Whiter teeth are on the top of many people’s wishlists, and there are a lot of options out there. Patients’ choices range from budget-friendly over-the-counter products to pricier treatments at a dentist’s office. No matter what the budget, it’s important to weigh how much teeth whitening costs with several other factors. Depending on the person—and their teeth—each whitening option may differ in its convenience, how well it works, how quickly results will show, and how long those results will last.
How Teeth Whitening Works
All teeth whitening treatments use basically the same method. Chemical agents such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide are used on tooth enamel to remove stains and lighten the color of the teeth.
Whitening agents are usually in a liquid or gel form. It can be on one side of an adhesive strip that is attached to the teeth. It can also fill a mold or tray in the shape of the top or bottom teeth, which is then placed on top of the teeth. Or it can be painted directly onto the enamel with a small brush. When the chemicals come in contact with discolored teeth, they start to break down and dissolve the stain.
When we compare treatment options, the main differences are in the strength of the chemicals used. Dentists are qualified to use stronger bleaching agents than those available for home use. They may also have infrared or laser instruments to enhance or speed up the results. These tools, along with the dentist’s expertise, come with a higher price tag than over-the-counter teeth whitening products. It’s also worth noting that neither professional nor at-home teeth whitening lasts forever. Any treatment will need to be repeated occasionally to keep teeth looking their best.
Budget-Friendly and DIY Options
Low-cost options for teeth whitening can be found in the dental care aisle of any drug store. Whitening toothpaste and rinses are the cheapest. They use mild chemicals and abrasives that can help lighten some stains. They don’t have much power though when it comes to more stubborn discoloration.
Teeth-whitening strips are popular and can be purchased for about $20 to $50. The chemicals are stronger than in toothpaste, but still not as powerful as what a dentist uses. It can take months of steady use to see measurable results.
Bleaching kits come in a number of varieties. Some include trays in which whitening gel is placed. The trays then fit over the teeth. Other kits come with agents that are “painted” onto the teeth using a small brush or pen.
The results of any do-it-yourself process will depend on how much time and care a person takes to do it properly. And despite marketing claims, there can be a wide range of effectiveness from one brand to the next. Considering how much teeth whitening can cost, some people are quite happy with the results they get from these less expensive options. They also like the convenience of doing it according to their own schedule and in the privacy of their own home.
On the other hand, severely discolored teeth might need more help than what these weaker chemical agents can provide. Repeated use to get good results will increase the total cost and may also harm teeth and gums.
For a patient on a very tight budget, it might make sense to try having their teeth professionally cleaned first. Often, the dentist can polish away superficial surface stains, especially those caused by staining from coffee, wine, or certain foods. Consider, too, that dentists recommend professional cleaning twice a year for good teeth and gum health. Plus, most dental insurance includes it along with regular checkups.
Teeth Whitening Costs at the Dentist’s Office
Professional teeth whitening is a service offered by many dentists and has become the most sought-after cosmetic patient request. Seeing the dentist for teeth whitening is more expensive than doing it at home. Treatment typically starts at about $500 and can cost upwards of $1000.
Some aspects of dentist-supervised teeth whitening make the higher cost worth it to some patients. Dentists use chemicals solutions that are often twice as powerful as those found at the drug store. A higher percentage of hydrogen or carbamide peroxide often means more noticeable results in a shorter time.
Teeth whitening chemicals be harsh for the teeth and gums. Do-it-yourself products used incorrectly can result in tooth sensitivity or irritation. A dentist can ensure the safety of the treatment to make sure there is no damage. It’s also important that teeth whitening is only attempted on healthy teeth. Even if whitening at home, a dental checkup should come first to be sure there are no cavities or other conditions that will cause a bad reaction to whitening chemicals.
What to Expect from Professional Teeth Whitening
Teeth whitening procedures at a dentist’s office typically follow these steps:
- First, there will be a thorough dental exam and professional cleaning.
- To protect the gums from the strong bleaching agents, a liquid resin or rubber-like barrier is applied.
- The whitening peroxide gel is applied to the teeth and allowed to sit for 15 to 30 minutes.
- The dentist may use a special tool (for example Zoom! or Laser technology). This helps to activate the chemicals for quicker results.
- The teeth are cleaned off, and the gel is reapplied and sits for another 15 to 30 minutes.
- This process might be repeated a few more times during the visit.
- Additional visits might be necessary until the teeth achieve the desired color.
Why Results Vary So Much
Aside from how much teeth whiting costs, there is another factor to consider in deciding which method is best. It is important to know what type of stains are on the teeth and what caused them. Certain treatments work better for some discoloration, and unfortunately, some won’t work at all.
Teeth can become dingy for a number of reasons. The causes for turning yellow, brown, or grey fall into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic causes come from outside sources, while intrinsic causes come from within the body.
The most common extrinsic causes of tooth discoloration are food and drink. Wine, coffee, tea, berries, and tomatoes can all stain teeth. Smoking or chewing tobacco is another extrinsic factor. All of these respond well to most attempts at teeth whitening. Other extrinsic causes like illnesses or drugs, especially antibiotics, might change the color permanently. There can be little a dentist can do to whiten teeth with those problems.
Intrinsic causes also can result in permanent tooth discoloration. Tooth decay can turn a tooth brown or grey and nothing can be done about it. Heredity and aging can also play a part in someone’s natural tooth color, making it hard or impossible to lighten.
Another thing to remember is that whitening agents work on tooth enamel, but not on man-made materials. So any fillings or crowns will not change color no matter what product is used. It’s helpful for a dentist to know if a patient getting dental work plans to whiten their teeth in the future. This way they can customize the filling or crown to match what the whitened teeth will look like.
Teeth Whitening Costs are Just One Factor
The wide range of teeth whitening costs can have some patients confused about which method to choose. Remember that cost is not the only factor. It’s wise to choose the method that will get the best result for the type of staining that is on the teeth. A dentist can help determine what caused the discoloration in the first place and what will work to fix it.
If you need a dentist in your area, use our online search tool. Our dentists can steer you to the best over-the-counter options, or whiten your teeth for you.