Professional vs. At-Home Whitening: What are the Advantages of Each?

Teeth Whitening Options:

Having whiter teeth is a goal for many people, whether they’re trying to address cosmetic issues resulting from dental problems or just age or diet-related yellowing. Whiter teeth can help you make a better first impression in your work and social life, and help you feel confident. For most people, discoloration or yellowing of teeth happens naturally with age and time, but it also can be hurried along if you drink or eat things that stain your teeth. Smoking is a big culprit for yellow teeth as well.

While there are DIY at-home teeth whitening kits on every drugstore’s shelves, often with very convincing ad campaigns and promises, there are also risks and negative results that can happen when you whiten your teeth at home. Professional dental whitening is another option for our patients, but it can be intimidating to think about getting whitening done at a dentist’s office.

We’ll explain the differences between the two approaches and help you decide which one is best for you.

Treatment Differences

There’s a wide variety of at-home whitening kits, which can include trays, strips, gels and bleaches. Most are a one-size-fits-all treatment that, on average, can help you get whiter teeth slowly, over the course of weeks or months. In fact, if an over-the-counter whitening product promises you immediate results, beware: It’s likely either not true, or relies on too-harsh bleaches that can damage your teeth and gum tissue.

Usually, at-home whitening kits require you to wear trays or strips for a set amount of time daily. Tray-type products need a few hours a day, while strips can sometimes be worn for just a few minutes daily. It’s common for users of these products to experience increased tooth sensitivity and gum (gingival) pain during the treatment period, according to the American Dental Association.

The whitening process in our dental office is also not immediate, but it typically takes just two weeks to complete a course of whitening treatment. We use trays that are custom-fit to your teeth, which allows us to get much more effective results than at-home kits. And, sensitivity or pain shouldn’t be a problem, as we carefully adjust the right amount of bleaching agent for your teeth. If you do experience these side effects, we are able to manage them in-office safely and effectively.

How In-Office Whitening Works

If you have professional whitening done in our office, the first thing that happens is taking impressions of your teeth. These are used to create stints or trays specially for you. A perfect fit to your teeth helps achieve the best possible outcome, and the trays are ready in just a few days.

Your Monterey Peninsula Dental Group dentist will give you a bleaching agent to use in the trays, and this will gradually brighten and whiten your teeth over the next two weeks. We recommend wearing the trays each night for 3-4 hours. The trays are clear and unobtrusive, and most patients say they’re unnoticeable by other people.

Some patients choose all-over tooth whitening, while others do just their upper teeth. As the bleaching agent works, it will remove stains from your tooth enamel, while leaving your tooth structure and any existing dental work alone. Patients often see significant brightening even from day to day.

Once the treatment is over, and your desired brightness is achieved, we’ll provide you with additional bleaching agent to use once in a while to maintain the white of your teeth. This is only needed occasionally after your whitening is done. For more on how we approach whitening, see our explanation of it here.

Cost Concerns

Professional dental whitening is often more expensive than at-home treatments, especially when comparing it to the low end of the at-home whitening products. Typical store-bought whitening kits can be as little as $20, and go all the way up to a few hundred dollars, depending on the type of product, the brand, and the quality.

On average, in-office whitening treatments are more in the $300-$600 range, and you should know that most dental insurance plans don’t cover the service because it’s considered a cosmetic procedure. However, if you’re paying entirely out-of-pocket, some discount dental plans or group insurances can get you a break on the cost of teeth whitening and other cosmetic services.

Risks of At-Home Whitening

Certain at-home whitening products can harm your gums and teeth in the long run, especially the lower quality ones. Gums can shrink back and dry in response to harsh bleaches, which makes you more prone to infection and eventual tooth decay. We especially caution patients who have extensive cavities or untreated dental problems against at-home whitening kits, because the bleach can extend into cavities and damage the tooth structure permanently. It also can damage nerves, cause toothaches, and lead to stomach problems.

Patchy or spotted teeth are also a common result of over-the-counter whitening, because the bleaching trays aren’t customized to fit just your teeth. So any irregularities or different angles or shapes can cause the bleach to stick only in some places, which doesn’t happen with professional whitening.

Our Dentists Can Help You Achieve the Best Whitening Outcome

If you want to use at-home whiteners and aren’t sure about what to choose, ask one of our dentists at your next appointment. We can help you understand the best products & teeth whitening methods and inform you about correct application of over-the-counter whitening systems. Whether you choose our professional teeth whitening treatment or an at-home option, we think it’s important to keep you and your teeth healthy!

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