How much does teeth whitening cost?
The top half of this page discusses how much dentists charge for whitening their patient's teeth, either by performing professional (in-office) treatments or by selling you an at-home system.
The lower half of this page discusses why with any in-office system you're likely to require more than one bleaching session.
A) In-office whitening treatments.
The price range shown below is an estimate of what a dentist might charge for a one bleaching session (professional, in-office or laser whitening, they're all the same procedure).
$400.00 - $900.00
Low fee = Small rural city or town.
High fee = Large metropolitan area.
How did we come up with this estimate?
Notes about professional treatments:
- The fee typically includes treating both your upper and lower teeth.
Just to make sure you don't get any surprises, you should ask about which of your teeth will be whitened. It may be limited to just the front 6 or 8 on each arch.
If you have a really big smile, this may make a difference or even be a reason not to choose this method.
- With many cases (and probably most), more than one session will be needed to achieve the level of whiteness that you're after. (See below.)
In-office bleaching light unit.
- Dentists who include a bleaching light or laser into the procedure will have higher overhead costs than those who don't (these units can cost may thousands of dollars). And for this reason, they may need to charge a relatively higher fee for performing treatments.
(While the use of one of these units tends to impress patients, some research suggests that the use of a bleaching light produces no benefit.)
- Some dentists may suggest that in-office sessions should be followed up with the use of an at-home whitener. If so, you can expect that there will be an additional cost for this additional treatment.
B) At-home systems.
The price range shown below is an estimate what a dentist might charge for bleaching your teeth via the use of an at-home tray-based system that they have dispensed to you.
A tray whitening kit.
$175.00 - $425.00 (per arch).
Low fee = Small rural city or town.
High fee = Large metropolitan area.
Notes about dentist-dispensed at-home systems:
- The fee shown is per arch, meaning either your top or bottom teeth. The price for bleaching all of your teeth would be twice the fee shown above.
- As a cost-cutting measure, you might choose to just bleach your upper teeth (single-arch treatment). Choosing this option is common. You can always bleach your second arch at a later date.
- In those cases where the type of tooth staining is severe, you can expect that the fee charged will be more. (Longer treatment time frames require the use of greater quantities of whitener and more evaluation appointments with your dentist.)
Notes about dentist whitening in general:
Even within the same vicinity, you can expect different dental offices to charge different fees for the same procedure, possibly substantially so.
Some offices will offer a "boutique" or "spa" experience or utilize a system that's part of an extensive nationwide advertising campaign. Others will have a more traditional approach to providing this service. As you can imagine, factors such as these can greatly affect a procedure's pricing.
(Side note: While we do think that different dentists have different capabilities and that's worth paying for, we're less inclined to have much faith in any one particular brand.)
Professional in-office treatments -
A) How many whitening sessions will you need?
There is no question that in the vast majority of cases, after just a single in-office session, you should expect to see some lightening effect. However, studies suggest that:
- It typically takes more than one bleaching session to achieve "patient satisfaction" (with the range being 1 to 4 appointments).
People who are satisfied after a single session are generally those who already had a relatively light tooth coloration initially. (Gottardi 2006) [reference sources]
- On average, it takes 3 bleaching sessions to reach "maximum whiteness," with a range of 1 to 6 visits. (ADA 2009)
"Maximum whiteness" is that point at which additional exposure to a whitener creates no additional lightening effect. This is the point frequently bleached to when a tray-based at-home method is used.
As a part of determining if having professional treatments makes the best choice for you, you should take into consideration the additional time and cost commitment they may involve.
B) Why the results you see in your dentist's office may not be the same ones you see at home.
The results you see in your dentist's office immediately after the completion of your whitening session can be expected to fade. Color stabilization usually occurs within the following 2 weeks. Here's why:
The dehydration effect.
When teeth are kept dry for an extended period of time (even as little as 30 to 60 minutes) they become desiccated (dried out). And as this dehydration effect takes place, their color lightens up.
(While most people are unaware of this phenomenon, dentists certainly have a familiarity with it. This is why when they place a white filling they will choose the color of filling material before they begin the actual treatment process, a period when the tooth needs to be kept dry.)
This type of tooth-lightening fades.
Once a desiccated tooth is exposed to moisture again (like saliva), the tooth will begin to rehydrate. As this process takes place the tooth will return to its normal, somewhat darker shade. The rehydration process may take several hours or even several days, possibly as many as three or more.
What happens during bleaching sessions.
With professional whitening treatments, the dentist takes great effort to isolate the teeth so the caustic whitener used during the bleaching process is kept away from soft oral tissues. This isolation, however, tends to desiccate the teeth being treated.
You might expect that the application of a bleaching gel would provide a moisture source for the teeth but this is not always the case. While they may look "wet," some in-office whitening gels are non-hydrous compounds (they don't contain water).
Why the results you see immediately after a whitening session may fade.
Evaluating whitening results.
All of this explains why some of the whitening effect you see immediately after an in-office treatment frequently fades.
It's not entirely a true color change. A part of it is solely due to the fact that the teeth have become dehydrated. And this aspect of the improvement will relapse over the next several days as they rehydrate.
That means the dramatic improvement your dentist oohs and aahs about the day of your session probably isn't as profound as they'd like you to think. A true "before and after" shade comparison can only be made if the "after" evaluation is made, some days after your whitening treatment was performed. (Reputable research studies wait at least 2 weeks.)
This is why you may be asked to continue on with at-home treatments.
The color relapse that often occurs after an in-office session is why a combined bleaching approach is often utilized. With this method, the professional treatment is followed up with the use of an at-home system.
Even though the color of the teeth relapses as they rehydrate, it's counter acted by the continued bleaching action of the at-home system. This is a well known technique and is frequently utilized.
You'll have to anticipate that there will be an additional cost for this additional service.
Continue reading about Professional Teeth Whitening -
- At-home vs. In-office treatments.
- The whitening procedure.
- Is a bleaching light really needed?
- Fees / How many sessions will you need? ◀
- Common side effects.
- How to pick out the best system.
At-home methods -