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The Basics of Teeth Whitening

Beautiful Smile

You can whiten your teeth at your local dental office or from the comfort of your own home. The only difference between the two is the strength of bleaching gel - dentists can administer professional strength bleaching gel and take home products utilize a less powerful gel bleach. However, do not let this factor fool you as at-home teeth whitening kits are dentist approved and can contain custom-moldable bleach trays and/or strips. Each type of whitening gel, whether it may be carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, will work to remove agents that have stained the teeth's porous enamel, what does vary, is the length of time in which these gels will take to whiten up your teeth.

Treatable Stains

Extrinsic stains lie on the outer layer of your teeth and are treatable by gel bleaching. As time passes your tooth enamel begins to absorb the pigments of left over particles from food, beverages, and tobacco causing unwanted staining. Coffee, soda, wine, tea, chewing tobacco, cigarettes, cigars, red sauces, curries, and berries are the top leading foods, beverages, and products to stain your tooth enamel.

Unfortunately, intrinsic stains can not be treated by topical whitening treatments. Intrinsic stains are deeper stains affecting the dentin layer off your teeth, the layer beneath the enamel. A darkening of your dentin can be caused by dental trauma and tetracycline antibiotics. If you are currently suffering from intrinsic tooth staining, we recommend to cover all afflicted teeth with porcelain veneers.

In-office Whitening Routines

Dentists will begin a whitening treatment by cleaning your tooth enamel with pumice and follow it up by applying a protective barrier to the gums. Next, they will bleach your teeth with a 15%-35% hydrogen peroxide gel. This gel will sit on your teeth for several minutes, be rinsed off, and then reapplied. This entire process will be repeated a couple of times and often paired with a UV light to help activate the special solution.

At-Home Whitening Routines

There are two types of at-home teeth whitening kits available - one you purchase from your dentist and one you buy over the counter. At-home teeth whitening kits that you receive from your dentist will begin at the dental office as your dentist will need to make a custom mold of your mouth. These trays will fit your teeth like a glove and resemble mouth guards. After the molds have been made, you will take them home and complete the whitening process. Once home, you will fill your trays will a 10%-20% carbamide peroxide bleaching gel out of a pre-provided syringe. You will wear these trays for a few hours every day for several weeks. Exact timing instructions will be provided by your dental practitioner.

Over the counter kits, otherwise known as OTCs, are cheaper and use a less effective form of either carbamide or hydrogen peroxide bleaching gel. This gel will be administered by ‘one-size-fits-all' trays or strips that are typically thermoforming. Be careful when you apply the gel on the trays or the peel-off strips to your teeth, if you get any of the solution on your gums, they may become red and irritated. It only takes about a drop of gel to coat the entirety of your teeth. You will wear these trays or stips on your teeth for around thirty to sixty minutes once or twice each day. Follow your OTCs instructions for exact timing instructions.

In-Office Vs. At-Home Treatments

In-office treatments are extremely effective as they have the ability to whiten your teeth up to ten shades in as little as one hour. At-home treatments are also extremely effective as they too with whiten your teeth up to ten shades but will take a couple of weeks to do so. However, at-home treatments will cost less than in-office treatments cost. The only true disadvantages to OTC treatments are that their whitening gel strength is typically not listed on the box, and their trays/strips can be ill-fitting. It is best to keep in mind that in-office nor at-home whitening treatments have the ability to whiten veneers, fillings, or crowns.

Prior Teeth Cleaning

When receiving a professional whitening treatment it is best to get your teeth cleaned about two weeks beforehand. This cleaning will help to remove any built up tartar and plaque which will aid the carbamide peroxide in better penetrating your tooth enamel. On the contrary, when applying an at-home whitening treatment you should not brush your teeth prior to application. This is due to the fluoride found in toothpaste, when utilized beforehand it will block the bleach from reaching your enamel. Plus, whitening strips have been reported to stick better to unbrushed teeth.

How Long Results Last

Teeth whitening results tend to last between six to twelve months. Results vary greatly due to personal diet and tooth sustainability.


It is possible to over whiten your teeth. Over-whitening your teeth can lead to permanent enamel damage which can make your teeth translucent or even splotchy in pigment. In order to avoid over-whitening you should wait a year between professional whitening treatments, six months or a year between professional grade at-home whitening treatments, and a true six months between over-the-counter whitening treatments. Goodluck teeth whitening!