slightest bit of decay is present, whitening could cause irreversible nerve damage and lead to the need for a root canal.

I want to whiten my teeth, what are my options?

  • Over-the-counter whitening strips - These typically yield a very subtle lightening of the teeth.
  • Over-the-counter whitening toothpastes - While these will not change the natural color of teeth, some contain a special chemical or polishing agent to help more effectively remove stains from the tooth’s surface.
  • Prescription bleaching kits - Dispensed by a licensed dentist, these kits contain peroxide(s) that will bleach the tooth enamel. They contain higher levels of carbamide or hydrogen peroxide than their non-prescription counterparts. Peroxide whiteners typically come in a gel and are placed in a tray similar to a mouthguard. By obtaining the bleaching solution from your dentist, he or she can make a custom-fitted tray specifically designed to fit your teeth.  Poorly fitting trays can cause gingival irritation and tissue burning.
  • Zoom whitening (power whitening) – This in-office procedure combines a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide gel with a high intensity light used to whiten the teeth. The cost is approximately $600 and results typically last about three years.

How white can I get my teeth and how long will it take?
Results depend upon several factors, such as the beginning shade of the teeth. Discolored teeth that have a brown, yellow or grayish hue may not yield a full whitening effect. Teeth with a grayish hue also may take more applications to produce a noticeable change. Keep in mind that bonded teeth, tooth-colored fillings, crowns and veneers cannot be whitened.

What are the possible side effects?
Tooth and gum sensitivity can occur, but is more likely when over-the-counter products are used because of the higher pH levels generally found in over-the-counter products. If your teeth become sensitive after having your teeth whitened, a professional fluoride treatment is often helpful in relieving any sensitivity. Though your gums may become sensitive after tooth whitening, this is normally a short-term side effect that will subside within a few days.

There is a tooth whitening kiosk in my local mall. Is it safe?
NO! Tooth whitening procedures, outside of those readily available for over-the-counter purchase by the consumer for self-use, should be performed only by a licensed dentist within a registered dental office. The Pennsylvania State Board of Dentistry is developing a policy statement that will help provide more guidance by clearly defining tooth whitening as the practice of dentistry. This approach will ensure that the patient’s specific dental needs are being properly addressed by an individual who is trained and licensed to diagnose and identify possible complications that could occur due to inadequately performed procedures.


American Dental Association: Whitening