Is Teeth Whitening Right For You?

Looking for a more beautiful, brighter and whiter smile? Whether seeking whiter teeth for a ‘Hollywood’ ready smile or just seeking the confidence of smiling with truly pearly whites when looking in the mirror or social settings, undergoing teeth whitening may be the right procedure. Generally a very easy, simple and usually pain-free endeavor (individual health and existing dental condition may impact sensitivity to the whitening procedure), teeth whitening can brighten existing teeth by removing stains and bring teeth shades lighter.

When contemplating teeth whitening, there are a number of questions that may arise. People generally have concerns about how the whitening process may affect their current teeth, the time it takes to get effective results, cost of the procedure and a whole host of other concerns. While some may generally be familiar with teeth whitening, if done by a dental professional, it is a medical procedure (as opposed to at-home or over-the-counter kits), and thus, people should be well informed about its health impact. The following FAQs attempt to cover some of the top concerns of those contemplating having their teeth whitened.

1 - How does teeth whitening work?

A: There are multiple procedures for teeth whiteners and they can work in several different ways. Most whiteners use chemical ingredients or polishing agents to lighten the exterior surface of a tooth, primarily the enamel, to remove accumulated discolorations. Most whiteners use two types of bleach. Some treatments utilize a combination of heat, lasers or special frequency light along with the traditional chemicals and polishing agents.

2 - What types of teeth whitening treatments are available?

A: The treatments themselves may fall into 3 methods:

  1. In-office – being done at the dental office (and sometimes with at-home follow-up(s)).
  2. Take-home custom trays – these are trays custom fitted in the dental office and which are applied at home.
  3. Over-the-counter – treatments that are purchased from retailers, like a drugstore or via the Internet. Toothpaste advertised as a whitener is not considered as a true tooth whitener because it does not remove stains.

3 -  What follow up treatment is needed?

A: The follow up treatment depends on which of these 3 methods is chosen. Typical follow-up time can vary from 1 month, to 6 months or even a full year. Avoidance of certain foods (like red wine and coffee) and smoking can extend the time needed before additional treatment. If an at-home kit is obtained from a dentist, then the dentist may schedule follow-ups within 1-2 weeks of starting the process in order to monitor progress.

4 - How long does it take to whiten teeth?

A: The length of time it takes to whiten teeth can vary depending on the whitening method chosen. Most methods will produce some results almost immediately. However, these results may not be the full effect desired, and thus, the patient should be sure to follow through with the full treatment plan.

In office visits usually take between 20-45 minutes, with the other at-home versions taking more time (up to several hours at a time) and will offer a specified regimen as part of their procedure. If planning the whitening for a specific event, say like a wedding, then consult your dental professional in order to come up with an appropriate timeline and whitening plan.

5 - What is the impact on current fillings, crowns, bridges and veneers?

A: The teeth whitening process will not greatly impact your previous dental work. Crowns, bridges and veneers can develop stains and some discoloration, just as natural teeth would. However, they tend not to stain or discolor as much as natural teeth. During the whitening process, these crowns, bridges and veneers will lighten some but additional attention may be needed to make sure that they match your current teeth.

With fillings, some whitening may occur, but that largely depends on the type of filling currently in place (e.g., ceramic filling vs. a metal filling). Also, the whitening process does not greatly impact the fillings themselves and no fillings should be displaced by any of the whitening methods.

6 - How does teeth whitening affect enamel and the gums?

A: Studies have shown that whitening products had little to no effect on a tooth’s hardness or the mineral content of the enamel surface. Sometimes, dentist will recommend alternating use of an enamel building toothpaste during the whitening process. The gums are not usually irritated by the whitening chemicals or agents, however some of the strong ones can be irritating to the gums.

Additionally, some gum sensitivity has been reported during use of the whitening trays. Such gum irritation has been found to be the result of an ill-fitting tray. The irritation was relieved with a properly fitted gum tray.

7. What is the cost and does insurance cover teeth whitening?

A: Once again, the method chosen can impact the teeth whitening process. In office, dental visits cost the most because of the technical experience and expertise of the dental professional, while the at-home kits that are done independent of a dental consultation are the least expensive procedures.

Teeth whitening is usually not covered by most dental insurances. Check with your individual insurance provider prior to a dental visit in order to confirm coverage for your desired whitening procedure.

Medical Disclaimer: The information presented on are for general informational purposes only, the writer may not necessarily have medical or scientific training. This information is not reviewed by a physician. Some of these articles may contain information about treatments or the use of a pharmaceutical product that has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment. Results on any service or treatment may vary from person-to-person.

This article should not be considered as medical advice. Do not delay or disregard seeking professional advice from a certified doctor or other qualified healthcare provider. Always speak with a doctor before starting, stopping, or changing any prescribed care or treatment plan. provides this reading material as a helpful resource, but it should never be a substitute for professional medical advice, care, diagnosis or treatment from a medical physician, a certified personal trainer, a therapist, a dietitian, or a nutritionist. If in a medical emergency, call a doctor or dial 911 immediately.