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At-home Professional Teeth Whitening - What is the Difference?

Teeth whitening in both an at-home and professional setting has become increasingly popular over the years.  You’ll see an overwhelming number of teeth whitening products as you browse your local drug store ranging from whitening strips to tooth-brush heads – all promising to give you pearly white teeth. 

The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry surveyed a large group of people with an overwhelming majority stating that whiter teeth is the one improvement to their smile they most desire.  While discoloring of your teeth can be caused by situations you can both control and those you cannot, there are several effective methods to whiten your teeth for a confident smile.

What Causes Yellowed Teeth?

As time goes by, you may notice your teeth aren’t quite as white as you remember.  This can occur for a number of reasons:


As you age, a material under the enamel called Dentin begins to become more exposed.  This material is more of a yellow color than you tooth enamel and can give your teeth a more yellowed appearance as your enamel layer naturally becomes thinner.

Smoking or Chewing Tobacco

Cigarettes and chewing tobacco contain two chemicals that are tough on the enamel of your teeth – tar and nicotine.  While tar is a natural staining element, nicotine only becomes yellow when it undergoes a chemical reaction caused by exposure to oxygen.  This one-two punch makes yellowed teeth common in those who smoke or chew tobacco.

Food & Drink

Coffee, red wine, tea, and berries are just a few food and drink groups that can discolor your teeth over time.  These foods contain chromogens which are intense color pigments that can attach to the enamel on your teeth and cause staining.


Yellowing can also occur due to lack of blood flow to a tooth, normally caused by intense trauma to the mouth or jaw.  More than likely, this discoloration of a single tooth is a sign that the tooth will eventually die due to the lack of blood.  It is best to consult with a dental professional after a mouth injury or if you notice the discoloration of a tooth.

Prescription Drugs

Blood pressure medication, antipsychotics, chemotherapy, and antihistamines all can have a common side effect which is the darkening of your teeth. If a mother receives any of these treatments while pregnant, the baby may suffer from teeth darkening later in adulthood. 

How do Teeth Whitening Treatments Work?

In general, teeth whitening products bleach your teeth with a number of chemicals to remove darkening and staining.  Hydrogen Peroxide and Carbamide Peroxide are two common chemicals that are used in products or treatments for whitening teeth.  Both chemicals break down stains into much smaller concentrations of color giving your teeth a whiter appearance. 

Another gentler form of whitening is in the form of a polishing agent, often introduced to whitening toothpastes.  While not as effective as chemical treatments, this can be a great option for those with sensitive teeth who desire a whiter smile.

What is the Difference Between Professional and At-home Teeth Whitening Treatments?

When you have your teeth professionally whitened at your dental office, you’re getting a much stronger whitening agent that can only be applied by your dentist.  Rather than spending 1-2 hours a day at home over several weeks to make your teeth a few shades whiter, you can spend 1-2 hours in one sitting to make your teeth up to four times as white as your typical at-home treatment.  This makes professional teeth whitening a huge time saver for patients.

While professional teeth whitening does cost more than your typical at-home kits, you’re saving yourself the time and aggravation of having to spend hours every day over the course of several weeks for sub-par results. If you value your time, then the cost of professional teeth whitening should pay for itself. 

Another distinct advantage of professional teeth whitening is how long results will last.  The stronger treatments your dentist utilizes penetrates deeper into your enamel to break up stains.  This gives you whiter teeth for longer.

Can All Teeth Be Whitened?

While teeth whitening treatments will work for most people, there are some cases where not much improvement can be made.  Yellowed teeth respond well to bleaching where brown or gray teeth do not.  Fillings, caps, and crowns also will not respond to teeth whitening treatments.  Lastly, teeth that are brown and suffered from past trauma also do not respond well to whitening.

If you’re interested in a teeth whitening consultation to find out which treatment will work best for you, request an appointment on our website or call our office today!