Teeth Whitening - Topic Overview
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:
- Bleaching your teeth changes the color of the
tooth enamel and removes both surface stains and those
deeper in the teeth. Your dentist can bleach your teeth at his or her office,
or you can do it yourself with a kit your dentist gives you or with a kit you
buy over the counter (OTC). The chemical used to bleach teeth is generally
carbamide peroxide. Different products use different concentrations of this
- Whitening toothpastes use a rough (abrasive) material
that "scrapes" off surface stains and polishes the teeth.
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.