Ballpark Estimate: $20 to $2,000+
Over the past several years, the popularity of teeth whitening has grown significantly, particularly the over-the-counter treatments that have mushroomed in sales at many retail outlets. Manufacturers offer a variety of kits that contain a myriad of whitening products and claims that, in the process, have left potential consumers with a bewildering choice of products and techniques. Even worse, most of the information consumers receive is purposely designed to sell the product in-hand, not medically accurate information on what treatment really works the best.
Why Aren’t My Teeth White?
The most common causes of teeth enamel discoloration or stains are usually from coffee, tea, smoking, and large amounts of cola drinks. Aging can also cause discoloration, as can chemical damage to the teeth, medications, and even genetics. To assist those who are looking for a brighter smile, the marketplace is saturated with in-home teeth whitening systems that make use of various toothpastes, gels, strips and so-called trays or mouthpieces.
First of all, all toothpastes possess a mild abrasiveness that can lighten some surface stains. But, the so-called “whitening toothpastes” that claim to whiten your teeth because they contain peroxide have such a low concentration of the bleaching agent, and such brief contact with the surface of the teeth that it is a relatively worthless treatment for anyone seriously considering tooth whitening.
Probably the most important point to remember when searching for any teeth whiteners is that for all whitening systems the bleaching agent must be of sufficient strength to do the job. And that agent is carbamide peroxide. If a dental whitener doesn’t contain an acceptable level of carbamide peroxide it won’t give you satisfactory results. As a rule, whitening gels should contain from 10% to 22% carbamide peroxide. The most popular strength is 16% because full strength may cause unnecessary tooth and gum irritation.
At Home Treatments
One of the least expensive over-the-counter treatments is the brush-on whitening gels. For this treatment, a peroxide-based gel is applied directly to the teeth with a small brush. Generally, this is done twice a day for two minutes after which it is rinsed away. The treatment period could last for a week or more depending on the results. This treatment, when properly performed, can achieve only a small, relatively imperceptible one-shade color change. Although product claims are contradictory, this form of whitening is relatively disappointing and for that reason not considered a good way to go. Cost: $20 to $90
One other at-home treatment is the whitening strips. They are very thin strips coated with a peroxide-base whitening gel. Twice a day one must apply the strips to the teeth for about 30-minutes. Generally, this is continued for around 14 days. Again, the strength of the peroxide is the critical factor. There is a little discomfort in this treatment and it can achieve a one or two-shade difference that could last up to four months before it has to be repeated. Cost: $25 to $60.
For the older at-home non-moldable tray procedure, one must fill a mouthpiece-like form with a whitening gel that contains a peroxide-bleaching agent. Then the mouthpiece is inserted in the mouth, placed over the teeth, and worn for a period of time, generally from a couple of hours to all night for up to a month. The problem with this system is that since the “one-size fits all” mouthpiece is not custom-made to fit precisely on the teeth, the whitening gel does not provide maximum contact with the surface of the teeth, and additionally, some may leak out to irritate the gums. Despite its drawbacks, this treatment is reported to achieve a 1-3 shade color change to the teeth that could last up to four months. Cost: $20 to $30
An improved version is called the Boil and Bite Tray Bleaching System. For this treatment, a person must suspend the mouthpiece in hot water for about 10 seconds so that it becomes soft and moldable. The mouthpiece is then placed in the mouth and by using the fingers on the front and the tongue for the rear; it’s shaped to fit the contours of the teeth. After it has cooled the mouthpiece is tested for fit, reheated if necessary, and reshaped. Peroxide-based whitening gel is then placed in the mouthpiece and worn for the prescribed time. Cost: $20 to $80
Another at-home option is one where you can make impressions of your teeth with a paste mixture supplied with the whitening kit. The impressions are then sent to the manufacturer who will mail you the home-made custom-fitted mouthpiece. Also provided in the kit is a 30-day supply of whitening gel. Cost: $80 to $114
Also offered is a system where gel is applied to the non-molded mouthpiece, after which a person will insert a blue-light “plasma bulb” into any household lamp and sit in front of the bulb for a half hour. One company has spas in several states where you can get this treatment while watching TV or listen to music for 20-minutes. Cost: At home $70 – Spa treatment – $380
Dental Office Treatments
Custom-made mouthpiece-trays formed by impressions in a dental office can provide the best results because of the maximum contact of the gel to the surface of the teeth. Results can be up to ten or eleven-shades. Cost: $300 to $600
Professional Laser Teeth Whitening treatments in a dental office provide the most effective way to achieve excellent results. This treatment, although the most expensive, will give the results you were looking for. For laser whitening the dentist will apply a professional grade peroxide gel directly on the surface of the teeth (usually 15% to 43%). Then the gel is exposed to a special light which speeds up the chemical reaction of the agent and can whiten the teeth to over eleven-shades almost instantly. The entire procedure usually takes about one hour. This process may have to be repeated if stains are deep. Cost: $400 to $2,500
- Brush-on Whitening Gel – $20 to $90
- Whitening Strips – $25 to $60
- At-Home Non-Moldable Tray Kit – $20 to $30
- Boil and Bite Tray Bleaching System – $20 to $80
- At-Home Teeth Impression Kit – $80 to $114
- At-Home Blue Light Treatment – $70
- Spa Blue Light Treatment – $380
- Custom Made Mouthpiece Trays – $300 to $600
- Professional Laser Teeth Whitening – $400 to $2,500
Remember, teeth whitening is not covered by most dental insurance and since one can experience some irritation or discomfort to the gums, it is strongly advised that you consult your dentist before attempting any of these procedures.