Teeth Whitening: How It Works, Procedures, Treatment Options, and Costs

Who doesn’t want a bright smile? Teeth whitening is a popular dental procedure, with approximately 37 million Americans using this service in 2020, according to U.S. Census data and Simmons National Consumer Survey (NHCS). Teeth whitening is the process of making teeth lighter in shade.

Teeth Whitening: How It Works, Procedures, Treatment Options, and Costs

There are many different products and services available to whiten teeth, some of which can be purchased over-the-counter, and others don’t professionally at a dental office. Whitening products are often categorized as either non-bleaching or bleaching, based on their ingredients. This article will give complete information about Teeth Whitening.

What is Teeth Whitening?

Interested in knowing more about teeth whitening? This section will define teeth whitening dentistry.

Teeth whitening is a cosmetic dental procedure that enhances the shade of teeth. It is a simple treatment that can make your smile brighter and healthier in a safe manner. When teeth whitening products are applied, your dental enamel gradually whitens in shade. This procedure is typically temporary, and touch-ups may be needed after a few months or years depending on the type of teeth whitening treatment performed.

How Does Teeth Whitening Work?

So, how does teeth whitening work? We have the answers for you. Read more below to find out the function of teeth whitening.

Teeth whitening can make your teeth appear whiter via a variety of different methods, such as bleaching, abrasives, ultraviolet (UV) light therapy, and polishing surface stains. Most commonly, carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide bleaching agents are used, which chemically penetrate through tooth enamel and change the color of teeth via an oxidation process. The amount of whitening that occurs depends on the type of stain and concentration of the bleaching agents.

Procedures Involved in Teeth Whitening Treatment

The teeth whitening procedure is relatively easy and time friendly. Read more below to learn the steps involved in a teeth whitening procedure.

In-Office Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening can be done professionally at your dentist’s office. Here is the process of in-office teeth whitening.


The first step to having in-office teeth whitening is an initial consultation. Your dental professional will complete a thorough clinical examination and go over your medical and dental history. They will also inquire about your smile goals. If you are determined to be a candidate for teeth whitening, they will record your current tooth shade and discuss your desired tooth shade using a tooth shade guide.


Prior to starting the whitening procedure, your dentist will get your teeth prepared. Teeth whitening is not performed if there is any active dental disease present. They will ensure that all debris are removed from the teeth. They may use a pumice and a polishing tool to remove any present dental plaque.


Teeth whitening agents can contain chemicals that can cause damage to your gums. Your dentist will isolate your gums, cheeks, and tongue prior to applying the whitening agents. They may place a barrier across your gums or use a mouth prop to keep your mouth open. Isolating your oral tissues from teeth whitening products can reduce your risk of experiencing complications.


Next, you are ready for the application of the whitening. The application of whitening can vary based on the method of tooth whitening being used. In the case of whitening pastes or gels, your dental professional will apply the whitening agent to your teeth and leave it on for a specific amount of time. Some in-office whitening procedures will require light activation.

Waiting Time

Most whitening products require a specific amount of wait time for the desired tooth shade to be achieved. Your dental professional will follow the specific guidelines of the product being used. In general, whitening agents are left on the teeth for approximately 30 minutes to one hour. Teeth that are very discolored may require a longer time to bleach.

Rinsing and Evaluation

Once the designated time is reached, it is then time to rinse and evaluate your smile. You will rinse with water until the whitening agents are removed. Some dentists may apply fluoride to your teeth afterwards. You and your dentist will then evaluate the new shade of your teeth and instructions will be given on how to maintain your new and improved smile.

At-Home Teeth Whitening

Another way to whiten your teeth is via at-home whitening products. In this section we go over the process of at-home teeth whitening.


As with in-office teeth whitening, an initial consultation is the first step to at-home teeth whitening. Your dental professional will analyze your smile through a thorough examination. They will determine if you are a candidate for at-home teeth whitening. They will discuss with you your options and answer any questions you may have.

Custom Trays (Prescribed)

At-home teeth whitening is applied through using custom trays provided by your dental professional. An impression or dental mold will be taken of your teeth to create the whitening trays. Once the trays are fabricated, your dental professional will ensure that they fit well to your teeth. You will be given the custom trays to apply the whitening agents to them at home.

At-Home Use

Prior to using your at-home teeth whitening teeth, you will need to prepare your teeth. Brush and floss your teeth to remove any debris. If foods and debris are left on the teeth, the whitening agent may not be able to properly whiten the tooth surface. Be sure to read the instructions of your whitening kit and follow what your dentist advised.


Once you have prepared your teeth, it is time to apply the whitening. Most at-home whitening kits instruct you to place only a small amount of the gel into each tooth on your custom trays. Avoid placing too much of the whitening solution into the trays, as this can spill over and contact your gums causing harm. You will then firmly place the trays on your teeth.


Wear the trays for the recommended time limit. It is best to set a timer to avoid having them on for the incorrect amount of time. However, you should take the trays off immediately if any burning or tooth sensitivity occurs. Let your dental professional know if you experience any difficulty or side effects from the teeth whitening process.


Once you have followed the instructions, you may remove the trays and clean the whitening solution off. Rinse your teeth off with water until none is remaining. Now, it is time to look at the results. Store your remaining solution and trays for use later.

Teeth Whitening Treatment Options

There are a variety of teeth whitening treatment options. Below is a discussion of the many different teeth whitening products.

In-Office Teeth Whitening

In-office teeth whitening is both safe and effective in brightening smiles. In-office teeth whitening typically is the most effective and fastest way to whiten your teeth in comparison to other methods of whitening. This is often because the concentration of whitening agents is higher than those in over-the-counter whitening products. Plus, you have the added safety of being monitored directly by your dental professional.

At-Home Teeth Whitening Kits

At-home teeth whitening kits can be provided by your dental professional. These whitening kits are also highly effective as they usually contain higher concentrations of bleaching agents which can only be prescribed by a dentist. This allows you to achieve faster and better results. Your dentist will provide you with custom-made trays to apply the teeth whitening product at home.

Teeth Whitening Toothpaste

There are many different types of teeth whitening toothpastes available over-the-counter. Most of these whitening toothpastes contain abrasive ingredients to remove surface stains. These products often contain low amounts of bleaching agents like peroxides. It is recommended to choose a whitening toothpaste that also contains fluoride to help reduce your risk of experiencing tooth sensitivity.

Teeth Whitening Strips

Teeth whitening strips are a common type of whitening method found at many stores. These products also typically only contain small amounts of peroxide to bleach the teeth. It is important to ensure that the whitening strips do not touch your gums to avoid harm.

Teeth Whitening Pens

Teeth whitening pens are another way to whiten your teeth at home. The desired results may take a significant amount of time due to their low concentration of bleaching agents in comparison to in-office and at-home whitening kits provided by a dentist. Whitening pends can be directly applied to the teeth without having to use a tray.

Teeth Whitening Mouthwash

Many mouthwashes have the added benefit of including whitening agents. Whitening mouthwash can help remove surface stains from your teeth. Choose a whitening mouthwash that contains fluoride and has the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

Over-the-Counter Whitening Products

You have most likely seen over-the-counter whitening products at the store. There are a wide range of over-the-counter products that can help you achieve a brighter smile. These products help remove surface stains on your teeth. As mentioned, these products only contain small amounts of whitening agents, and therefore may take longer to achieve the desired shade.

Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

Is teeth whitening safe? This is an important factor to consider when deciding on teeth whitening treatment. Read more below.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), teeth whitening is safe. The safest teeth whitening methods are those administered by a dental professional. If purchasing over-the-counter whitening products, it is important to choose those with the ADA Seal of Acceptance, which confirms that the product was tested for safety and efficacy by researchers.

How Long Does Teeth Whitening Last?

How long does teeth whitening last? The length of time that teeth whitening can last can vary depending on various factors. Learn more in this section.

Teeth whitening dentistry is not a permanent treatment. However, the results of in-office or at-home whitening kits provided by dental professionals can be long-lasting. In general, the results from these whitening procedures can last on average from 1-3 years. Proper care is necessary to increase the longevity of the results, such as maintaining good oral hygiene habits and limiting your consumption of staining foods and beverages.

How Much Does Teeth Whitening Cost?

How much does teeth whitening cost? In this section we discuss the average teeth whitening cost. Continue reading to learn more.

The cost of teeth whitening can vary. On average, in-office whitening procedures cost between $500 and $1,000 per session, which is the most expensive and effective whitening treatment option. The average at-home teeth whitening kits provided by a dentist is approximately between $100 to $200. Over-the-counter whitening products, such as toothpastes and mouthwashes are the most inexpensive options, which are roughly around $20.

Teeth Whitening OptionCost Range (USD)
In-Office Whitening Procedures$500 - $1,000 per session
At-Home Whitening Kits (Dentist Provided)$100 - $200
Over-the-Counter Whitening ProductsAround $20

Does Insurance Cover Teeth Whitening?

Does insurance cover teeth whitening? Learn more about insurance coverage for teeth whitening.

In some cases, although rare, dental insurances may offer coverage for teeth whitening. Most dental insurances do not offer coverage for teeth whitening due to the procedure being deemed cosmetic. In general, dental insurances offer coverage for preventative and restorative procedures that are considered medically necessary, such as dental cleanings, fillings, and root canals.

Teeth Whitening Before and After Transformation

Before and after teeth whitening transformations are a beautiful sight to see. To learn more about what results you can expect after teeth whitening treatment, continue reading.

Teeth become stained naturally over time for a variety of reasons. The consumption of tea, coffee, soda, and wine, habits like smoking, and natural enamel wear are some of the main culprits of teeth stains. Prior to whitening, your teeth may have a slightly yellow or brown discoloration. After having your teeth whitened professionally, surface stains will be removed and your smile can appear up to eight shades whiter.

Exceptional Teeth Whitening Treatment at Gentle Dental

Gentle Dental offers outstanding dental care across our many locations. Our experienced and caring team of dental professionals provide top-of-the-line teeth whitening treatment to brighten your smile. This includes ZOOM Teeth Whitening and Sapphire 1-hour Whitening in-office treatments. Schedule a consultation with us today to learn more about teeth whitening and your options to give you the smile of your dreams.


Teeth whitening is a cosmetic dental procedure that can be done at home with various whitening products, or in-office by a dental professional. Bleaching agents such as peroxides can significantly enhance the shade of your teeth to be whiter.

Teeth whitening is proven to be safe and effective in removing internal and external surface stains from routine habits such as drinking wine and coffee. If you are ready for a brighter and healthier smile, teeth whitening dentistry at Gentle Dental is where you’ll want to be!