Teeth whitening is not a medical procedure—it does not result in
healthier teeth—but it can result in whiter teeth and a brighter smile. This in
turn can make people feel better about themselves.
There are two types of teeth whitening:
For in-office bleaching, the dentist often combines bleach with a
laser or light to speed up the process. A visit usually takes from 30 minutes
to 1 hour, and you may need more than one treatment. Your dentist will protect
your gums with a gel or shield and then put the bleaching agent on your teeth.
The bleach concentrate used for the in-office process is generally stronger
than that used in other methods, because the dentist can watch how it is
Your dentist may also give you a kit with a mouthpiece and gel
containing the bleach. Your dentist may make a custom mouthpiece to fit your
teeth. These kits usually use a lower concentration of bleach than an in-office
process. Your dentist will tell you how often to wear the mouthpiece and for
An over-the-counter kit is similar to what your dentist gives you.
The bleach concentration, how you use it, and how long you use it varies
between products. For example, some products use a mouthpiece and others use
strips you lay across your teeth.
All of these methods have different costs, and your insurance will
usually not pay for them. You choose the method that works best for you and
that you can afford.
Talk to your dentist before whitening your teeth. It does not work
for everyone. Using a bleach product for:1
Bleaching also may not work if you have had bonding or tooth-colored
fillings in your front teeth. The bleach will not affect the color of these
materials, and they will stand out if you whiten the rest of your teeth. Always
talk with your dentist before you use tooth whitening, especially if you have
many fillings, crowns, or very dark stains.
Bleaching your teeth may have side effects. Teeth can become
sensitive when you are using the bleaching solution, but this sensitivity usually goes away
when you finish your treatment. A mouthpiece that does not fit well may hurt
Remember that whitening is not permanent. Your teeth will slowly
become discolored again. Some lifestyle choices, such as drinking coffee or
using tobacco, will speed up how fast your teeth lose their new
Children and teens with discolored teeth may have a negative
self-image that can result in unhealthy behavior. Teeth whitening may help them
with their self-image.
In children and teens, stained or discolored teeth may be the
It is important to discuss teeth whitening with your dentist. If
your child still has a mix of
permanent teeth, whitening all teeth may result in
teeth being different shades of white. This is because the thickness of the
tooth enamel is different in these two types of teeth. Colors may also change
when the permanent teeth replace the primary teeth.
CitationsAmerican Dental Association (2010). Tooth whitening/bleaching: Treatment considerations for dentists and their patients. Available online: http://www.ada.org/policiespositions.aspx#tooth-whitening.
January 7, 2013
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Arden Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry
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