What is teeth whitening?

Teeth whitening is a cosmetic dental procedure that whitens discolored teeth and creates a brighter, more youthful smile. Teeth whitening involves applying a bleaching solution or gel to remove superficial and deep stains and change the color of the tooth’s surface (enamel).

Teeth whitening is generally safe, but it does have potential complications. The effects of whitening vary by individual. Teeth should also be healthy and in good order prior to whitening. Not everyone is a candidate for teeth whitening. Ask your dentist if you are a candidate for teeth whitening.  

Teeth whitening is only one method used to improve tooth color. Other option include dental bonding and veneers. Discuss all of your options with your dentist to understand which options are right for you.

Why is teeth whitening performed? 

Your dentist may recommend teeth whitening to improve the color or brightness of your natural teeth. Many factors cause teeth to become yellow, brown, or gray in color. They include aging, coffee, tea, red wine, and tobacco products. Teeth whitening can make your teeth appear whiter and more luminous. 

It is important to keep in mind that teeth whitening cannot be used on teeth that have veneers, crowns, or dental bonds. The artificial materials used in these devices cannot be whitened. In addition, their current color may stand out against newly whitened natural teeth.

Who performs teeth whitening?

A general dentist or pediatric dentist performs teeth whitening. General dentists prevent, diagnose and treat diseases and conditions of the teeth, gums, mouth, and associated structures of the jaw and face. Pediatric dentists specialize in caring for the dental needs of children and teens.

You may also whiten your teeth at home using materials that your dentist gives you. Over-the-counter options are readily available as well. Talk to your dentist before using over-the-counter teeth whitening products and ask about the best products for you.

How is teeth whitening performed?

Your teething whitening will be performed in a dentist’s office or clinic. The procedure typically takes 30 and 90 minutes. It may need repeating, depending on the extent of discoloration. The effect of bleaching also tends to fade over time.

Teeth whitening generally includes these steps:

  1. You will sit in a reclining position in the dentist chair. You may wear a clear shield over your eyes. This protects your eyes from spraying liquids and dental instruments.
  2. Your dentist will swab your mouth and gums with a gel or paste that protects them from irritation during the whitening process. 
  3. Your dentist will place the whitening gel on your teeth.
  4. Your dentist may shine a light or laser on your teeth. The light or heat from the light activates and intensifies the whitening solution. 

Teeth whitening that you perform at home using a dentist’s materials generally includes these steps:

  1. Your dentist will make a mold (impression) of your teeth in the dental office or clinic. 
  2. Your dentist will use the impression to make a mouthpiece that you will later wear during the whitening process. 
  3. Your dentist will provide your customized mouthpiece, a tube of whitening solution or gel, and directions for how to use them at home. Depending on the current color of your teeth, your dentist may instruct you to wear your mouthpiece for a few hours a day or overnight, for a certain number of days or nights. 
  4. You will brush and floss your teeth before your home treatment.
  5. You will squeeze a set amount of whitening solution into the mouthpiece and wear it for the prescribed number of hours. Be careful not to use too much solution or gel, which can seep out from the mouthpiece onto the gums and cause irritation.
  6. After your home treatment, you will brush and floss your teeth and clean your mouthpiece.

Will I feel pain?

Your comfort and relaxation are important to you and your care team. You may have slight tingling and irritation in your teeth or gums during or after treatment. Talk with your dentist if your gums or teeth are usually sensitive or tender of if you feel pain during the procedure. Your dentist may need to adjust your solution level or mouthpiece.