Whether you feel self-conscious because you have yellowed teeth or you just want to look your best, teeth whitening is a quick and effective way to brighten your smile and gain increased confidence in your appearance. Tooth whitening, a cosmetic dentistry treatment, eliminates discoloration and stains on the teeth, and brightens the natural pigmentation of the teeth. If you are interested in revitalizing your smile, there are both professional and at-home treatments available. Regardless of which treatment option you choose, you can expect your teeth to be noticeably brighter after treatment.
While there are a number of over-the-counter methods available, you should consider consulting with an experienced dental professional if you are considering whitening your teeth; he or she can recommend the most effective treatment for you and educate you on the risks, benefits, and cost of treatment. View our gallery of teeth whitening patients, or read on to learn more about procedure and the cost of treatment.
Teeth whitening is best suited to patients that have yellowing teeth or surface stains. The ideal teeth whitening candidate has expectations that correspond with the scope of the treatment. You may want to consider another treatment if you are expecting results that are:
- Completely Predictable: You should be aware that one of the risks of teeth whitening is that the results are not 100 percent predicable. The results are unique to each patient.
- Instant: While teeth whitening typically provides relatively quick results (about an hour with in-office whitening, and a week or two with at-home whitening), it is possible that more than one treatment may be necessary to completely bleach the teeth.
- Permanent: The results of teeth whitening may fade over time, especially if a person smokes or drinks a lot of coffee, tea, or red wine.
Though a fast and effective treatment, the results of teeth whitening are not 100 percent predictable, nor are they instant and permanent. However, for individuals with realistic expectations that are seeking a quick, non-invasive, effective treatment for whitening their teeth, both in-office and at-home procedures are available to meet their needs.
Gum and Teeth Sensitivity
While most teeth whitening systems minimize gum and tooth sensitivity, a person who normally has sensitive teeth and gums is more likely to experience irritation during or after professional bleaching. If you have sensitive teeth and gums, teeth whitening may not be the right treatment for you. Possible alternatives include the placement of porcelain veneers or dental crowns, or dental bonding treatment.
Professional Teeth Whitening
The professional teeth whitening process begins with a minor cleaning and removal of any plaque along the gum line. Once this has been accomplished, a peroxide based gel is applied to the teeth. This gel contains a professional strength formula that ensures the laser accomplishes the maximum possible amount of teeth whitening.
Next, a special light is used to activate the gel. The process usually takes about an hour, and whitens teeth by as many as 10 shades. Costs for the procedure vary from dentist to dentist, but, typically the results from professional laser teeth whitening manufacturers such as Rembrandt® and Zoom!® are very similar. In extreme cases, the laser teeth whitening procedure may need to be repeated to address deep stains caused by medications such as tetracycline.
Visit the DocShop gallery to view more teeth whitening before and after photos.
Photo credit: Bismarck's Center for Laser and Cosmetic Dentistry
Professional Teeth Whitening Costs
As with any type of new technology, professional teeth whitening costs continue to become more affordable every day. Many dentists even offer reduced prices for professional teeth whitening services as a way of attracting new patients to their practice.
Among most patients, laser teeth whitening costs are usually secondary to the convenience afforded by the procedure. In the current market, you can expect to spend between $300 and $2,000 depending on the teeth whitening system used, the technology, and the degree of whitening necessary to achieve the desired result. Costs can fluctuate depending on what area of the country you live in and the amount of competition in your area.
At-Home Teeth Whitening
Many patients who are interested in receiving professional teeth whitening results, but don't have the time to schedule several dental appointments opt for customized whitening trays from their dentist. Patients first visit their dentist for a check-up to ensure that they do not have any cavities or excess plaque buildup. This is a necessary stage as teeth whitening gel can cause damage to weak or decaying teeth. Once this is complete, the dentist will make impressions of the teeth to be used in creating a whitening tray tailored to your specific needs. In addition, they will provide a peroxide-based teeth whitening gel to use with the trays. The strength of this gel will vary based on your specific cosmetic goals and sensitivity level.
After receiving the trays, it is up to the patient to decide when, where, and how often to wear them. Many teeth whitening regimens are designed to be worn overnight, but your dentist may offer options for daytime use. It is recommended that the trays are worn daily to receive optimal results as quickly as possible. Typically, results can be seen in as few as two weeks.
At-Home Teeth Whitening Costs
The cost of at-home teeth bleaching kits can vary greatly depending on the specific product. On average, a professional teeth whitening gel with customized trays can cost anywhere from $100 to $800. However, many cosmetic dentists use teeth whitening promotions to bring in new patients. Over-the-counter products are typically less than $100.
Over-the Counter Options
Patients who are budget-conscious or do not have time to visit their dentist may opt for over-the-counter whitening strips or gels. These types of teeth whitening products can be found at most grocery, drug, and retails stores, and range in price from $15 to $60. Products such as Crest Whitestrips® are available in various strengths. Depending on the specific product chosen, patients can expect results in anywhere from one week to a month. These products are worn for up to an hour daily. Although they do not offer the same whitening strength as professional at-home bleaching kits, over-the-counter products do produce noticeable results.
Teeth Whitening Systems
If you are interested in brightening your smile, teeth whitening products such as Britesmile® and the Zoom!® and Rembrandt® tooth whitening systems are high quality options that produce dramatic results. These treatments can be administered by your cosmetic dentist in-office in approximately one hour.
Zoom!® Teeth Whitening
The Zoom!® teeth whitening system is known for its speed. Zoom!® is considered to be one of the fastest teeth whitening systems available and it was designed to fit into patients' busy schedules. Zoom!® is both an in-office and at-home teeth whitening option. If your cosmetic dentist administers Zoom!® tooth whitening in his or her office, your teeth can look eight shades brighter in one hour. If you select the at-home option, your teeth can look three shades brighter in only three days. During a Zoom!® teeth whitening session, the dentist applies a tooth whitening gel containing hydrogen peroxide to each tooth. Laser light is then shone on the teeth; this causes the hydrogen peroxide to break down, letting oxygen into the teeth and whitening them. The cost for Zoom!® teeth whitening depends upon the dentist and area of the country, but generally ranges from $500 to $1500 for an in-office teeth whitening treatment.
BriteSmile® Teeth Whitening
BriteSmile® is a teeth whitening system that uses whitening gel in conjunction with gas plasma light in order to whiten a patient's teeth. BriteSmile® produces dramatic results in very little time; it can brighten teeth up to nine shades in one in-office visit; or, if the at-home option is selected, BriteSmile® can be used with custom fitted trays for two hours of whitening per day or overnight. The trays will lighten teeth up to six shades over a time span of several weeks. Like the Zoom!® tooth whitening system, the BriteSmile® in-office process takes effect when laser light reacts with the whitening gel. This light operates in the low level, blue-green spectrum and is absolutely safe for patients.
Rembrandt® Teeth Whitening
The Rembrandt® teeth whitening system combines the power of a "Sapphire" Plasma Arc Light with patented teeth whitening gel in order to brighten teeth by 8 to 10 shades. As with the Zoom!® and BriteSmile® teeth whitening systems, Rembrandt® teeth whitening takes approximately one hour to complete in-office. Rembrandt® also has an at-home option with custom fitted trays. The trays will whiten teeth in as little as a few days to a couple months, depending on the amount of whitening necessary. Whether you choose the Rembrandt® teeth whitening system in-office or at-home, you can be assured of dramatic results.
After you meet with a cosmetic dentist to discuss your teeth whitening goals, he or she will give you an estimate on the cost of the treatment. Most dentists accept a variety of payment options, including local and national lending institutions. Should you care to pursue tooth whitening financing through a national lender such as CareCredit®, you will submit an application to the individual lender, and have a monthly payment plan set up to make your dental treatment affordable and easy. Ask your dentist about financing options and he or she will be happy to help facilitate a plan that works for you.
Side Effects and Risks
There are some side effects and risks associated with the teeth whitening procedure. These include:
- Gum Sensitivity: One of the more common problems with teeth whitening is that it can cause gum sensitivity, particularly if the patient is already prone to sensitive gums. Gum sensitivity can result if the whitening gel comes into contact with the gums. Though irritating, gum sensitivity is temporary, and can be greatly mitigated with experience and a proper treatment plan. Experienced cosmetic dentists will take great care to ensure that your gum tissue is not exposed to the bleaching gel.
- Varied Results: While teeth whitening treatment almost always achieves beautiful results, it is important to remember that the results are not 100 percent predictable. Rather, the degree of whiteness a patient will achieve depends on several factors, including:
- The patient's degree of discoloration
- Whether the patient wears the whitening trays as directed (in cases of at-home teeth whitening)
- The patient's lifestyle and dietary habits
- The teeth whitening system that is used
- The number of treatments undergone (if multiple treatments are required)
- Diminished Results: Patients should be aware that their results may fade in the months and years following professional teeth whitening. Unlike porcelain veneers, which are stain-resistant dental prosthetics, the natural teeth retain the ability to absorb stains, and a patient may need another whitening treatment in the future to maintain his or her appearance. This can be especially true if the patient smokes, drinks tea, coffee, or red wine, or takes certain medications that discolor the teeth.
The teeth whitening procedure offers many benefits. These include:
- Beautiful Results: A dazzling, white smile is the hallmark of professional teeth whitening. Whether you choose in-office or at-home teeth whitening - such as Zoom!® teeth whitening - the results are amazing and can take years off your appearance. This is because whitening systems:
- Penetrate the enamel to bleach deep-set stains that over-the-counter systems are unable to address
- Are controllable, allowing a cosmetic dentist to adjust the level of whitening to meet the patient's needs and goals
- Can complement porcelain veneers, Invisalign®, and other treatments for a complete smile makeover
- Convenience: Teeth whitening is convenient, whether you choose at-home or in-office bleaching. At-home systems allow you to whiten your smile in the privacy of your own home and do not require a lengthy dental visit. Typically an at-home system will be used over the course of several weeks; though treatment requires more time, it is still effective. Alternatively, in-office whitening usually achieves results in just an hour or two, and you can leave the dentist's office with a dazzling new smile. The results of in-office teeth whitening are often slightly more dramatic than at-home treatment as well; in some cases, teeth can be whitened by up to eight shades in just an hour.
- Non-invasive: Bleaching is also non-invasive, making it a tremendous option for patients with dental anxiety and those who are seeking results without having to undergo cosmetic surgery. Though porcelain veneers and dental crowns can also transform a smile, it comes at a greater cost and requires greater commitment on the patient's part.
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