Teeth Whitening At The Dentist: Procedure & Cost

professional teeth whitening at the dental office

Are you short on time and need a quick, dramatic smile makeover? Same-day teeth whitening at dentist office treatments are a great option to consider. When you compare in-office teeth whitening at dentist cost to the price of something like veneers or Invisalign, you’ll see “more bang for your buck” in the least time possible.

In-office whitening treatments give you same-day results at a modest price point. If you need to make a great first impression for a last-minute job interview or plan on getting married next weekend, a same-day, professionally applied whitening system can help your smile look its best (without making you go broke.)

Is teeth whitening at the dentist cost-effective? Same-day (“in-office”) teeth whitening at dentist offices is one of the quickest ways to get the brightest smile possible. Most people see several shades of improvement. It can also help you to save money on the overall cost of your smile makeover or future cosmetic dentistry treatments. Newer treatments such as bonding or crowns can be matched to your whiter smile for optimal overall results. Ask your dentist about the most effective application method for your unique smile.[1]

Is It Worth It? 

The teeth whitening at dentist cost makes it a relatively price-savvy and affordable option. Especially compared to other types of dramatic smile makeover treatments, like dental veneers. You can basically whiten your teeth for half the cost of a single dental veneer (give or take depending on the cost of living and the materials used.) The modest investment impacts your entire smile, as opposed to treating it tooth-by-tooth.

If you’re considering getting a smile makeover, most dentists will recommend whitening your teeth first anyway. And since whitening is both cost-effective and predictable, a lot of people find that they actually don’t need additional cosmetic treatment on top of bleaching their teeth. Especially if your bite is already pretty straight. And if they do, you can incorporate other minimally-invasive, affordable options like bonding or recontouring to adjust the overall symmetry of your smile.

But if you do plan to add onto your whitening with other cosmetic treatments, the brighter baseline will make it easier to match more conservative treatments to your smile’s color. So yes, the teeth whitening at dentist cost is totally worth it. One of the fastest ways to get your smile as white as possible is to schedule an in-office whitening session.

Professional Whitening In-Office Procedures 

Getting teeth whitening at dentist office vs. home is quite different than the take-home trays you might be used to. Instead of wearing a set of trays an hour a day for two weeks, the entire process is jump-started and completed in about an hour and a half. It takes a two-week process and rolls it all into one day.

Your dental team will use a shade guide to measure the color of your teeth before and after treatment to see exactly how many shades brighter your teeth get. The average treatment provides about 6-8 shades whiter, but results vary from person to person.[2] Results are also dependent upon the type of stain inside of your tooth enamel.

ZOOM! Whitening

ZOOM! Whitening is probably the most popular type of same-day whitening treatment. This system works by using a light-activated bleaching gel that oxidizes stain particles to instantly brighten your teeth. Typically, the process will look something like this:

  • Teeth polish is used to remove superficial staining
  • A protective coating is placed over your gums to prevent contact with the gel
  • The bleaching agent is brushed onto each tooth
  • A bright light is directed at your teeth for 15 minutes
  • The gel is rinsed away
  • The application is re-applied 2-3 more times, depending on the results

Opalescence Boost

You might already be familiar with Opalescence, since it’s one of the most popular take-home whitening brands. But they also have an in-office version called Opalescence Boost. Opalescence Boost is a “light-free” bleaching method that’s chemically activated and whitens without UV light. So, if you’re sensitive to heat or the bright lights, Opalescence Boost is a great alternative to ZOOM! Especially if you tend to have hypersensitive teeth. Whitening without light-activated gel tends to be gentler on some people’s enamel.

Cost Of Professional Whitening Dental Office Whitening

So now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: How much does teeth whitening at dentist offices cost? Sometimes you can get lucky enough to have it wrapped into a new-patient special or discount. But if you’re paying for it out of pocket, the price of in-house teeth whitening at dentist practices can range from around $300 to $1,000. The price will depend on things like where you live (cost of living expenses) and the type of product that’s being used. Again, sometimes providers will combine the price into some type of a package deal, like with Invisalign or dental implants. You may even be able to find it priced as low as $199 or $299. It certainly never hurts to ask your dentist if they’re running any special offers.

Average Cost Of Professional Whitening Treatment

Professional Whitening Treatment Average Cost
Single Session Whitening Treatment$300 to $500
Two Sessions Whitening Treatment $400 to $1,200
Custom Take-Home Trays (with whitening gel) $150 to $600
2x Treatment + Custom Take-Home Trays $800 to $3,500

Does Insurance Cover Professional Teeth Whitening Services?

No - teeth whitening is not covered by dental insurance. As an elective cosmetic procedure, you’ll have to pay for it out of pocket. But teeth whitening at dentist offices is still one of the most affordable ways to get a same-day smile makeover.

The modest price for teeth whitening can actually be less than your co-pay for cosmetic porcelain crowns or something that is covered by your insurance. By brightening your teeth ahead of other restorative procedures, you give your dentist the ability to choose whiter shades of porcelains or ceramics. Those treatments can’t be bleached out later. Investing in the whitening as an elective procedure could potentially help you save money by limiting the extent of additional restorative treatments in the future.

What Is Laser Teeth Whitening?

Laser teeth whitening doesn’t actually use lasers, per se. Lasers require special certifications and are used on things like drill-free fillings and gum disease. But “laser whitening” does use a light-activated teeth whitening process that speeds up stain release by combining UV light and gels designed for stain oxidation. When the light is applied it helps the gel work more quickly, which is why the process only takes one appointment.

Essentially the peroxide inside of the teeth whitening gel, combined with specific lighting, breaks up stain particles in the pores of your teeth. Without the lighting, the gel would work at a slower pace. If you remember the catalyst process you learned back in middle school science, the light is what’s acting as a catalyst.[3]

(Don’t feel bad if you don’t remember that far back; catalysts are substances that speed up chemical reactions between other elements.)

When you use a laser whitening method for teeth whitening, the light is speeding up a process that would otherwise take hours. It’s what separates at-home whitening trays from a same-day whitening treatment. Since the light is so bright, a lot of people just refer to it as a laser. After all, lasers use light energy to do what they do.

Pros & Cons Of Laser Teeth Whitening

Pros

  • Completed in as little as 1-1.5 hours
  • Results up to 7-8+ shades whiter
  • Compliments healthy teeth
  • Can be used as a stand-alone cosmetic treatment
  • Teeth whitening at dentist cost is lower than other aesthetic services
  • Regular touch-ups keep teeth white
  • Priced lower than dental veneers or crowns

Cons:

  • May cause sensitivity
  • Often requires a home kit to maintain results
  • May need to whiten at home to get teeth a little bit brighter
  • Costs more than a take-home whitening system
  • Costs 2-3 times more than whitening trays
  •  

Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

Teeth whitening at dentist offices is extremely safe for adults and older teens. As long as it’s administered by a professional and in the correct manner, you don’t have to worry about anything physically damaging your teeth. However - whitening on your own at home, using DIY methods, or using excessive amounts of product can be bad for both your teeth and gums. Especially if you have underlying dental disease or gum recession.

The safest way to whiten your teeth is to have it applied by your dental team in the dentist’s office, or to have them fit you with a set of trays and to follow your instructions exactly as directed. Using the right application process and appropriate amount of gel is key to both results as well as comfort.

All teeth whitening at dentist offices use FDA-approved products that are safe and effective when used as directed. Including same-day “laser” whitening products such as ZOOM! Whitening.

Who Shouldn’t Get Teeth Whitening Treatment?

Teeth whitening is not recommended for anyone with:

  • Active gum disease
  • Untreated tooth decay
  • Hypersensitive teeth
  • Excessive erosion or gum recession
  • Tooth-colored restorations across their front teeth

Now, if you’re planning to update dental work in your smile zone, then yes, your dentist may say “Hey we need to whiten your teeth first, so that the new crown/bonding/filling will match the brighter shade of your enamel.” Because those types of restorations can’t be bleached into a lighter shade later on. Once they’re there, they stay that color. And if you have an active cavity your dentist can put a temporary filling there, have you whiten, and then change the restoration out with something more permanent.

If you do fit any of these do-not-bleach categories, that isn’t to say you won’t ever qualify for whitening. But infections like active periodontitis or decay do need to be treated before you can bleach your teeth. And if you have generally sensitive teeth your dentist may be able to adjust the type of gel and application method to give you a gentler alternative (such as a take-home kit with a much lighter concentration of gel.)

Also: Whitening is not recommended for children in most cases. When it is, it’s usually better to go with a gentler over-the-counter teeth whitening strip than a stronger in-office application. That’s because as their teeth are developing, the nerves are still quite large and hypersensitive. If you apply whitening gel to a developing tooth, it can create unnecessary hypersensitivity. If your teen is super self-conscious about their tooth color, ask your dental team about what’s most appropriate for their specific needs.

How Long Does Teeth Whitening Last?

Teeth whitening at dentist’s offices will outperform any product you can buy online or in a store. Most people will see results for up to a year or longer (even a few years.) But if you’re a person who drinks a ton of coffee or tea, you may only be able to keep your smile white for a few months without extra help. To help keep your teeth whiter, longer, you’ll need to adjust a few of your habits and have a touch-up kit at home to maintain your treatment.[4]

Typically, if you’re getting same-day teeth whitening at the dentist, they’ll also set you up with an optional take-home kit that includes a pair of trays and whitening gel. What you want to do is touch up with a few applications every 3-6 months (depending on your teeth) and it resets your level of whiteness since there isn’t much stain there. When you maintain with your home kit, you can basically expect to be able to keep your teeth white for years on end. Especially if you’re whitening after each of your six-month dental cleanings.

Causes Of Tooth Discoloration 

There are a dozen different reasons why someone’s teeth can stain or start to look discolored. Some of those causes can be addressed with professional teeth whitening at dentist’s offices while others may require more reparative tooth treatment like a root canal and crown. Understanding why your teeth look the way they do can help you figure out whether same-day whitening is the right cosmetic treatment for your situation.[5]

1) Food & Drinks

Dark liquids are probably the #1 cause of most tooth stains (at least next to tobacco products.) Anything that would stain a white t-shirt can also stain your teeth. That means liquids like red wine, coffee, tea, diet soda, sports drinks, or you name it. And chances are that if you’re drinking one of those, you probably sip on it on a daily basis.  The accumulated stain from drinking coffee every morning of your life will definitely affect the overall color of your teeth. Darker foods such as berries, tomato sauces, and curries can also pose a challenge.

2) Genetics

Some of us just naturally have darker teeth than other people. The way our teeth develop and the thickness of our enamel has a lot to do with it. Since the layer of tooth under your enamel — which is called the dentin — is naturally yellow, it’s normal for it to be more prominent in someone with thinner enamel or teeth with a thicker overall size (such as your canines/eye teeth.)  Keep in mind that just because adult teeth look more yellow than baby teeth when they start to come in, that’s more due to the fact that baby teeth don’t have that same dense dentin underneath their outer enamel. Tooth anatomy characteristics are definitely something you can inherit from your parents, so if they had dark teeth there’s a good chance you might as well.

3) Aging

Whether we like it or not, our teeth naturally start to look darker the older we get. All of the foods, drinks, and environmental situations we’ve put them through can start to take a toll. When you add tooth wear on top of that, the combination of staining and enamel erosion can actually make us look older than we really are. And if you have existing dental work like fillings, you’ll probably see additional staining around their margins once it gets closer to the time to change them out.  

4) Tobacco Use

Tobacco products can cause some of the darkest and heaviest teeth staining. It can actually be really difficult for your dental hygienist to even clean it off. Special tools such as an air polisher or electric scaler can still take several minutes to lift the outermost layers of stain from your enamel. But tobacco staining can also soak into your tooth, requiring whitening agents to help erase it. It doesn’t matter which type of tobacco product you’re using; each one of them can cause stains. One is not “better” or “less bad” than another.  

5) Pregnancy

A lot of women experience weird cravings and food aversions during pregnancy. When your diet gets thrown off or you’re eating differently, you might see some weird tooth stains that you’re not used to. On top of that, you may have a sensitive gag reflex that prevents you from cleaning your teeth as well as you usually do. Visible stain and tartar can begin to accumulate after just a couple of weeks, so you may see signs as early as your first trimester due to symptoms from morning sickness or fatigue.  

6) Medication, Vitamins, And Supplements

Certain types of prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and holistic supplements can stain your teeth. One example is an antibiotic called tetracycline, which used to be prescribed fairly regularly but doctors stopped using it as often because it was discovered to cause permanent tooth discoloration. It wasn’t that the medication caused stain on teeth that were already erupted; it affected developing teeth in children, or even in babies when the medication was given to an expectant mother. Even today there are some medications — like chlorhexidine, which we ironically use in the dentist’s office — that can cause temporary tooth staining. Should your dentist or oral surgeon prescribe it, only use it as directed.

7) Fluoride

It is possible to have too much of a good thing. In this case, it’s fluoride. Although fluoride — like any other mineral — can be found in the foods we eat, too much of it can be unhealthy for teeth and bones. Particularly if you’re ingesting it. Maybe you’re on well water and the soil fluoride levels are extremely high, or you’re chugging a bottle of fluoride mouthwash every month. In either scenario, it can cause anatomical irregularities in your teeth and bones. Hyperfluorosis is when there’s too much fluoride. It makes your enamel physically pitted, misshaped, or have brown spots all over it. The disfiguration occurs while the teeth are developing and the condition becomes evident once the adult teeth start to erupt.

8) Cancer Treatments  

Unfortunately, cancer treatment can significantly affect your teeth. It’s common to see an increase in xerostomia (dry mouth) and tooth decay, both of which can contribute to tooth discoloration.  If you’re taking any prescriptions by mouth or avoiding using a toothbrush due to nausea, those factors are likely to play a role.

9) Swimming

Some people — not everyone — who swim in chlorinated pools on a regular basis can see tooth staining on their enamel. Usually, it’s more common in kids who swim all summer long, or athletes who lap swim a few days a week. The stain tends to be closer to the front of the mouth, likely due to water coming into contact with your teeth while you’re breathing or blowing out air. Fortunately, the stain is only superficial.

10) Trauma & Nerve Death

Any time you get hit in the mouth, it puts you at risk for tooth death. Traumatic injuries like those during athletic activities, a slip in the bathroom, automobile accident, or even a kid butting their head into your mouth can cause a lot of pain. But the long-term effects may not be visible for years or even a decade. If your tooth begins to suddenly turn darker than its neighbors, it’s likely that some type of nerve death is going on inside of it. The enamel usually looks more brown, grey, or blue than it’s supposed to.

11) Tooth Decay

Cavities don’t always cause brown or black spots on teeth, but they can. Especially if they’re large. Since decay can rupture through small grooves or pits, there may not even be a visible “hole” that you can see. Look for other symptoms such as sensitivity to certain foods, floss catching on the tooth, or pain when you bite down. But bottom line, if you have a tooth that’s discolored you need to get it looked at before something abscesses.

How To Prevent Tooth Discoloration

No matter how powerful the teeth whitening gel is that you’re using, there’s always the risk of your teeth getting re-stained over time. Especially if you have certain lifestyle factors like drinking red wine, getting 2-3 cups of coffee every morning, or if you just haven’t given up smoking.[6] Fortunately, there are effective ways to prolong your results and avoid serious discoloration all over again.

Schedule regular cleanings. Your hygienist will polish away any superficial stain and help you re-set your smile. After these visits is an excellent time to touch up if you have a home whitening kit.

Rinse with water every time you drink something dark like red wine, tea, or coffee. It won’t completely prevent staining, but it will reduce how many of the stain particles soak into your enamel.

  • Drink through a straw. This technique limits contact time of darker liquids with your front teeth.
  • Use an electric toothbrush and an occasional whitening toothpaste to help prevent staining and effectively remove excessive particles from your tooth surfaces.
  • If you smoke or vape, work with your doctor to develop a cessation plan.
  • Lifestyle factors such as supplement use may need to be adjusted based on time of day and when you’re brushing your teeth.
  • For people who see teeth staining after heavy lap swimming, rinse your mouth out with water and brush thoroughly following your workout.
  • Replace outdated dental work once it shows signs of leakage, and always treat tooth decay as early as possible.
  • Avoid high acidic diets, which can thin your enamel and lead to a more pronounced yellow hue in your teeth.

Professional Teeth Whitening Recap

Opting to get teeth whitening at dentist offices is a fast and cost-effective way to make a big impact on your smile’s appearance. The teeth whitening at dentist's cost can vary between $300-$800 on average. When you want quick results, in-office laser whitening can be completed in as little as an hour to an hour and a half. Compared to cosmetic treatments that require multiple appointments or cost thousands of dollars, same-day whitening can be an easy way to initiate your smile makeover before committing to anything too complex.

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