How Professional Teeth Whitening Is Done

Professional teeth whitening delivers optimum results in a relatively short amount of time. Performed under the supervision of a dentist, this method of whitening has gained popularity among those who either are dissatisfied with over-the-counter (OTC) products or don't want all of the fuss and bother of a professional at-home kit.

Woman getting teeth whitening
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Price is the main differentiator when comparing teeth whitening options. Most OTC kits run between $40 to $100 on average, while a professional at-home model can cost anywhere from $100 to $400.

In-office teeth whitening procedures cost around $650 or more (not typically covered by insurance) and may sometimes require multiple visits to obtain the desired shade.

What to Expect With Professional Teeth Whitening

In-office teeth whitening is not an altogether complicated procedure, but it does require skill to avoid injury to the gingival (gum) area. Moreover, expensive equipment may be needed to prepare and finish the procedure. All told, the procedure can take anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes to complete.

There are several standard steps to performing an in-office whitening:

  • Before starting, the dentist will make a record of the current shade of your teeth.
  • Your teeth would then be polished with pumice, a grainy material used to remove any plaque on the surface.
  • Your mouth will be isolated with gauze to keep your teeth dry. Retractors may be used to keep your cheeks, lips, and tongue well away from the whitening solution.
  • A barrier would next be placed along the gumline to further protect it from exposure to the solution.
  • Next, the teeth would be coated with a whitening solution on the front surface only. The solution typically includes either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as the bleaching agent.
  • Many whitening products require a curing light or laser to activate the peroxide. Once applied, the solution would be left on the teeth for 30 to 60 minutes, or reapplied occasionally, depending on the brand.
  • Once the optimum shade has been reached (or the maximum time has passed), the teeth would be rinsed. A fluoride application may be used to help ease any tooth sensitivity, which is a common side effect.
  • Additional visits would be scheduled until the desired shade is reached.

Upon completion, you would be advised to avoid foods or beverages with a high level of pigment for at least 24 hours. These include coffee, tea, tomato sauce, tomato juice, yellow mustard, beets, black grapes, candies, and red wine. Smoking or tobacco of any sort would also be avoided.

Professional At-Home Teeth Whitening Kits

As an alternative to the costlier, in-office procedure, many people are turning to professional at-home whitening kits. These do-it-yourself models can only be obtained from a dentist and require a dental impression in order to make custom-fitted trays (dental cups contoured to your teeth).

The trays take around one to two weeks to make on average. The procedure itself is performed for an hour a day over a two-week period. It is not all that difficult to do and provides far better results than most OTC drugstore brands.

While not inexpensive, an at-home kit may be the perfect choice if you can't afford professional treatments or are not fully covered by dental insurance.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Carey C. Tooth whitening: what we now know. J Evid Based Dent Pract. 2014;14 Suppl:70-6. doi:10.1016/j.jebdp.2014.02.006

  2. Witzenburg M. RDH Magazine. A quick guide to helping patients navigate whitening options.

  3. Epple M, Meyer F, Enax J. A critical review of modern concepts for teeth whitening. Dent J (Basel). 2019;7(3). doi:10.3390/dj7030079

  4. Cotner P. Professional (in-office) whitening treatments - the procedure.

  5. American Dental Association. Whitening.

Additional Reading
  • Carey, C. "Tooth Whitening: What We Now Know." J Evid Based Dent Pract. 2014; 14 Suppl:70-76. DOI: 10.1016/j.jebdp.2014.02.006.

By Shawn Watson
Shawn Watson is an orthodontic dental assistant and writer with over 10 years of experience working in the field of dentistry.