Getting your teeth whitened is a way to brighten your smile and make yourself feel better about your appearance. There are over-the-counter options for teeth whitening if you want a small change. If you want to get your teeth looking as pearly as possible, you can ask your dentist for a professional whitening treatment.
Tooth whitening is very effective on natural teeth, though it does not work on false teeth or crowns. It's safe but it can cause temporary tooth sensitivity afterward. The cost varies depending on the type of whitening treatment you choose.
Many dentists offer in-office whitening treatments. There are several different types of treatment, all of which have good success rates.
Hydrogen peroxide treatment
With hydrogen peroxide treatment, your dentist preps your teeth by cleaning any plaque and debris from them. After that, they will insert a plastic cheek protractor to hold your lips and cheeks away from your teeth. They will also use a film or gel to protect your gums from the whitening solution.
Once your teeth are ready, your dentist will apply a hydrogen peroxide gel. You will let it sit on your teeth for a set amount of time, usually 15-30 minutes. They may remove the gel at the end of that time and apply a second dose. After the second application, your dentist removes the gel, rinses your mouth, and lets you see the results.
You can schedule repeat treatments if you don’t get the results you want after the first visit. Each visit takes about an hour. The cost is typically around $500 per visit.
Some whitening treatments incorporate a laser to increase the effects of the hydrogen peroxide solution. Your dentist will clean and prepare your teeth the same way that they would for hydrogen peroxide alone. They insert the cheek protractors and apply a whitening gel, then shine a special laser or light onto your teeth.
Your dentist will have you sit with the gel and light for about 15 minutes. After that, they’ll check your progress. You may need two or three applications in a single visit.
Your office visit will take about an hour. After that, your dentist will send you home with custom-fitted trays and an at-home solution to apply for several days to complete the whitening process. The cost for everything is about $500.
If you need particularly intense treatment to remove stains, you can try deep bleaching. With this process, your dentist prepares your teeth by polishing them with an abrasive substance like pumice powder. This makes the surface more receptive to treatment. After that, your dentist applies a whitening solution using custom-fitted trays.
You will have the trays and gel in your mouth for 20 minutes. After that, your dentist will do a second application for another 20 minutes. You’ll go home with instructions to do an at-home treatment for up to 14 days.
After the cycle of at-home treatment, you’ll go back to the dentist for another whitening session. To maintain the results, you will need to continue at-home treatments every couple of weeks. Your dentist will tell you how often you need to apply the at-home treatment.
You will need to have at least two office visits. Each one will last an hour or so. The cost of the entire process is typically $1200 but can cost as much as $3500.
If you can’t get the results you want from whitening treatments, you can consider more involved treatments such as dental veneers. Your dentist places a permanent shell over the surface of your teeth. Veneers create a whole new look to your smile. They cost about $250-$2000 per tooth, depending on the material used to make the veneers.
Take-home prescription whitening
Some dentists offer take-home whitening kits. These take longer to whiten teeth than the in-office treatments, but some people find them more convenient. If your dentist uses a system with custom trays, you’ll need to come in to have a mold of your teeth made for the trays. Some systems use ready-made trays.
Your dentist will tell you how many days to use the kit. Most take one to two weeks for full effectiveness. The cost of these treatments is usually $400.
Over-the-counter whitening treatments
There are a variety of over-the-counter tooth whitening products available. You can find strips that go over teeth, gels that you apply with a brush, and kits that use a tray and gel. You can expect to see results after several weeks of use.
Most of the over-the-counter products use a much milder version of the ingredients your dentist uses. They can lighten surface stains if you use them according to the package instructions. The cost varies depending on the type of product you buy. They can range from $4-$100.
American Dental Association: "Whitening."
Consumer Guide to Dentistry: "At-Home Teeth Whitening: Evaluating your DIY Options," "In-Office Teeth Whitening: Professional Advantages, Costs and Options," "Porcelain Veneers – Procedure Costs & Recovery."
Mouth Healthy from the American Dental Association: "Whitening: 5 Things to Know About Getting a Brighter Smile."
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