Tooth whitening involves the use of peroxide-based materials to whiten teeth. Most dentists use an in-office and/or at-home whitening system to achieve the desired results. Before tooth whitening, the patient must get all cavities filled, and the gums must be healthy. The in-office systems use 35% hydrogen peroxide gels coupled with a high intensity light to whiten the teeth. The gums need to be protected with some systems, and then gels are placed on the teeth. A laser or plasma arc light source activates the peroxide to oxidize stains on the tooth surface. In about an hour, the teeth become four to six shades lighter.

At-home systems most often use 10 to 20% carbamine peroxide gels to oxidize stains. The dentist makes impressions (molds) of the mouth, and then has soft mouth trays made. The patient is fitted with the trays, and then is instructed to place a thin ribbon of the gel into the tray and wear while sleeping. Most whitening occurs in one to two weeks. In difficult cases, trays may need to be worn for up to six weeks. I have found that a combination of in-office and at-home systems work the best, and routinely achieve between 12 to 15 shades of whitening. The procedure is safe when monitored by a dentist, and does not damage the tooth in any way.

White fillings (resin, bonding) or porcelain crowns (caps) and bridges will not whiten significantly with either method. Some patients will experience minor tooth sensitivity during whitening procedures. The dentist can remedy this by alternating concentrated fluoride with the peroxide in the mouth trays.

Store bought bleaching systems are not as effective as dentist-managed systems. Unsupervised use of store-bought bleaching systems can cause painful sensitivity to untreated dental cavities. The mouth trays are not custom made, which can cause gum irritation, and the peroxides are not as strong or effective.

In-Office Whitening


Avoid any colored liquids for the next 3 days (for example: coffee, tea, dark sodas and dark juices) as your teeth will absorb the stain and reverse the whitening results if consumed.  In general, drink through a straw to avoid staining your teeth after the initial 3 days. DO NOT SMOKE.

You may notice temperature sensitivity for some time following your in-office whitening. We have provided a professional fluoride treatment as a courtesy to help alleviate some sensitivity. In addition, please brush with sensitivity toothpaste and avoid extreme temperatures until the sensitivity fades. Sensitivity usually lasts about 1 week. You may take Ibuprofen, or what you would normally take for a headache, for any discomfort.

Tissue irritation is very common and chemical burns sometimes occur from the whitening gel. If you notice gum irritation, swish with warm salt water every 2 hours and apply a topical anesthetic prior to eating if necessary. Colgate makes a product called “Sooth and Seal” that you may purchase over-the-counter to cover any blisters and may help them heal faster.

If you would like to learn more about professional teeth whitening, or to schedule your whitening consultation today, please call Willowdaile Family Dentistry in Durham, NC.