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What’s The Best Way to Whiten My Teeth?

An overview of different tooth whitener options

By Robert S. Huang Dentist with over ten years of experience
Updated on

Teeth whitening is hardly a new practice. There is evidence of teeth whitening in ancient Egypt thousands of years ago. This whitener was a paste made from vinegar and ground pumice stone. Contemporary dental teeth whitening is a form of cosmetic dentistry commonly traced to the 1980s. In this decade, hydrogen peroxide began use as a means to lighten the shade of teeth. In the ensuing decades, more options have come to market and this diversity has left consumers wondering what the best treatment is. This article will review the typical costs and relative effectivity of the following whitening methods:

  • Over-the-counter teeth whiteners
  • In-office whitening from a dentist
  • Laser whitening

A Few Important Considerations before Trying a Teeth Whitener

Whiteners are designed for use on real teeth, that is to say, your natural teeth and not a crown, veneer, or artificial tooth implant. Additionally, it is important to speak to a dentist before attempting a tooth whitening if you have one of the following conditions:

  • One or more teeth that are very dark in color
  • Teeth that are sensitive to temperature or pressure
  • A bridge or other form or dental restoration
  • Pregnancy or nursing a child

You should also remember that certain behaviors discolor teeth and will reduce the longevity of a whitening treatment. These behaviors include:

  • Drinking red wine
  • Smoking
  • Drinking dark colored fruit juices or eating tomato sauces
  • Drinking coffee or tea

Even if the above behaviors are avoided, it should be noted that whitening does not achieve a permanent result and it must be repeated over time in order to sustain color improvements.

The last consideration for teeth whitening is the fact that it is often not covered by dental insurance. If you expect your dental plan to pay for it, you should review your summary of coverage. If your plan lacks whitening coverage, you can review dental plans in your area to see which ones include this benefit.

Over-the-Counter Teeth Whiteners

Whiteners that can be purchased without a visit to a dental office or the use of a prescription are described as “over-the-counter.” The whiteners are included in toothpastes or sold as strips or gels to be applied to the teeth. These products have been available in pharmacies and groceries for years but how good are they? While they have the advantage of low price (in the range of $10 to a $100 depending on the product), they generally do not deliver the same degree of whitening as experienced in a dentist’s office or through laser whitening. Toothpastes containing whiteners are generally considered the least effective. Strips and gels, in contrast, may lighten teeth several shades over a treatment period of several weeks.

The major brands among over-the-counter whiteners include Crest, Smile Direct Club, ARC, and Lumineux. Additionally, there are store-brand versions of teeth whiteners with similar active ingredients as the brand names but at a lower cost. Strips that are worn on the teeth for a set period (e.g. 30 minutes) are among the most common teeth whiteners.

In-Office Whitening from a Dentist

Whitening treatments received in a dental office use a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide, which may result in greater whitening achieved in a shorter period of time. Likewise, the results may last longer than over-the-counter alternatives.

The whitening process itself may take as little as an hour. The in-office procedure also has the safety advantage of being performed by a dental profession.

The trade-off for the advantages of in-office whitening versus store-purchased is expense. A dentist may charge from $300 to over $1,000 for a whitening treatment.

Laser Teeth Whitening

Some dentists may utilize a laser to enhance the effectivity of the whitening agent applied to the teeth. This practice is known as laser whitening.

Laser whitening may lighten teeth by up to 10 shades. It is commonly regarded as the most expensive among standard teeth whitening options. The cost of the procedure is estimated to be as high as $1,500 for a session, though some practices have prices below $1,000.


Teeth whiteners are considered cosmetic products and receive a lower level of scrutiny from the Food and Drug Association than a medication. Some procedures can have side effects such as tooth sensitivity and gum irritation.