teeth whitening

Should You Whiten Teeth at Home or the Dentist's Office?

Many people want a brighter smile. We see dazzling smiles everywhere: on television, in magazines, out in public, and at the dentist’s office. If you’ve thought about teeth whitening, there are several options for you to consider.

What is Teeth Whitening?

First and foremost, teeth whitening is cosmetic; it’s not a medical procedure. It does not result in healthier teeth but offers whiter teeth and a brighter smile.

The purpose of this treatment is to lighten teeth and help remove discoloration and stains that have built up over time. A perk of whitening is that it can greatly improve the appearance of teeth as well as your self-esteem.

Whitening is not permanent; it needs to be repeated occasionally to maintain a brighter smile.

The Reason Teeth Become Yellow

Teeth darken with age; they are not naturally meant to be completely white. In the majority of cases, the natural color of teeth ranges from light grey to yellow shades. Some factors cause some people’s teeth to become yellow more than others:

  • The appearance can be affected by an accumulation of surface stains from products like tobacco or consuming certain foods or drinks, like coffee or cola.
  • Not taking good care of your teeth.
  • Aging makes teeth less bright as the enamel (the outer layer of the tooth) becomes thinner.
  • Intrinsic stains (which occur inside the tooth) can be caused by several factors like trauma or certain antibiotics.
  • The perception of teeth color is also affected by skin tone and makeup.

Types of Whitening

There are two main categories for whitening teeth: surface whiteners and bleachers.

Surface Whiteners

Surface whiteners use special abrasives (a rough material) to remove surface stains by more or less scraping the stain off and polishing the teeth.

Products in this category are usually toothpaste, charcoal powders, or chewing gums. The special abrasives in these products are often only finer versions of what is used in regular toothpaste. The effectiveness of these products is limited to surface stains.


Many bleaching products are peroxide-based and are capable of altering the colors of the tooth itself – it changes the color of the tooth enamel and removes both surface stains and those deeper in the tooth. The chemical used to bleach teeth is generally carbamide peroxide.

Bleaching may not work if you have had bonding or tooth-colored fillings in your front teeth (bleach will not affect the color of these materials), which may mean that these areas will not match the rest of your teeth if you choose to whiten them.

Teeth can become sensitive after using a bleaching solution, but this usually goes away after you finish your treatment.

Teeth Whitening Methods

Home remedies contain a weaker whitening agent than products from the dentist so whitening at home may take longer or may not achieve the same results. Bleaching should be done under a dentist’s care. Clinical studies support the use of home tooth-bleaching systems when used appropriately.

Three methods for bleaching:

Heat or Laser Teeth Whitening

Putting a special bleach on stained teeth and using heat and/or light (laser) to speed up the bleaching action.

One visit to the dentist is between 30 minutes to an hour, but more treatments may be required (usually one to three appointments). The bleach used in dentists’ offices is generally stronger than in other methods because a dentist can watch how it is used.

Many cosmetic professionals also offer bleaching services, but be sure to do your research and find somebody certified before you book an appointment.

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Teeth Whitening Kits

Wearing a mouthguard filled with a special bleach for part of each day. A teeth whitening kit provided by the dentist will contain a custom mouthpiece to fit your teeth, and your dentist will advise how long and how often it should be used. You can also purchase a teeth whitening kit from a drug store (the bleaching concentration for this will be lower than at the dentist) which is a more affordable option. The whitening strips offered by some companies would be listed under this category.

Over-the-counter teeth whitening kits are similar to what can be provided by the dentist. The bleach concentration, how you use it, and the amount of time you use it varies by product.

Teeth Whitening Toothpaste

Brushing with toothpaste that contains special bleach. This option can take up to a month and a half to see results. Be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions to confirm you’re using the product properly. These kinds of toothpaste contain chemicals, like peroxide, that help dissolve stains and polish the teeth.

At-Home Options to Whiten Your Teeth

Some teeth whitening home remedies include:

  • The oil pulling method. Rinse coconut, sunflower or sesame oil around your mouth for a minute after brushing and then spit it out. Some research supports that this may help whiten teeth.
  • Brush with hydrogen peroxide and baking soda twice a day for a week. This is not a long-term option, but the mild bleach may help with stained teeth. It may also increase tooth sensitivity, so be careful.
  • Eat more papayas and pineapples. Papain and bromelain, enzymes that are naturally found in these fruits, may help whiten teeth.

How Much Does Teeth Whitening Cost?

All teeth whitening methods have different costs, so depending on whether you’re having a professional do the work or you’re trying a home remedy, the cost can vary greatly. Insurance usually does not pay for whitening (as it’s a cosmetic procedure), so be prepared to pay out of pocket.

  • Professional, in-office teeth whitening on average costs $650 USD.
  • Professional take-home kits are usually around $400 USD.
  • Over-the-counter bleaching trays or strips typically fall beneath $100 USD.
  • At-home natural options can cost you only a few dollars for the ingredients.


Good oral hygiene is always the best place to start when taking care of your teeth. There are plenty of options for brightening your pearly whites, but make sure you consult your dentist before starting any self-prescribed treatment. You’ll be on your way to a bright smile in no time.