Cosmetic Dentistry Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening is a procedure that lightens teeth by removing stains and discoloration. Stains can be the due to age, tobacco use and drinks, such as dark soda or red wine.

Most people in good health are good candidates for teeth whitening. Those who shouldn’t undergo teeth whitening include:

  • pregnant women, as effects on the fetus are unknown
  • smokers, as continued smoking will continue to stain the teeth and, therefore, negate the effects of teeth whitening
  • those with gum disease, as teeth whitening can cause further gum irritation.

Teeth Whitening Procedures

The two types are teeth whitening are:

  • Non-Vital Teeth Whitening: This type of teeth whitening is done on a tooth that has had a root-canal treatment and no longer has a live nerve. This will be done by a dentist who whitens the tooth from the inside by placing gel inside the tooth and covering it with a filling.
  • Vital Teeth Whitening: As the most common method of tooth whitening, this procedure is performed on a tooth that still has a live nerve. Vital teeth whitening can be done at your dentist’s office or by using an at-home kit.

Both processes require dentists to apply a special gel to the teeth being whitened.

In-Office Treatments

At the dentist office, a special lamp is used to activate the gel and speed up the process. With in-office treatment, whitening takes anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the severity of the discoloration or the desired level of whiteness. In some cases, the procedure may require two to three appointments to achieve the desired degree of whiteness.

Because in-office teeth whitening uses more potent whitening agents than those used for a home treatment, it can cause more tooth sensitivity afterward.

Laser Teeth Whitening Treatments

Another type of in-office procedure is laser teeth whitening. While there are some dentists who use laser teeth whitening instead of the traditional lamps, the American Dental Association says there is no data on its effectiveness.

Another new technique is zoom teeth whitening, which involves a bleaching agent that takes less than an hour to complete the whitening procedure. Zoom teeth whitening also involves the use of a special light that speeds up the whitening process.

At-Home Teeth Whitening Treatments

At-home teeth whitening can mean either a dentist-prescribed teeth whitening kit or the use of over-the-counter products, such as whitening strips.

Dentist-prescribed whiteners are the most effective form of at-home whitening. Typically, these types of teeth whitening kits include a gel filled mouthpiece that you wear for 30 to 60 minutes per day, once or twice per day. These kits take 5 to 10 days of use for full effectiveness.

Over-the-counter products are either kits with gel and mouthpieces or whitening strips that you wear on the surface of the teeth. These are less expensive, but the whitening effects do not last as long as dentist-prescribed gels.

Costs of Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening is considered a cosmetic dental procedure, so it is not covered by insurance. The costs of teeth whitening can depend on a number of factors including:

  • brand of teeth whitening kit chosen
  • location of the dentist’s office
  • the chosen dentist.

On average, in-office procedures cost between $400 and $900, while at-home kits can cost as little as $25.

Regardless of which teeth whitening procedure you undergo, the effectiveness will last longer if you avoid consuming food and drinks (coffee, red wine, tea) that are prone to staining teeth for one week after the procedure. After that, dentists recommend you drink stain-causing drinks with a straw to minimize the liquid’s contact with your newly whitened teeth.


Ranft, Lesley (2008). Teeth Whitening: Customize Your Bright, White Smile. Retrieved April 13, 2008, from the Consumer Guide to Dentistry Web site.

Simple Steps to Better Dental Health (n.d.). Teeth Whitening. Retrieved April 13, 2008, from the Simple Steps to Better Dental Health Web site.