Before You Go
Questions to ask your doctor:
- Are my teeth in good condition to receive a bleaching treatment?
- I have sensitive teeth. Can I get teeth bleaching?
- Can I have professional teeth bleaching if I've been using do-it-yourself kits on my own?
- Will using at-home kits before a professional teeth whitening session increase tooth sensitivity to the chemical bleaching agent?
What To Expect
For at-home kits, strips of peroxide are applied to the teeth and are left to dissolve there. These bleaching strips have a fairly low concentration of peroxide, and require a several applications before the whitening is effective. Some at-home kits include trays which rest on the gums and deliver a slightly higher dose of peroxide.
At a dentist's office, there are more options. One is an application of high-concentration hydrogen peroxide, which has a greater effect than at-home strips and can show results after just one session.
More advanced versions of this procedure include the use of custom-fitted trays, which can carefully deliver high doses of peroxide, and so-called "laser tooth whitening," which uses high-frequency light to enhance the oxidative power of the hydrogen peroxide.
Who should do it: Most pharmacies carry tooth-whitening kits; go to a dentist for the more powerful stuff. Licensing requirements vary from state to state. In some states, only a licensed dentist may perform bleaching with a high concentration of peroxide, or using a laser.
In other states, though, the rules are more lax, which explains the existence of laser-whitening mall kiosks.
Duration: If you're having professional teeth bleaching, the peroxide solution is allowed to soak into your teeth at 20 minute intervals, up to three times an appointment. If you have sensitive teeth, speak up - you'll want to cut back to shorter intervals.
The whitening strips in home bleaching treatments can remain on your teeth for more than an hour at a time since the bleach level is much lower.
How Painful Is It?
No matter the bleach delivery method, hydrogen or carbamide peroxide is likely to leave the teeth sensitive for a few days, and can also be very painful during treatment. "Zingers" (quick, sharp stabs of pain) are a common complaint.