Teeth Whiteners: Your Options and Costs

A whiter smile can make you look and feel younger and more dazzling.

But which teeth whiteners work the best? Here's a rundown on some of the most popular options.

Before you make a decision about teeth whitening, make an appointment with your dentist. Your dentist will be able to tell you about the professional options offered, the costs involved and whether your teeth are good candidates for this process.

Some people’s teeth are already sensitive and whitening could cause them to become more so. Your dentist will also be able to explain possible side effects of over-the-counter methods as well as their effectiveness. Of course, you'll want to keep in mind that your dentist will likely recommend coming in to the clinic for treatment - and may not give you a well-rounded view of all the possibilities available to you.

Because teeth whitening methods vary so greatly, we'll begin with the least expensive and easiest to perform - and continue to the most expensive and time consuming.

What’s the Difference between Bleaching and Whitening?

It is important to realize there is a difference between bleaching and whitening. They are not the same thing. Although both bleaching and whitening will change the appearance of your teeth, bleaching will actually change the shade or color of your teeth while whitening is simply removing dirt and debris as you would with brushing. In most cases, however, the two terms are used interchangeably despite their differences.

You’ll also be interested to know that there are two types of stains which can be found on teeth. Extrinsic stains are self-inflicted when you drink dark-colored beverages such as coffee, tea or red wine or if you smoke. These stains can sometimes be removed by brushing but can require bleaching to remove them if they haven’t been dealt with over many years. Intrinsic stains are the result of trauma, aging and some medicines. Take-home whitening which is used over a long period of time is the best way to reduce or remove these stains.

Now that you know the difference between bleaching and whitening and how stains are formed on your teeth, it’s time to learn about the lesser costing methods to a brighter, whiter smile.

Over-the-Counter Teeth Whitening Methods

Whitening Toothpaste – The cheapest, but often considered least effective, method of teeth whitening you can get over-the-counter is whitening toothpaste. The very fact that you’re brushing your teeth is a form of tooth whitening because you’re removing plaque and debris from your teeth. However some toothpaste contains chemical bleaches or abrasives to achieve some whitening results.

Peroxide is often used in toothpaste to provide a whitening agent. This level is very small because of the potential to irritate the gums, throat or stomach should it be swallowed.

Many toothpaste varieties contain abrasives to help clean the teeth. Those which claim to whiten have added abrasives. Unfortunately the added abrasives can cause damage to some types of dental work you may have had. So it is a trade-off as to whether or not to use them.

Toothpaste varies in price from $3 to $20 depending upon which brand you purchase. Of course the more expensive toothpaste such as Rembrandt or Sensodyne will claim they do a better job of whitening. You will want to do research to see if you can verify those claims before shelling out $20 for a tube of toothpaste.

Whitening strips – These are considered to be the next level in teeth whitening which you can do at home. They can be purchased over-the-counter and will vary in cost from $20 to $45. These are generally used every day in varying lengths of time for two weeks or more.

These flexible strips contain a whitening gel which is ready to use straight from the box. Remove a protective covering, place them on your teeth and leave them there for a period of time. Each brand of whitening strips will give explicit directions as to how to use them and how long they are safe to leave them in place.

One of the benefits of this type of whitening method is the strips are hard to see. This means you can leave them on while talking on the telephone while getting dressed in the morning. You can leave them in place while you commute to work. You can even wear them while you’re shopping until you drop.

Part of the reason whitening strips are considered less effective than other at-home methods such as paint-on and trays is because they can’t get into the nooks and crannies of crooked teeth. The saliva from your mouth can also dilute the gel which means they may not work as well. Strips also have a tendency to slip and they may not be long enough to cover all of your teeth. If you have a very wide smile, you may want to compare the length of the actual strips before making a decision.

Brush-on Whiteners – These are basically pens with a brush or foam tip with which to apply the whitener. This method claims to provide instant whitening but it must be used periodically throughout the day. You’ll have to reapply the whitener after meals to continue having the effect you desire. Cost for this method of teeth whitening is between $13 and $100 depending upon the brand you choose and where you get them.

Whitening Trays – These are considered to be the most effective of the at-home, over-the-counter teeth whitening choices. You can expect to pay $25 to $150 per whitening tray kit. This whitening method requires you to place a whitening gel solution into the tray and then put it in your mouth where it must remain for an extended period. Some trays require use for a few hours while others recommend having them in place overnight. The whitening process is expected to take up to four weeks of continuous use to get the whitening level you desire.

Even though whitening trays are considered to be the most effective of the over-the-counter methods available, having to wear them for extended hours can be uncomfortable. Some people may also have an allergic reaction to the carbamide peroxide which is used in the gel solution. Cost may be another factor in whether or not to choose this method. Using this technique is less expensive than any method offered by your dentist but is considerably more expensive than toothpaste.

Benefits of At-home Whitening

What are the advantages of choosing an at-home teeth whitening process over ones offered by your dentist? There are several benefits of whitening at home:

The main benefit of whitening your teeth at home is that it is considerably cheaper than using the methods offered by the dentist. Rather than spending hundreds or thousands of dollars you can spend to get the whitening results you want.

Whitening your teeth at home means you can do so at any time of the day or night. You don’t have to wait until the dentist’s office hours before you can do something about your smile. This method is much more convenient than professional whitening.

Unlike getting teeth whitening done in your dentist’s office, you can take some in-home whitening processes with you wherever you go. This certainly isn’t a possibility if your sole method of improving your smile is going to the dentist.

Finally, to maintain a bright white smile it is recommended that you repeat the process every four to six months. Since whitening done through a dentist can be quite expensive, you may not be able to do repeat whitening as often as suggested.

Possible Problems of At-home Teeth Whitening

While using any at-home whitening process can give you better results than doing nothing at all to improve your smile, you also want to consider possible problems.

It is recommended that you visit your dentist before beginning any teeth whitening method. Your dentist will be able to evaluate any reasons you might want to avoid using at-home methods.

The possibility exists that you can damage the enamel on your teeth if you use the whiteners too much or incorrectly. Once the tooth’s enamel is damaged it can lead to tooth decay or other dental problems.

Gums can also be irritated by some types of whitening systems. You may also have a reaction to the peroxide on your lips which will make them numb.

Overuse of whitening products can cause your teeth to become discolored. Instead of having a gleaming white smile, you could end up having teeth with a bluish tint. They could be chalky white or all your teeth may not whiten at the same rate which will lead you to have an uneven smile with a “technicolor” effect.

Once you have used a whitening system you have to wait several hours before you can eat or drink anything. Eating or drinking anything but water too soon after whitening can negate the effects of what you’ve spent time doing.

Take-Home Whitening Trays

If you’re not sure over-the-counter whitening methods, including trays, will give you the results you want, your dentist can offer you professional take-home whitening kits. The percentage of peroxide is higher than you can get with over-the-counter systems. Here are the things to consider if your dentist recommends this type of whitening process:

Whitening tray systems offered by dentists are custom-fitted to your teeth. The trays, which cost approximately $100, are made of flexible plastic. They are heated and formed to your teeth at the dentist’s office. Even though you can do the same thing with some over-the-counter system, these trays will fit much better.

Custom-fitted trays from the dentist will make it possible for the peroxide gel/bleach to remain in contact with your teeth. This means it will have the best potential for whitening your teeth.

Since they are formed to your teeth there is little to no chance that the gel will seep out and affect any other parts of the mouth. You won’t have to worry about the bleach irritating your gums or lips.

Dental trays which are custom-fitted prevent anything from getting into the tray. This means you won’t have to worry about saliva from getting under the tray to dilute the gel.

Tray bleaching systems from your dentist can range in price from $75 to $400 or more depending on how many trays or gel are included in each kit. Some trays are a one-time cost while others will require additional components to give you the results you desire.

Dentist provided tray systems also range in time as to how long they take to work. For instance, one system requires use for 30 to 60 minutes once per day over a period of up to 10 days. Other systems require you to keep them in your mouth overnight or for two to four hours twice a day.

In-Office Teeth Whitening Methods

Professional teeth whitening which is done in the dentist’s office is considerably more expensive than anything you can use at home. This includes every over-the-counter or systems purchased through your dentist. You may also want to take into consideration the fact that all teeth whitening is determined to be cosmetic and will not be covered under any dental insurance.

When you talk with your dentist about in-office whitening, you may hear them called by several different names. You may hear the terms power whitening, professional whitening, power bleaching, or chair-side whitening.

BriteSmile – One of the most gentle of the in-office whitening systems, BriteSmile uses a process of applying gel to the teeth and then illuminating them with a blue light. This is done in three 20-minute treatments meaning you’ll spend about an hour in the dentist’s chair. The hydrogen peroxide gel has concentrations of 15 to 25% which will maximize the results. The cost is generally around $600 but can cost nearly $200 less if you pay for the treatments ahead of time.

Opalescence Boost – This method of teeth whitening uses a sticky bleaching gel which contains 38% hydrogen peroxide. It will take up to two hours for this process to be complete and it costs $500. Unlike the BriteSmile system, no extra lighting is required to activate the gel.

Sapphire Professional Whitening – For those with sensitive teeth and gums, this method might be the best choice for you. It takes about an hour for the 25% hydrogen peroxide gel and enhancer which desensitizes the user. Whitening Crystal lighting is also required for the system to work. This process costs $500.

Zoom Chairside Whitening – Using both a 25% hydrogen peroxide gel and a specialized lamp, this process will take approximately one hour. The peroxide is applied to the teeth and the light is used for about 15 minutes up to three times per treatment. If you gag easily, this may not be the best method of teeth whitening for you.

When you’re ready to go home, this system provides a home-use kit with custom-fitted trays to help you keep your bright, shining smile longer. The take-home kit along with the in-office treatment costs $500. Teeth whitening isn’t a process recommended for children under the age of 13 and should be avoided if you’re pregnant or lactating.

Deep Bleaching – Out of all the teeth whitening systems mentioned, this is the most expensive and takes the longest amount of time to achieve results. However, dentists offering this type of whitening claim it will result in permanent whitening as long as maintenance is continued. The cost is anywhere from $800 to $3,500 but most people pay about $1,250. Maintenance gel is obtained through the dentist and costs less than $10 for each overnight treatment.

Deep Bleaching is a multi-step process. The first step is to get impressions of your teeth and gum line so they can create custom-fitting vinyl trays. Since the trays go up to the gum line, the gel is kept in the tray and won’t irritate the gums. There also isn’t a chance saliva will mix with and dilute the gel which means it will work better. This first step takes half an hour.

You’ll return to visit the dentist and go through the second step which is making the teeth permeable to oxygen. This will take an hour and is accomplished by desensitizing the teeth followed by a low-level of hydrogen peroxide. The same procedure is repeated after the tray and teeth are cleaned.

The third step occurs over two weeks. The trays are sent home with you along with enough carbamide peroxide gel to last when used overnight for those 14 nights. You then return to visit the dentist who completes the fourth step.

When you return to the dentist’s office, the 27% hydrogen peroxide gel and power bleaching session lasts about one hour. This last dental visit step will result in the maximum amount of bleaching you’ll be able to achieve.

Maintenance is done at home from that point on. It is recommended that the system is used overnight once every one to three months. Of course, if you drink red wine, coffee or tea on a regular basis you may need to use the trays every two weeks rather than every one to three months.

Porcelain Veneers – If you’d like to be able to ensure your teeth remain white for the remainder of your life, you may want to consider this option. However, you do need to know this is the most expensive of all teeth whitening methods.

This method for permanent white teeth involves your dentist taking a cast of your teeth and creating a thin porcelain veneer which is permanently bonded with your teeth. You should be able to eat whatever you like, but excess sugar is to be avoided as they can damage the veneer. You can expect to pay between $700 and $1,200 per tooth in order to achieve the white smile you desire.

Advantages of In-Office Teeth Whitening Systems

These systems provide the most effective, quickest teeth whitening available today.

The gel used in these systems uses a higher concentration of peroxide as well as added fluoride and potassium nitrate. The in-office whitening bleach or gel used today doesn’t cause the tooth and gum sensitivity problems of gels from the past.

If you’re searching for the safest form of tooth bleaching, you’ll want to consider those offered in-office by dental professional

Having any teeth whitening procedure done in a dental office will give you confidence that you’re getting the correct type of peroxide. You’ll be sure you’ll receive the right percentage to give you the results you want. You can also be sure you won’t have to worry about the gel damaging your teeth.

Disadvantages of In-Office Teeth Whitening Systems


The biggest disadvantage of using an in-office whitening system for your smile is the cost. Prices can be as high as $650 for each whitening treatment. When you compare those costs to the whitening trays you can purchase from the dentist and take home to use as well as those you get over-the-counter.

There is no guarantee any whitening method is going to work for you. Many factors can affect whether or not the whitening will work such as how old you are, what type of stains have to be removed and the role hereditary plays in color of your teeth.

No matter how good the whitening method used, the only way to avoid having to repeat the whitening process is to stop eating and drinking things which will create the stains. To maintain the whiteness of your smile you’ll have to follow-up with another procedure within four to six months or use a different method which will boost the whitening later on.

Is There a Way to Prevent Teeth Staining?

After looking at the above information describing the various methods of whitening your teeth and how much they cost, you may be wondering if there is a way to prevent staining in the first place. Fortunately there is much you can do avoid stains on your teeth if you’re willing to use them. Of course, the earlier you start combating the stains the better your results will be.

* Baking soda is often added to toothpaste in order to help remove minor stains. If you don’t currently use toothpaste with baking soda, you can mix baking soda with water to create a paste and then use this to brush your teeth. Follow this with your regular toothpaste to get the best results.

* Dark beverages such as soft drinks, coffee, tea and red wine are often the culprits which cause the most stains on teeth. Smoking cigarettes will also tarnish your teeth and require you to find a way to whiten your smile. By removing these items from your diet and daily habits, you can avoid a large amount of stains.

* A balanced, healthy diet is good for your teeth as much as it is the rest of your body. Cut out the junk food, candy and chocolate to ensure your teeth will remain whiter as well as reducing the risks of tooth decay.

* Certain antibiotics will yellow your teeth if they are used. The best way to combat this problem if you have to take these antibiotics is to discuss your concern with your dentist. They will be able to advise you on the best way to handle any possible stains resulting from antibiotic use.

* Take care of your teeth. The better care you give your teeth the longer they will last. By brushing at least twice and flossing daily, you can remove possible plaque buildup. This will also keep your teeth healthy so you don’t have to worry about cavities.

* Be sure to see your dentist twice a year for cleaning. Follow their instructions and you’ll have a healthy smile for years to come.

People want to have a whiter smile for many reasons. Some feel they need a bright white smile for their vocation. Others simply want stain-free teeth in order to feel their best. No matter what the reasons for considering teeth whitening, you’ll want to consider all of the options before you.

The cheaper methods to whiten your teeth can be done in the privacy of your own home. These whitening systems include things as easy as using a whitening toothpaste to purchasing whitening trays with costs anywhere from $3 to $25. You can also choose from in-home, dentist provided tray systems which can be more expensive. Finally, there is the various in-office whitening processes which can cost as much as $650 or more depending upon which method you choose.

Teeth whitening options and costs vary so much you’ll have plenty to think about. Since teeth whitening isn’t covered under most dental insurances, you’ll definitely want to consider costs when making your decision.

Are you guaranteed each of these methods will give you the results you want? Absolutely not, but by reading this report you can know you have valuable information which will assist you in making the best decision based upon the teeth whitening options and costs associated with each one.

The health of your teeth isn’t something to take chances with. To make the best possible decision about whether or not teeth whitening is the right choice for you, it would be wise to speak with your dentist. Explain your desires for a white smile and discuss the options they can whole-heartedly recommend based on their relationship with you and their knowledge of your dental needs.