How does teeth whitening work?

  • before-teeth-whitening
    Before chair-side teeth whitening with Zoom.

Having a beautiful smile starts with having white teeth. Unfortunately, our teeth turn yellow due to aging and diet. Teeth whitening helps reverse this darkening effect, giving us a whiter and brighter smile. So how do teeth whitening products work? Almost all teeth whitening treatments use high concentrations of Carbamide Peroxide or Hydrogen Peroxide. The peroxide becomes activated when it comes into contact with our teeth' surfaces. It penetrates deep into the teeth to break down the internal stains. The yellowness is removed from your teeth and you're left with a whiter and brighter smile.

What are my options for professional teeth whitening?

There are many different effective ways to whiten and brighten your smile. Here are a few of the most common teeth whitening techniques you may come across"

  • Teeth whitening toothpastes
  • Peroxide-based mouthwashes
  • Do-it-yourself bleaching trays, such as Crest Whitestrips
  • Take home custom whitening trays
  • Professional tooth whitening at the dentist

It's always a good idea to discuss your whitening treatment with your dentist beforehand. It's important to identify what is causing your teeth to turn yellow before seeking treatment. Additionally, factors such as tooth sensitivity, teeth stains, gum recession, existing restorations, etc. need to be taken into consideration before bleaching your smile.


There are many different effective options to whiten your smile

What are the advantages of whitening my teeth at the dentist?

If you want the absolute whitest teeth results then you should talk to your dentist. Whitening treatments offered by the dentist are far more effective than over-the-counter alternatives. This is because only your dentist is allowed to use the highest concentrations of Peroxide bleaching solutions. High concentrations of peroxide can be very dangerous if used unsupervised. They can cause your gums to burn or lead to tooth sensitivity which may be permanent. Talk to your dentist about your different teeth whitening options to see which is best for you.


Only dentists are allowed to use the highest concentrations of Peroxide whitening solutions

How does in-office teeth whitening work?

Teeth whitening at the dentist is referred to as in-office teeth whitening. It so happens that this is the most effective way to bleach your teeth. In-office teeth whitening is simple, quick, and extremely effective. Plus, the entire procedure is typically performed in about one hour. Expect your teeth to become several shades whiter after treatment. Here's a brief overview of what to expect during your in-office teeth whitening appointment:

Preparation for Teeth Whitening

First, your dentist will examine your teeth to make sure that you're a good candidate. They look for any fillings or crowns which may interfere with the bleaching process. They also make sure that your teeth are not too sensitive and identify exposed root regions that must be protected during the bleaching process.


A barrier is placed to protect your gums from the Peroxide gel prior to whitening treatment

Isolating Your Teeth

Typically, the majority of the teeth whitening process is performed by the dental assistant under the direct supervision of your dentist. Your dental team will start off by isolating the gum tissue. This is done by placing a barrier to separate the teeth and gums. This barrier protects your gums against the harmful effects of the strong bleaching gel.

Bleaching Treatment

After isolating your gums, your dental team will carefully apply the whitening gel to teeth surfaces. They will pay close attention to make sure that the bleaching gel is applied evenly to all teeth surfaces planned for whitening. The bleaching gel remains on your teeth for the duration of the treatment. This typically ranges from 15 minutes up to one hour. Most bleaching systems also make use of a UV or LED light. This special light helps accelerate the breakdown of the bleaching gel to make it even more effective. You will remain in your chair until the whitening process is complete. If your teeth start to hurt, call your dentist right away. They will either give you a break or terminate treatment if necessary.

Post-op Instructions

You're now officially done with your whitening treatment. Your dental team will remove the whitening gel and barrier from your mouth. Feel free to rinse and spit and take some time to clean up your mouth. You're ready to show off your beautiful, pearly whites! But before that, be sure to follow the post-op instructions. This includes things like not smoking, drinking coffee, and abstaining from food items that stain teeth for the next several days. For more comprehensive instructions on what to do after teeth whitening treatment click here.

How do take-home custom whitening trays work?

Custom take-home trays are among the best way to whiten your teeth. Your dentist will make custom bleaching trays that fit snuggly to your teeth. These custom trays are made from moldings of your teeth. They are designed to whiten your teeth at the convenience of your own home. Here's how take-home teeth whitening trays work:

Fabricating Custom Trays

Custom trays need to fit precisely to your teeth to work properly. Your dentist will fabricate custom whitening trays using scans or impressions of your teeth. They leave just enough space on the trays to accommodate the bleaching gel. Custom trays sit snugly against teeth and directly apply the right amount of whitening gel to teeth surfaces.


Example of a custom teeth whitening tray

Wearing Custom Trays

Start by brushing your teeth thoroughly and cleaning them. Carefully insert the bleaching gel into your custom bleaching trays. Apply the gel evenly onto areas planned for whitening. Typically, this includes the front surfaces of your front six to ten teeth. Position the trays gently against your teeth. Make sure not to contaminate the gel with excess saliva. Gently remove any excess gel that pours onto your gum tissue to prevent irritation. Allow the custom trays to sit in your mouth as per the bleaching manufacturer's recommendation, or until you experience tooth sensitivity. Wear times vary for different whitening gels. They can range anywhere from 15 minutes up to several hours. Repeat the whitening treatment for a few consecutive days for optimal results.