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Professional Teeth Whitening at the Dentist: Costs and Best Methods

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how to whiten teeth professionally
Are you looking for the best teeth whitening in the UK?

Professional teeth whitening at the dentist is a quick way to get a whiter smile, but is it the best whitening method for you? While some people appreciate the safety benefits of whitening treatment administered by a trained professional, others find prices prohibitively high.

So, is the cost of professional whitening really worth it?

In this article we explain several professional teeth whitening options and the pros and cons of each one. Find out how much teeth whitening costs at the dentist and how long it takes to see results. And if you decide it costs too much to get your teeth whitened professionally, we also have some suggestions for alternative methods.

We hope this information helps you decide on the best teeth whitening treatment for your needs.

Professional teeth whitening options in the UK

dental teeth whitening
Find out what dentists use to whiten teeth

There are several popular methods that dentists use to whiten teeth. But before we examine these in detail, let's quickly look at how teeth whitening works so you can understand what's happening when you get your teeth whitened with a dentist.

How do dentists whiten teeth?

Whichever treatment you choose, the teeth whitening process involves applying a bleaching agent (often hydrogen peroxide) to remove stains and give teeth a whiter appearance.

Qualified dental staff are allowed to use higher concentrations of peroxide than you'll find in over-the-counter teeth whitening kits, which means professional whitening can deliver better results.

External teeth bleaching

how do dentists whiten teeth
The bleaching ingredient whitens the yellow dentin

Most cosmetic teeth whitening works by applying a bleaching agent to the outside of the tooth. The hard outer layer of enamel is naturally translucent, and it's the yellow dentin beneath which actually gives teeth their yellowish colour. The whitening product soaks through the enamel to lighten the dentin, which in turn makes the teeth appear brighter.

Dentists use lasers, LED lights or other products applied to the teeth to accelerate the whitening agent and make the teeth whitening process faster. Although these methods can produce almost instant results, there is little evidence that they make teeth any whiter in the long run than a take-home bleaching kit with professional strength gel.

Internal teeth bleaching

It's also possible to apply bleach inside the tooth. This method is used to whiten a single tooth that has become discoloured, for example as a result of root canal work.

This procedure involves making a small hole in the tooth and inserting the bleaching agent into the affected area. The hole is closed with a temporary filling and the bleach is left for a while before being removed. This process can be repeated until the tooth becomes lighter.

In this article we are focusing on external cosmetic whitening techniques that lighten all the teeth at once. If you have a single discoloured tooth, speak to your dentist about the options for internal whitening.

Benefits of visiting a dentist for whitening

Although the cost of teeth whitening at the dentist is higher than at-home alternatives, there are a number of safety benefits from being treated by a professional:

dental whitening process
A barrier protects the gums from the bleach
  • The dentist will check you're a suitable candidate for whitening. If you have inflamed gums or tooth decay, for example, whitening is not advisable.
  • For in-office whitening your gums will be protected with a seal or shield.
  • Mouth trays are custom-made to fit your teeth properly and ensure even gel coverage.
  • The dentist controls your treatment intensity and duration to produce the results you desire.

There is also a higher level of patient satisfaction for whitening carried out at a dental clinic. A 2018 report found that 69% of patients were ‘happy' or ‘very happy' with their results – compared to just 42% of those who had used a home whitening kit. Dissatisfaction with home whitening is generally due to lack of results or tooth sensitivity.

Ask a dentist: Why get in-office whitening treatment?

Most home whitening kits just do superficial work, cutting down on surface stains. It could take up to a month to see any results, and your teeth are going to get maybe three or four shades lighter. At-home trays that you can get at the dentist’s office are more effective, but you will still have to wait a week or two to get results.

With laser teeth whitening, the procedure doesn’t take much more than an hour, and you get long-lasting results. It uses light-activated bleaching, and just one appointment can get your teeth eight shades lighter. You aren’t going to get that kind of immediate result from a home whitening kit.

Dr. Alexei Aguil, Exquisite Dentistry

Note that only registered dental professionals are allowed to carry out tooth whitening in the UK. It's illegal for places like beauty salons to whiten teeth (or even provide professional-strength whitening kits) unless there is a dentist present. Only dental professionals have the correct training to know what to do if something goes wrong during your treatment.

How long does teeth whitening take?

As you will see below, the best professional teeth whitening methods can show results with just an hour of treatment in the dentist's office. You may need several visits to the dentist to achieve the desired results, so the total time to whiten teeth can be a few weeks.

If you opt for a professional bleaching kit, you should start to see results after a few days of daily use but treatment will continue for around 10-14 days.

Laser teeth whitening

This form of whitening, also known as “laser bleaching” or “power whitening”, uses lasers to accelerate the bleaching effect of a concentrated gel applied to the teeth.

laser teeth whitening cost
Bright light speeds up the whitening process

Laser teeth whitening costs more than other methods, but it's also the closest you'll get to “instant” teeth whitening. If quick results are your main concern, this could be the best professional teeth whitening method for you.

The first step of the laser teeth whitening process is to apply a seal or shield to protect the gums. Then, the teeth are coated with a bleaching product – usually containing hydrogen peroxide. A laser shone on the teeth during treatment makes this whitening technique so quick and effective.

The results of laser whitening should be clear after just one visit, but your dentist may recommend repeating the process to achieve the results you desire.

Because laser whitening is such an intensive method, there is a greater potential for sensitivity following treatment. This should subside quite quickly but can be uncomfortable for some patients and extremely painful for others.

Zoom teeth whitening (LED)

An alternative whitening procedure that takes place in a dental surgery is Zoom whitening. Using technology from Phillips, this works in a similar way to laser whitening but instead uses LED lights to accelerate a whitening agent.

checking teeth shade
Dentists use shade guides to measure progress

LED teeth whitening systems like Zoom are not as intense as laser treatment so you might need more than one session to see the results you want, although Phillips claim they can whiten teeth by up to 8 shades in an hour.

With Zoom chairside bleaching, each session takes 45 minutes to one hour, with the light applied for two or three 15-minute periods. This can be followed by a course of home teeth whitening treatment to prolong the results.

LED whitening has largely replaced UV whitening since it's safer and proven to be more effective. It's UV light that causes sunburn and skin cancer, so using it in the mouth can damage gums, cheeks and lips.

Zoom teeth whitening review

To give you a better idea of what this whitening treatment involves, here is a video review from a lady called Em who had Zoom whitening at the dentist. She explains the process in detail and shows each step as it happened, so it's interesting to watch if you're considering having this treatment.

Em says that she has always had discoloured teeth and she's “really happy” with the natural looking results from her professional teeth whitening.

She had a full scale and polish a week before the treatment to get her teeth in the best condition for whitening. Her follow-on treatment involved using gel with mouth trays for 30 minutes, twice a day, for three days. The only sensitivity she experienced was on the second day of using the trays.

Professional bleaching kits

The best way to whiten teeth professionally at home is with a kit provided by your dentist. These apply professional tooth whitening gel to your teeth using custom-made plastic trays (like mouthguards). Because the gel is administered by a qualified professional, it's allowed to be much stronger than any over-the-counter whitening products.

This treatment begins with a visit to your dentist to take impressions of your teeth. These are used to create your custom trays, which will fit snugly in your mouth and ensure even coverage of the gel.

Gel for whiter teeth
Kits come with syringes for inserting gel into trays

Once your trays have been made, you'll return to collect them. Your dentist might begin the treatment in-practice or may just show you how to use your kit at home.

Some kits come with pre-filled trays, but most include one set of trays and several gel-filled syringes. Your dentist will tell you how much gel to use for each application. Don't be tempted to exceed this in the hope you'll get better results – gel can easily leak out of overfilled trays and damage your gums.

Depending on the type of treatment, trays can be left on for 30-60 minutes or up to eight hours. The latter is useful for people who don't have time during the day to wear their trays as they can leave them in overnight while they sleep.

Take-home bleaching kits might be the best teeth whitening method for you if you want the benefit of professional supervision but you don't need the instant results provided by more expensive in-chair whitening treatment.

Each dentist will have their own opinion on the best teeth whitening gel to use, and may only offer one particular product through their practice.

Summary of dentist teeth whitening costs and options

In this table you can see a summary of how much it costs to get your teeth whitened at the dentist using the different methods we've mentioned.

Product Laser whitening (power whitening) LED whitening Take-home bleaching
Approximate cost £500 - £1,500 £200 - £700 £150 - £700
Treatment takes... 1 hour, 1 or more sessions plus optional take-home kit 1 hour, 1-4 sessions plus optional take-home kit 3-4 weeks with 2-3 dentist visits; 30 minutes - 8 hours for each home treatment
Results appear... straight away straight away but build up during treatment 3-14 days
Comments Intense whitening procedures can cause greater sensitivity Whitening trays can be used at home following this procedure to maintain results Begins with 2-3 dentist visits and is completed at home; 8-hour treatment can be done overnight

Remember, these prices include:

  • The expertise of a qualified professional
  • Specialised technology
  • High-quality, concentrated whitening ingredients
  • Assistance if you experience sensitivity or any other problems

Additional work such as hygiene treatments and fillings will incur extra charges.

How much is teeth whitening at the dentist?

As you can see from the table above, professional teeth whitening at the dentist costs anywhere from £150 to £1,500 – depending on the procedure you choose.

professional tooth whitening
What kind of results do you want?

Laser teeth whitening costs the most because of the technology used, but offers the most drastic results quickly. At-home dental whitening costs less because you're spending relatively little time in the dentist's chair.

Note that the main benefit of laser and LED whitening over take-home trays is the speed at which they produce results. If you are happy with more gradual whitening, a take-home bleaching kit will still give good results over the duration of the treatment.

It's worth getting quotes from more than one dentist, since professional teeth whitening costs vary from one clinic to another according to a number of factors.

Another way to save money on professional teeth whitening is to get your treatment abroad. Dental treatment is considerably cheaper in countries like Spain, Turkey and Thailand. If you're planning a holiday to one of these locations soon, you could save hundreds of pounds by getting your teeth whitened there instead of in the UK. Read more about getting dental work abroad here.

How much does it cost to get your teeth whitened on the NHS?

single tooth discoloured whitening
NHS teeth whitening may be available for cases like this

Teeth whitening on the NHS is only offered in certain circumstances where it is considered a medical need.

For example, if your tooth nerve has died and one tooth is considerably discoloured, you may get treatment on the NHS. In this case, treatment would be via internal bleaching. Each case is assessed individually, so speak to your dentist to find out if you might be able to get teeth whitening on the NHS.

Does dental insurance cover the cost of teeth whitening?

Most insurance policies don't cover any kind of elective cosmetic procedures such as professional tooth whitening. If you are being treated as an NHS patient, however, this will be covered under your normal NHS treatment policy allowances.

Some dental payment plans, arranged directly with a local dentist or a chain of clinics, offer a fixed percentage discount off all treatments including cosmetic whitening. It's probably not worth starting a payment plan for this saving alone, but it could be a bonus if you already have this kind of plan in place.

How do I find professional teeth whitening near me?

Not all dentists offer cosmetic tooth whitening, and those that do each have their own preferred methods and brands. It's easy to look online for a teeth whitening dentist near you and enquire about professional whitening costs.

Your first step will be to have a consultation so the dentist can assess your suitability for your chosen teeth whitening procedure.

If you have dental caries or a inflamed gums, you'll probably need treatment for this before getting your teeth whitened. The strong bleaching products that dentists use can easily lead to increased inflammation or sensitivity if used on patients with untreated dental problems.

Alternatives to in-office whitening

The main downsides to professional teeth whitening at the dentist are the cost and inconvenience. If the prices mentioned above seem high to you, or if you simply don't have the time to spare for several dental visits, an at-home teeth whitening kit could be a good alternative.

cheap professional teeth whitening kit
A cheaper alternative to teeth whitening with a dentist

Although home kits don't give you the assurance of a dental professional administering your treatment, they are safe to use as long as you choose a good quality one and follow the instructions carefully.

One teeth whitening kit we recommend is this one from Smile Avenue. It's manufactured in the US and conforms to EU standards for cosmetic whitening products.

The results may not be as drastic as laser or LED whitening at the dentist, but you should see a difference after just a few days of use. Of course, this kit is much more affordable than in-office teeth whitening. For a limited time you can save an extra 10% by entering the discount code DENTA10 at the checkout, plus you get free shipping as standard!

Find more about at-home whitening kits in our full guide or read our full review of Smile Avenue's kit. It's available to buy on Amazon, too.

You could also consider a home whitening kit from Snow. This American brand has earned a great reputation for its professional whitening kits, including one with revolutionary wireless technology. They're a bit more expensive than some others you can buy online, but they come with a year's worth of treatment.

Professional teeth whitening costs and options: conclusion

If you want fast results, laser whitening and LED whitening can whiten teeth by several shades in just one hour. A bleaching kit supplied by your dentist is a more affordable way to achieve good results while still under the supervision of a dental professional.

All of these methods of professional teeth whitening at the dentist cost hundreds – or even thousands – of pounds, so people wanting a cheaper way to get whiter teeth might try a home whitening kit instead. There are many brands of kit available, and if you do choose this option, it's important to use a kit that adheres to strict quality regulations.

Our complete guide to teeth whitening to has more information about kits and other teeth whitening methods (including some natural techniques) as well as how to care for your whitened teeth and make your results last longer.

Professional Teeth Whitening at the Dentist: Costs and Best Methods
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Amanda Napitu
Amanda Napitu
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Amanda specialises in writing informative content about dentistry. She has been a regular contributor to Dentaly.org since 2017, and collaborates with dozens of dentists to keep this content accurate and up-to-date.
Dr. Alexei Aguil
Amanda Napitu on Website
Dr. Alexei Aguil, DDS founded Exquisite Dentistry in Los Angeles in 2006. Specializing in transformative smile design, he gets to know each of his patients personally so he can understand how to make a difference to their smiles and their lives. Dr. Aguil is a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentists (AACD), a faculty club member at the prestigious Spear Education Institute, and one of the nation's top Invisalign dentists.
British Dental Association. Teeth whitening. Consulted 27th May 2020 Oral Health Foundation. The definitive guide to illegal tooth whitening. https://www.dentalhealth.org/news/the-definitive-guide-to-illegal-tooth-whitening Consulted 16th March 2019 Dentistry.co.uk Forty per cent of Brits ‘unhappy with their teeth’. https://www.dentistry.co.uk/2018/02/05/40-unhappy/ Consulted 16th March 2019