In-office teeth whitening - Is it the best choice for you?

Professional teeth whitening treatments (also called "laser" or in-office whitening) offer a good bleaching solution for some.

Many people simply don't have an interest in treating themselves with an at-home system. They prefer the convenience and time savings that in-office treatments offer, even if their overall costs can be expected to be more.

Our pages explain how a dentist performs whitening treatments (including a discussion on whether a laser or bleaching light is really needed).

They also discuss the general advantages and disadvantages associated with this method, common side effects, and provide some specifics about popular product brands (Zoom!®. BriteSmile®, etc...) that a dentist typically has to offer.

Smile Makeovers that illustrate the use of teeth-whitening treatments.

Which is best for you, in-office whitening or using an at-home product?

If you are considering whitening your teeth, you generally have two options. One is to have your treatments performed by your dentist, in their office (this is termed professional, in-office or laser whitening). The other is to perform treatments (unsupervised) on your own, on your own time.

FYI: You can probably get the same results with either method.

Since these two very different options do exist, many people may wonder: Which is best, having your dentist perform professional treatments or using an at-home system?

In response to this question, we'd first like to state that, in terms of the whitening effect created, neither one of these approaches is really the "best." The truth of the matter is that both methods have the potential to create the same end results. (See below.)

How tooth bleaching works.

Peroxide-based tooth whitening (the kind of process we're talking about here with both of these methods) is primarily a function of the following two factors:

  1. The concentration of peroxide in the whitener.
  2. The amount of time the whitener is in contact with the teeth.

That means, to get the same same degree of lightening, a system can either:

  • Have a low concentration whitener that is used over an extended time frame. (The method used by at-home products.)

  • Have a higher concentration whitener that is used for a much shorter period of time. (The method used by dentists in their office.)

And while our following pages will have more to say about each of these approaches, the crux of the matter is that both in-office and at-home systems (especially a tray-based one) can generally produce the same whitening outcome. Neither method is necessarily "best."

What does dental research say?

As documentation for what we've stated above, we'll refer to the conclusions drawn by Matis, 2009. This review compared the findings of 9 published studies conducted at the Indiana University School of Dentistry involving 25 in-office, at-home and OTC (over-the-counter) whitening products.

This paper's conclusions were:

  • Overnight use of an at-home tray-based system created the most effective tooth whitening.
  • In-office systems produced immediate results but 2 weeks after treatment even OTC products (whitening strips / wraps) were shown to be as effective. This whitening relapse was given as the reason why most in-office systems recommend the use of an at-home tray-based system as follow up treatment.

The comparative effectiveness of at-home whitening was also confirmed by Dawson, 2011. This study evaluated at-home tray-based whitening with a combined approach (in-office and at-home treatments). Its conclusions were that the in-office aspect of combined therapy contributed no significant difference in tooth color over at-home whitening alone.

Is in-office bleaching the best fit for your situation, characteristics and lifestyle?


At-home whitening options.

You may decide that professional treatments aren't right for you. If so, you can find information about the following types of at-home teeth whitening systems here on

Tray teeth whitening -
Tray whitening has a reputation of being able to provide similar whitening results as those produced by professional systems.

Teeth whitening strips (Whitestrips ®) -
Most dentists would probably not consider whitening strips to be quite as effective as tray whitening. But for many they do the job just fine.

Paint-on teeth whiteners.
For the most part, paint-on whiteners typically have less whitening potential to offer than tray or whitening strip products.

So, if it's likely that either approach (at-home or in-office) can be expected to produce the same type of whitening outcome, then the bigger question becomes, which approach is a better fit for you, the person? Which makes the better choice that way?

Comparing professional and at-home whitening treatments.

The following lists detail some of the advantages and disadvantages of each method, in terms of lifestyle needs and personal characteristics.

At-home systems:

  • Treatments are unsupervised. The user must be capable of performing and complying with the product's technique and instructions.
  • The person must have the time and inclination to perform their treatments.
  • It can take some weeks, or even months, before the final results are seen.
  • At-home products usually cost less than professional treatments.

In-office systems:

  • Results can be seen immediately after each treatment.
  • The whole process is accomplished in just a few appointments, possibly even just one.
  • Professional whitening usually costs more than performing at-home treatments.

What's the best teeth whitening approach for you?

Which method seems to be the best fit with your lifestyle, personal characteristics and needs?

Are you long on time, and short on money? If so, it sounds like at-home teeth whitening might be the best choice.

Do you have a big event coming up soon that you want to transform your smile in time for? Or maybe you just don't think you can incorporate do-it-yourself whitening treatments into your busy lifestyle?

If this is the case, then it seems that professional treatment performed by your dentist might provide the best solution.

Why are some professional teeth whitening systems followed up with an at-home whitener.

A combined treatment approach.

The research referenced above and an understanding of the dehydration effect that can take place during in-office bleaching procedures provides a rationale for the use of a combined treatment approach (in-office whitening followed up with the use of an at-home system). To recap:

  • The in-office treatment provides a quick and noticeable color change.
  • The at-home system helps to compensate for the short-term color relapse due to the loss of the tooth dehydration effect.
  • The at-home treatments also help to create the maximum whitening effect possible (the end point where peroxide-based whiteners cannot lighten the teeth any further) without the need of further in-office sessions.

Another use of combination treatment.

There can be instances where a person's back teeth (especially their upper molars) do show prominently when they smile yet these teeth were not treated during their in-office session due to the fact that they are hard to access and isolate. If this is the case, the overall appearance of the patient's smile may not meet their expectations.

Following the in-office process with an at-home system can provide a means by which to easily lighten the patient's back teeth to a point where their color blends in and more closely matches the new shade of their front teeth.

In-office tooth whitening.

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