Teeth Whitening

If you have recently had your teeth professionally cleaned but are still unhappy with their color, then you may want to look into teeth whitening procedures at a dental office near you. Over-the-counter whitening toothpastes and whitening kits from the pharmacy may whiten your teeth one or two shades, but in order to get dramatically whiter teeth and remove deeper stains, you’ll need see a cosmetic dentist for treatment.

When Do I Need Tooth Whitening?

The color of your teeth is not an indicator of their health. You can have yellowed or stained teeth that are completely healthy and strong. For this reason, teeth whitening is considered an elective cosmetic procedure. In no way is it necessary for ongoing dental health, but it can help improve your appearance and boost your self-confidence. Patients often find that they smile more often and feel more comfortable in social situations after having their teeth whitened.

If you are not happy with the color of your teeth, it’s a good idea to have your teeth professionally cleaned before you schedule a whitening appointment. During a professional cleaning appointment, your dental hygienist removes tartar, a hardened form of plaque that makes your teeth appear yellowed. In some cases, a cleaning procedure may adequately improve the appearance of your teeth. If you are not happy with the results of cleaning alone, then you should talk to your dentist about affordable whitening procedures.

Tooth whitening procedures can remove stains associated with aging, drinking coffee, or smoking. They cannot, however, reverse staining from antibiotic use. If you took tetracycline and experienced blue-gray tooth stains as a side effect, your dentist may recommend veneers or crowns, rather than whitening, to improve the appearance of your teeth.

Am I A Candidate For Tooth Whitening?

If you would like whiter teeth, your dentist will first want to look over your teeth and evaluate your health history to ensure you’re a good candidate for a whitening procedure. Sometimes, this can be done during your annual checkup if your general dentist offers whitening services. Other times, your dentist may conduct a brief consultation at the beginning of your whitening appointment. He or she will look over your gums and teeth, examine recent x-rays, and talk to you about any dental symptoms or pain you may be experiencing.

Most patients who are in good overall health and do not have any serious dental ailments are good candidates for professional whitening procedures. However, if you have any of the following conditions, your dentist may recommend against a whitening procedure – or that you wait a few months to pursue treatment.


Teeth whitening can make your teeth a bit sensitive to heat, cold, and pressure in the weeks following treatment. Most patients find this side effect easy to manage, but if your teeth are already sensitive, the whitening procedure might result in more serious sensitivity that makes eating, drinking, and brushing your teeth uncomfortable. Your dentist might recommend using sensitivity toothpaste or undergoing fluoride treatments to ease your sensitivity before pursuing whitening treatments a few months down the road.

Gum Disease

Gum disease can cause pockets to form between your teeth and gums. If the chemicals in your whitening treatment work their way into the pockets, this can cause pain and sensitivity. Your dentist can work with you to help heal your gum disease, making teeth whitening a safer choice. Gum disease treatments may include deep cleaning, antibiotic rinses, and surgery to reduce the size of pockets.

Tooth Decay

If you have any cavities, it is not safe for your dentist to apply whitening chemicals to your teeth. Thankfully, having cavities is filled is a quick and easy process, and once they are filled, your dentist should approve you as a candidate for teeth whitening.


If you have extensive dental restorations, such as crowns or bonding, your dentist may recommend against having your teeth professionally whitened. While the whitening treatments will not damage the crowns or bonding material, it will not change its color, either. If you have your teeth whitened, the crowns and bonding may become obvious in your mouth as they will be darker than your teeth.

Pregnancy or Lactation

The effects of tooth whitening on pregnancy and on lactating women have not been well evaluated, so most dentists recommend that pregnant or nursing women wait until they are no longer pregnant or nursing to have their teeth whitened.

Teeth Whitening Process

Professional teeth whitening is a simple process. There are two different types of treatments, and your dentist will recommend the one that’s best for you based on the level of staining to be treated, your predisposition to sensitivity, and how quickly you want results.

Professional Teeth Whitening

If you want the fastest results possible, such as for an upcoming wedding or special event, your dentist is likely to recommend an in-office whitening procedure. When you arrive for your appointment, you will take a seat in the dentist’s chair. He or she will apply a special guard to your lips and gums to protect them against the chemical whitening agents that will be used.

Then, the bleaching agents will be applied to your teeth and left in place for about fifteen minutes. As the bleaching agent works, your dentist will shine a special UV light on your teeth, which activates the bleaching agent and speeds up the whitening process. Depending on the color of your teeth after the first round of bleaching, your dentist may repeat this process one or two more times in order to yield dramatic results. Once the final bleaching process is complete, your dentist will rinse the product off your teeth, and you’ll be free to return home.

In-office bleaching typically takes about two hours. The bleaching agents used are stronger than the ones sold over-the-counter at pharmacies, so they must be applied by a dentist to avoid contact with your teeth and gums. Some patients experience some jaw discomfort after holding their mouths open for so long during the whitening treatment, but you should not notice any pain.

Home Teeth Whitening

If you are prone to sensitivity or do not feel comfortable sitting with your mouth open for two hours during an in-office whitening treatment, your dentist may recommend take-home trays instead. Your dentist will make a mold of your teeth and use it to create customized trays. You’ll be given these trays, along with a special bleach solution, to take home. With each application, your teeth will grow whiter and whiter.

The whitening trays provided by your dentist are different from those you can buy over-the-counter. Because the trays are custom-fitted to your mouth and less likely to expose your gums to the whitening agent, they can be used with a stronger whitening agent than over-the-counter kits.

What to Expect After Teeth Whitening

In-office treatments and take-home trays yield similar results. Your teeth should appear up to 10 shades whiter following treatment. Anyone who looks at you should notice the dramatic difference. However, these results are not permanent. You’ll need to take appropriate measures to keep your teeth white and bright for as long as possible after your professional whitening process.

  • Avoid dark-colored beverages like coffee, red wine, and dark beer.
  • When you do drink dark-colored beverages, sip them through a straw to minimize contact with your front teeth.
  • Brush and floss thoroughly every day.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Have your teeth professionally cleaned by a dental hygienist every six months.

If you follow the tips above, your smile should remain white and bright for at least a year, and often longer. When your teeth begin to yellow or develop stains again, you can schedule another whitening appointment with your cosmetic dentist.

Serious side effects after whitening procedures are very rare. Some patients do experience some sensitivity in their teeth and gums after an in-office whitening procedure or session with take-home trays. If this happens to you, avoid hot or cold beverages, and use a sensitivity toothpaste until the problem clears up. You should be back to normal within a few weeks.

back to top