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 a 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 cover several professional teeth whitening options, including laser whitening and zoom whitening, and explain the pros and cons of each one. Find out how much teeth whitening at the dentist costs and how long it takes to see results. If you decide it costs too much to get your teeth whitened professionally, there are some alternative methods to consider, too.
We hope this information helps you decide on the best and safest teeth whitening treatment for your needs.
Table of contents
- 1 Professional teeth whitening procedures in the US
- 2 Laser teeth whitening
- 3 Zoom teeth whitening (LED)
- 4 Professional teeth bleaching kits from the dentist
- 5 How much is teeth whitening at the dentist?
- 6 How do I find professional teeth whitening near me?
- 7 Alternatives to in-office whitening
- 8 Professional teeth whitening costs and options: conclusion
Professional teeth whitening procedures in the US
There are several popular methods that dentists use to whiten teeth. Before examining 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. This means professional whitening can deliver better results.
External teeth bleaching
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 color. 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 applied over a longer period.
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 discolored, for example as a result of root canal work.
Internal teeth bleaching involves the dentist 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. If you have a single discolored 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:
- The dentist will check that you’re a suitable candidate for safe teeth 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 notable time advantage with in-office procedures. The American Dental Association (ADA) states that “while OTC products are less expensive than at-home or in-office approaches, there is a time trade-off in that OTC products may take significantly longer than do either of the other options for whitening.”
Note that although laws vary by state concerning who can legally carry out tooth whitening, the ADA recommends all bleaching is performed or supervised by a professional.
“Dental professionals are responsible for managing patient care, and are a key resource on oral health to the public at large. Consumers may pursue tooth bleaching without understanding the risks of treatment or the factors that may affect treatment success or failure. For optimal safety and to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment, examination by a dentist is necessary.” explains the ADA.
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 continues for around 10-14 days.
How long does professional teeth whitening last?
Professional teeth bleaching results vary for each person according to:
- The original shade of your teeth
- The whitening method used
- How well you care for your teeth after whitening
- The kinds of food and drink you consume after whitening
Teeth can stay lighter for 2-3 years following professional whitening. However, results will diminish sooner if you don’t keep your teeth clean or you consume a lot of foods and drinks that cause teeth to stain. We have some information on how to avoid yellow teeth in a separate article.
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 that is applied to the teeth.
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 is what 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. Any sensitivity should subside quite quickly but can be uncomfortable for some patients and extremely painful for others. This method may, therefore, be best avoided by people who want teeth whitening for sensitive teeth.
Zoom teeth whitening (LED)
An alternative whitening procedure that takes place in 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. In most cases, Zoom tooth whitening costs less than laser whitening.
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 eight 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 woman named Brooklyn 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.
Brooklyn made two visits to the dentist, the first to create molds of her teeth and the second for the actual whitening. The whitening consisted of three 15-minute sessions, all in the same day. Straight after her whitening session she was given mouth trays containing a sensitivity-reducing gel, which she wore for 30 minutes. This last step makes this a good option for those looking for teeth whitening for sensitive teeth.
Professional teeth bleaching kits from the dentist
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 dental bleaching trays (like mouthguards). Because the gel is administered by a qualified professional, it’s allowed to be stronger than 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 to ensure even coverage of the gel.
Once your trays have been made, you’ll return to collect them. Your dentist might begin the treatment in-office or may just show you how to use your kit at home.
Some kits come with pre-filled whitening 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 in 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 safe professional supervision but you don’t need the instant results provided by more expensive in-office teeth whitening treatments.
Each dentist will have their own opinion as to 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 professional teeth whitening costs at the dentist using the different methods we’ve mentioned.
|Product||Laser whitening (power whitening)||Zoom whitening (LED)||Professional bleaching|
|Approximate cost||$400 - $1,800||$300 - $1,000||$300 - $900|
|Treatment takes...||1 hour, 1 or more sessions||1 hour, 3-4 sessions||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
- Specialized 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 $300 to $1,800, depending on the procedure you choose.
Laser teeth whitening costs the most because of the technology used but offers the fastest and most noticeable results. 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 dental 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. If you live near the Mexico border, you could save hundreds of dollars on dental whitening (and any other treatments) by visiting a dentist in Mexico. Alternatively, you could get cheaper teeth whitening while on holiday in places like Costa Rica or Thailand. Read more about getting dental work abroad here.
How much does it cost to get your teeth whitened under the Affordable Care Act?
Teeth whitening is not covered under Medicare as it is not considered a treatment that will preserve or improve oral health.
Does insurance cover teeth whitening?
Most insurance policies don’t cover any kind of elective cosmetic procedures such as professional teeth whitening. Consult your plan details to be sure. Your dentist may still offer a payment plan for professional whitening.
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. First, decide which kind of whitening you would prefer. Then, search for a teeth whitening dentist near you using the internet or by asking around in your area.
Your first step will be to have a consultation so the dentist can assess your suitability for your chosen teeth whitening procedure. This gives you the chance to ask about the dentist’s teeth whitening costs and any other questions you may have.
If you have dental caries or 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.
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 product and follow the instructions carefully.
One popular teeth whitening kit that’s made in the USA this one by Active Wow. Users report seeing great results with just one course of treatment, and the mouth trays mold to your teeth for even coverage.
The results may not be as drastic as Zoom or laser 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.
Find more about at-home whitening kits in our full guide.
Professional teeth whitening costs and options: conclusion
If you want fast results, laser whitening and Zoom 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 can be expensive. Those wanting a cheaper way to get whiter teeth can try a home whitening kit instead. There are many brands of kits 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 has more information about kits and other safe methods for tooth whitening that works (including some natural techniques). It also instructs on how to care for your whitened teeth and make your results last longer.
American Dental Association: Tooth Whitening/Bleaching: Treatment Considerations for Dentists and Their Patients. Consulted 4th May 2019
American Dental Association: Oral Health Topics: Whitening. Consulted 4th May 2019