Manufacturers often use creative marketing and bold claims to sell products that ultimately disappoint and frustrate customers with their poor results. In this article, Dr. Lara Coseo talks through the teeth whitening options and compares their effectiveness and price.
Dr. Lara Coseo
Dr. Lara Coseo is a 2004 graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, Texas.
Having practiced general dentistry for 13 years, Dr. Lara currently serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Texas A&M College of Dentistry.
Teeth Whitening options and costs
It is safe to say that everyone wants white teeth. The reason many people do not work toward that goal is that they assume teeth whitening is too expensive.
The truth is that, in today’s world of seemingly endless teeth whitening options, the cost ranges from a few dollars to almost a thousand dollars. And interestingly, the most expensive option is not always the best whitening option.
In-Office teeth Whitening
$500 – $1000
In-office teeth whitening procedures are those performed in the dental office under a dentist’s direct supervision.
Some well-known brand names are ZOOM!, Opalescence Boost, and Sapphire. Laser teeth whitening also falls into the category of in-office teeth whitening. Because these methods require an appointment with your dentist, time in the dental chair, and an expensive whitening kit (with or without the use of lights and lasers), these are by far the most expensive ways to whiten your teeth.
In general, in-office teeth whitening produces very fast and very good whitening results. Most people achieve 4-5 shades lighter teeth in just an hour-long visit.
In-office teeth whitening ranges from $500-1000, depending on your geographic location, the brand offered, and the requirement of additional tools (lights, lasers, etc . . .).
Pros and Cons:
This method uses the highest concentrations of peroxide to give very fast and pleasing bleaching results.
Very safe bleaching method. This procedure is performed in a controlled environment by qualified practitioners who use protective gum barriers and lip retractors to prevent their patients from accidentally being exposed to the bleaching agent. Once the teeth bleaching session is over, a careful washing and suction process is used to remove all traces of the whitening chemical from the oral cavity.
The most expensive teeth whitening option.
The high concentrations of peroxide used during in-office treatments can cause significant tooth sensitivity.
Although in-office treatments provide very fast and convenient teeth whitening, the final results are often outperformed by the professional at-home method.
Professional At-Home Whitening
$100 – $400
Considered the “gold standard” of teeth whitening, at-home whitening using prescription-strength gel in a custom-fitted carrier tray gives you the best bang for your buck. Dentists prefer this method because it consistently produces the best results and allows for simple maintenance whitening at the patient’s discretion. The reason it is actually a relatively economical choice is that the custom-made trays last for decades, only requiring remakes if major dental work changes the shape of your teeth. Once you have a set of custom trays made from a perfect replica of your teeth, you can purchase refills of professional-strength whitening gel from your dentist as needed.
This option also offers versatility in whitening times with different concentrations of the whitening gel. You can choose to whiten for just 20 minutes or overnight.
Custom-made whitening trays and a kit of professional strength gel ranges from $100-400. Some dental offices offer this as a free gift upon completing a full new patient exam and any necessary dental treatment. Refill kits cost between $30-50. On average, patients use one refill kit per year.
Pros and Cons:
Dentist-prescribed home-whitening with custom made mouth trays has been proven to be the safest and most effective teeth whitening method.
Low cost compared to in-office treatments.
In terms of final results, home whitening done with custom made kits consistently outperforms in-office treatments.
At-home whitening treatments use lower strength bleaching chemicals which results in minimal side effects like tooth sensitivity and gum inflammation.
The final results and success of this method depend on how strictly the user adheres to the instructions provided by the dentist.
The whitening process takes a relatively long time compared to in-office treatment.
OTC Whitening Kits with Peroxide Gels
$7 – $100
What they lack in fit, they make up for in cost, as little as $7. These are very inexpensive options and available at most pharmacies and grocery stores in the oral hygiene aisle. Due to the popularity of teeth whitening, there are countless products available online as well. As with the in-office whitening, those products requiring the use of accessories like teeth whitening lights are more expensive.
These over-the-counter kits range from $7-100 in cost and provide a wide variety of options.
Pros and Cons:
Cheaper than professional teeth whitening methods.
Over-the-counter whitening kits that contain high strength bleaching agents can give good results.
There are safety concerns over the unregulated use of high-strength peroxide whitening kits.
Although many OTC whitening kits contain thermoplastic bleaching trays that can be molded with warm water to fit the user’s mouth, these trays are often uncomfortable and ineffective compared to the professionally sculpted trays provided by a dentist.
$15 – $100
As far as effectiveness goes, they are similar to other over-the-counter products. It is the method of application that differs and may give these strips a slight advantage over the kits described above.
The strips contain an embedded whitening gel that is slightly sticky and helps them stay in contact with the teeth for the required time. Some people find them cumbersome to apply and keep in place, but for those who have no trouble maintaining the strips on their teeth for 20-30 minutes, they work really well.
They also offer a range of concentrations and quantity of strips, so the price can be anywhere from $15-100.
Pros and Cons:
Easy and convenient to use.
Less costly than professional treatments.
Teeth whitening strips can deliver pleasing results for some people.
Teeth whitening strips cause more tooth sensitivity and gum irritation than dentist prescribed home whitening kits.
Less effective than professional whitening treatments.
Teeth whitening with an over-the-counter product like whitening strips will take longer to achieve noticeable results.
Teeth Whitening Pens
$7 – $40
Teeth whitening pens are popular for their ease of application and no need for carriers to hold the gel in contact with the teeth. They work by forming a hard coating (kind of like nail polish) on the teeth, which keeps the whitening ingredient in contact with your enamel. Be careful, though. They typically produce less noticeable results than other OTC teeth whitening options.
The main advantages of teeth whitening pens are their simple method of application and their low cost.
Whitening pens range from $7-40 on average.
Pros and Cons:
A low-cost option compared to professional treatments.
Whitening pens are easy and convenient to use.
By painting on the bleaching chemical it is possible to apply the gel with no mess or leakage.
Once the mouth is closed, the peroxide has a limited time to penetrate the tooth before saliva dilutes its strength.
Research has shown some whitening pens to be relatively ineffective compared to other methods.
$2 – $20
Whitening toothpaste is the least expensive option for brightening your smile. The important thing to understand is that whitening toothpaste simply polishes away superficial staining on the outermost layer of enamel. It does not actually change the color of your teeth the way other whitening products do.
Every major brand of toothpaste makes a whitening formulation, which simply contains tiny abrasive particles. Recently, there has been some hype about whitening toothpastes sold through multi-level marketing companies. The mechanism of action and the results of all whitening toothpastes is about the same.
Costs of whitening toothpastes range from $2-20.
Pros and Cons:
Whitening toothpastes are a very cheap option.
Whitening toothpastes are effective for stain and plaque control.
A non-peroxide toothpaste will not change the whiteness shade of teeth.
A peroxide toothpastes will have minimal effects compared to other whitening options.
Dr. Lara T. Coseo DDS, FAGD.