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What percentage do dentists use to whiten teeth?

Professional Teeth Whitening: Everything You Need To Know

Dr. Joseph Willardsen is a cosmetic and biomimetic dentist and the president of True Dentistry in Las Vegas.

Joseph G. Willardsen, D.D.S. Cosmetic / Biomimetic / Reconstructive Prosthetic Dentistry
Updated: Apr 21, 2023, 6:14am

Commissions we earn from partner links on this page do not affect our opinions or evaluations. Our editorial content is based on thorough research and guidance from the Forbes Health Advisory Board.

Professional Teeth Whitening: Everything You Need To Know

Table of Contents

  • Professional Whitening Methods
  • In-Office Teeth Whitening Vs. Custom Take-Home Trays
  • How to Decide if Professional Teeth Whitening is for You
  • Sources

Professional teeth whitening is often an efficient, safe and effective choice for brightening your smile. But there’s plenty to consider, including cost, your lifestyle habits and whether a comprehensive in-office treatment or a custom take-home-tray is the better choice.

Professional Whitening Methods

The two main products used for teeth whitening are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. Unlike a whitening toothpaste that uses an abrasive ingredient to mechanically remove surface-level stains, the oxygen molecules within these whitening agents weaken your tooth stains on a molecular level.

Many over-the-counter (OTC) whitening strips, kits and pens also use a form of peroxide. The difference between these and professional teeth whitening is the chemical concentration.

“In the office, we use a very high percentage of hydrogen peroxide because we have the capability to isolate the teeth,” says Joseph Michael Brofsky, head of pediatric dentistry at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York. “We use a special rubber dam to protect the patient’s gums because if peroxide gets onto the gums, it would burn them.”

Like at-home whitening products, there are a variety of professional teeth whitening methods. In-office professional whitening is a quicker, albeit more costly way to lighten up your pearly whites. Meanwhile, custom take-home trays fall somewhere between in-office professional whitening and an OTC whitener in terms of treatment time and cost.


Partner Offers feature brands who paid Forbes Health to appear at the top of our list. While this may influence where their products or services appear on our site, it in no way affects our ratings, which are based on thorough research, solid methodologies and expert advice. Our partners cannot pay us to guarantee favorable reviews of their products or services

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In-Office Whitening

In-office professional whitening treatments are typically completed in several short appointments but will depend on your unique needs. A whitening agent is left on for 15- to 30-minute increments, and the entire appointment should take no longer than an hour and a half.

There are a few types of in-office whitening treatments:

  • A high concentration hydrogen peroxide gel, which is applied by a syringe.
  • A hydrogen peroxide combined with a high-intensity light, like LED, UV or halogen. The light is applied by a lamp or laser device that sits directly outside of your mouth.

Halogen light and laser light increased teeth lightness more than hydrogen peroxide alone, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Conservative Dentistry. After three weeks, study participants in the halogen and laser light groups still had the white teeth color achieved during treatment while the non-light group had “shade rebound” after just two weeks—initially brightened teeth became darker.

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However, some studies show no benefit from using a light tool such as a laser or lamp over a whitening gel alone.

Aside from effectiveness, is light exposure safe for your smile? A 2020 study in Materials found that tooth cells recovered well after LED light-accelerated technology, concluding that most side effects are “temporary and transient.”

What to Expect at an In-Office Teeth Whitening Appointment

In-office whitening typically involves several steps:

  • Your dentist will use a tooth shade chart to determine the current shade of your teeth. You’ll discuss how many shades lighter your smile may become after whitening.
  • Your dentist will then use a pumice tool to polish your tooth and remove any remaining plaque.
  • To ensure the whitening agent doesn’t touch any fleshy parts of your mouth like your gums, cheeks or tongue, your dentist will use tools to keep your mouth open. A barrier is placed along the gum line.
  • Your dentist then applies the whitening agent and leaves it on for up to an hour. This is also when your dentist would use light activation if that’s part of your treatment.
  • If the specific whitening agent requires additional coats, your dentist will reapply it.
  • Once the whitening process is complete, your mouth is rinsed. Your dentist may apply fluoride, which will help mitigate any potential sensitivity.
  • You and your dentist discuss if your teeth have reached the desired shade and the lifestyle habits you’ll need to practice for the next day or so to let the whitening agent sink in. These include not eating brightly colored foods and resisting coffee and red wine. Immediately after whitening, your teeth are dehydrated, making them extra susceptible to liquid and food stains.

Even if you stick to your dentist’s recommended regimen of resisting bright foods, coffee and wine, your teeth may appear a bit darker a few days after whitening. But don’t be discouraged. The dehydration caused by teeth-whitening makes them look immediately bright right after your procedure. After a week, if your teeth are not at your preferred shade, speak with your dentist about whether or not there’s potential for them to become lighter with at-home products or more in-office visits.

Take-Home Trays

While in-office whitening is fast, custom take-home trays require some diligence on the part of the patient. They may be your only treatment or a follow-up treatment to in-office whitening if your dentist believes your smile is prone to getting new stains again soon.

With a professional take-home-tray, your dentist will make an impression of your teeth for a custom-fabricated tray. Because this tray will fit perfectly to the shape of your mouth, it will typically give you more comprehensive whitening results than OTC trays. Instead of a hydrogen peroxide-based gel, you’ll most likely get a carbamide peroxide-based gel to place in the tray and use at home. Even though it doesn’t whiten as quickly as a hydrogen peroxide-based gel, you’re less likely to experience sensitivity if you accidentally get it on your gums, cheek or tongue.

The concentration of the gel your dentist gives you for your custom-fit trays ranges from 10% to 38% carbamide peroxide, according to the American Dental Association. Your duration of treatment will also vary, from wearing your tray from two to 10 hours a day, and for up to 28 days. Over-the-counter trays come with a similar percentage of carbamide. The difference in quality is in regards to fit. A custom tray will fit directly around your teeth, giving little room for the gel to slip up to your gums or miss whitening hard-to-reach crevices.

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In-Office Teeth Whitening Vs. Custom Take-Home Trays

While both at-home whitening and in-office whitening are effective under the supervision of your dentist, there are a few major differences.


Custom, take-home-trays are more affordable than in-office whitening, but still more expensive than over-the-counter trays and other at-home whitening products. They typically range from $300 to $600. Meanwhile, in-office whitening costs $800 to $1,000, says Brofsky.


Partner Offers feature brands who paid Forbes Health to appear at the top of our list. While this may influence where their products or services appear on our site, it in no way affects our ratings, which are based on thorough research, solid methodologies and expert advice. Our partners cannot pay us to guarantee favorable reviews of their products or services

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What about dental insurance? Since teeth whitening is a cosmetic treatment, it’s not covered by dental insurance.


Your dentist can usually complete in-office whitening treatments in one or two appointments, depending on the severity of your stains and your dentist’s thoughts on how many shades whiter your teeth can become. Each session is usually 60 to 90 minutes at most. Meanwhile, you’ll need to wear your custom, take-home-trays several hours a day for up to a month. For ideal results, your dentist may recommend a custom-fit tray for touch-ups even after in-office whitening.


No tooth whitening treatment lasts forever. But you still want to do everything you can to keep your pearly whites shining bright for months and years to come. Experts recommend continuing a rigorous oral care routine, cutting out bright colored foods, coffee, red wine and soda, and using over-the-counter touch-up products.

When it comes to which treatment will last longer, there’s no definite answer, although with custom trays, frequency is key. You can wear at-home trays regularly for up to three to five years, whereas an in-office visit may be complete in one or two sittings. That means the bright shade of your teeth while using trays may last longer, since you can order a professional whitening agent from your dentist to be used at home in your reusable dental tray for touch-ups.

How to Decide if Professional Teeth Whitening is for You

Wondering if you’re the ideal candidate for professional teeth whitening? If you want to go at least two shades lighter and don’t want to experiment with OTC treatments—or have tried them without much success—a professional treatment could be for you, says Brofsky.

Pre-Whitening Topics to Discuss With Your Dentist

Several factors affect whether your whitening results live up to the sparkling smile you envision. For starters, whitening substances can’t penetrate plaque and buildup. And putting a tooth with a cavity or exposed roots through a whitening procedure could lead to discomfort and sensitivity. A checkup and professional cleaning prior to in-office whitening is a must.

Finally, your dentist can review any areas of your teeth that the whitening agent may not be able to penetrate, including:

  • Areas overexposed to fluoride.
  • Past dental work such as a porcelain tooth or bonded area.
  • Trauma that caused the inner layer of your tooth, or dentin, to darken.
  • Exposure to tetracycline antibiotics during tooth formation.
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What percentage do dentists use to whiten teeth?

What Teeth Whitening Products Do Dentists Use?

While many people have heard of kits for teeth whitening at home, few know that many dentists also offer teeth whitening services. Teeth whitening helps lighten and whiten teeth, sometimes removing stains and discoloration. Whitening is very popular, but the methods for whitening teeth vary greatly, and there are a lot of scams out there.

Obviously, dentists are in a good place to know which products are most effective for their patients, and which to avoid. So which teeth whitening products do dentists use, and how can they help someone with stained or discolored teeth?


Many times, teeth are less than white because they have become stained over time. Drinks like wine, tea, and coffee are the usual cause, as is smoking. Most of these stains can be easily removed with a polishing and whitening toothpaste. A dentist or dental hygienist can do this as part of a regularly scheduled teeth cleaning.

Hydrogen Peroxide: Opalescence Boost

For tooth discoloration that is not due to mere staining, whitening needs to penetrate the surface of the tooth to help with the color change. Many dental offices use some form of a chemical called hydrogen peroxide to do this.

This hydrogen peroxide is much more concentrated than the stuff you can get in a bottle from the drug store. It penetrates into the teeth to change their color from the inside.

One hydrogen peroxide-based product many dentists prefer is Opalescence Boost. The main ingredient in Opalescence Boost is a gel that contains roughly 38% hydrogen peroxide. This is what whitens and brightens the teeth. A second chemical, potassium nitrate, is also applied to help strengthen the tooth enamel, reduce sensitivity, and protect against cavities. When mixed, the two chemicals become a distinct red color; this helps ensure that the gel is placed on the teeth where it needs to be, and is taken off fully when done.

One of the great things about Opalescence Boost is that the procedure takes only one visit to complete (although really difficult stains or discolored teeth might take two or three sessions). It is incredibly safe and effective—when administered by a professional, of course.

Whitening Gel with Ultraviolet Light Boost

Some whitening gels are further activated by using specific wavelengths of light. This makes the process safer for patients and quicker, meaning less time in the dentist’s chair. Zoom! teeth whitening is an example of this kind of system.

Here one dentist explains teeth whitening using his newly acquired Zoom! teeth whitening system:

Laser Teeth Whitening

Lasers have now been with us for decades, but it has only been in recent years that dental researchers have figured out safe, efficient ways to use lasers to whiten teeth. The lasers are used to heat and “activate” a hydrogen peroxide bleaching gel, which does the work of the whitening. Typically, this method for teeth whitening can brighten teeth from six up to 12 shades brighter.

Although it sounds dangerous, laser teeth whitening is completely safe when the appropriate measures are taken. For example, the dentist will place a protective liquid barrier over the gum line. This prevents the laser light from accidentally heating up sensitive tissues in the mouth. It also helps prevent accidentally weakening teeth and gums, which at-home bleaching kits can do.

Finding Teeth Whitening Services Near You

Using a dentist to oversee your teeth whitening is a good idea. He or she can ensure that the products are used safely and correctly. The results are usually better, and it takes less time than most at-home kits.

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To find a dentist near you that offers teeth whitening services, we recommend trying out our find a dentist tool.

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A dentist shares 5 at-home teeth whitening products actually worth buying

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Teeth whitening is one way that we maintain ourselves publicly in the 21st century. It’s no longer categorized with the more supplementary actions of highlights and/or spray tans, but instead, exists as a totally unisex practice that looks much more like normal self-care.

The desire to have nice, white teeth needs no real explanation: They’re one of the first (and most noticeable) things people see while they make their 20-second first impression of you. If you plan to speak, there’s no hiding them; less-than-perfect teeth can be interpreted as a lack of dedication to oral care or habits like heavy smoking. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, smiling and laughing are expressions of joy most of the time, and they’re the knee-jerk reactions you really want to be able to enjoy without insecurity or second thought.

But why don’t we all just have the pros do it for us? Professional teeth whitening is expensive and for many inaccessible. Plus, teeth whitening is something we do many, many times in our lives for a reason. You’re probably going to be “good” for a few weeks before forgetting to use the right toothpaste or until your habits of drinking coffee or red wine or smoking catch up to you.

So, since we’re human, affordable, at-home teeth whitening products are one market that you won’t see going away anytime soon. Navigating the options, though, is something that doesn’t seem to get easier.

There is a lot of interest in white teeth, so there are a lot of products out there claiming to give you what you want.

But which ones work? Which ones work but actually do a ton of damage to your teeth while they work? Which ones should I avoid if I don’t want my teeth to fall out immediately after?

In an ideal world, we would all have a friendly neighborhood dentist who didn’t mind our 1 p.m. calls on a Saturday because we’re at the grocery store right now and would she or he please help narrow down some options.

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Most dentists are not there for your supermarket quandaries, and they aren’t going to have a predetermined list to write down on your hygiene bib when you ask last-minute what his or her favorite DIY products are. Not to mention that many of us fear asking our dentists in case they sigh and give us an (understandable) plug for professional treatment that we really cannot afford.

So, we asked an expert for you. Dr. Neil Hadaegh DDS, a professional dentist in Beverly Hills, was kind enough to give us his five go-to DIY teeth-whitening products, all of which you can find below accompanied by Dr. Hadaegh’s specific reasons why.

1. Opalescence PF 35% Whitening Gel

[Opalescence 35% is] my personal favorite choice and the whitening gel I use. Opalescence is known for their whitening products in the dental industry. I’ve gotten amazing results using their whitening gel and typically use their whitening toothpaste to maintain the whiteness of my teeth after I get my desired shade.

The only drawback is that you need custom whitening trays to use this product. It contains Carbamide Peroxide and is the first ADA accepted, syringe delivered, take-home bleaching gel that gives you dramatic results in as little as 30 minutes of use without requiring many applications.

Opalescence PF Mint 35% Teeth Whitening, 4 Syringe Pack, $22.99
Upper and Lower Custom Dental Teeth Whitening Trays, $69

2. Opalescence Go 15%

If you don’t have whitening trays and want as close to professional results as possible, the Opalescence Go 15% is the way to go. Like Crest 3D Whitestrips, the whitening gel comes in ready-made trays that adapt to your teeth all the way to your molars. They have 15% Hydrogen Peroxide, which means you only need to wear them for 15-20 minutes a day for 5-10 days. It also contains Potassium nitrate and Fluoride to help reduce sensitivity while strengthening enamel.

Opalescence Go 15%, 10 trays, $68.98

Research has shown that the formulation of Lumibrite has resulted in little to no sensitivity while producing excellent results due to its high concentration of Carbamide Peroxide. Lumibrite requires custom bleaching trays and many of our patients use it because you get dramatic results in much less time than other whitening products.

Lumibrite Teeth Whitening Gel 32%, 6 Syringe Pack, $18.25
Upper and Lower Custom Dental Teeth Whitening Trays, $69

4. Zoom NiteWhite 22% Whitening Gel

NiteWhite is a clinical-grade tooth whitening gel of 22% Carbamide Peroxide. It’s medium strength, so it’s an excellent option for individuals who have some tooth sensitivity but want a whitening gel that’s not too strong or too weak.

It’s also the only take-home whitener that combines ACP (Amorphous Calcium Phosphate) with Potassium Nitrate and Fluoride enhancing whitening results while minimizing sensitivity. [It’s also to be used with custom whitening trays].

Zoom Nite White 22% Teeth Whitening Gel, $28.58
Upper and Lower Custom Dental Teeth Whitening Trays, $69

5. Crest 3D Whitestrips

[Crest 3D] can be purchased in stores or online and the gel is contained in strips that mold around your teeth. They typically have a lower concentration (10%) of Hydrogen Peroxide so they’re better suited for individuals who have sensitive teeth and can’t tolerate higher concentrations.

Crest 3D White Whitestrips Professional Effects Treatments, 20 count, available at Target ($43.99) and at Amazon ($41).

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