How Does Teeth Whitening Work?

Professional teeth whitening is the safest, most effective way to get that glowing smile you’re hoping for. But how does teeth whitening work? Here, I break down the procedure and what results you can expect from a professional job.

I am a huge fan of professional teeth whitening. We perform the procedure in my office every day, and it consistently yields positive results – my patients always walk out with brighter smiles and stronger self-confidence.

If you’re looking into getting professional whitening for your wedding, a high school reunion, or simply to treat yourself, go for it. After the relaxing 90 minute procedure, you’ll walk out of the office with your teeth an average of 2-3 shades lighter.

How exactly does teeth whitening work? Let’s review how the bleaching agents work on your teeth and the procedure. But first, you should understand what it means to be a good candidate for teeth whitening.

You’re a good candidate if:

* Your teeth staining is extrinsic and not intrinsic. Extrinsic staining means you have stains from some external factor; for example, from coffee, red wine and ketchup on your teeth.

Intrinsic staining, on the other hand, means the discoloration is caused from something internal, like a dead nerve.

* Your teeth aren’t brown from cavities. If they are, those teeth need to be restored and healthy first.

* The teeth you want to whiten are natural teeth. Because teeth with bondings or crowns do not consist of enamel, they will not whiten.

* Your teeth and gums are healthy. Your teeth should have no disease or decay present.

The Procedure

When you arrive, you’ll be escorted to a dental chair to meet with a staff member professionally trained to whiten teeth. He or she will place a material over your gum tissue to protect it from whitening agents, this is called a barrier.

A UV light will be placed over your teeth after the professional applies whitening agent over your teeth.

The only thing you need to do is keep your mouth open. As I mentioned before, the procedure lasts about 90 minutes. You’ll most likely watch a movie or TV show during that time. Some patients even read or work.

After it’s over, we put fluoride and other agents on the teeth to ward off any potential sensitivity you may encounter afterwards.

As you can see, it’s a relatively simple, “in-and-out” process.

How The Agents Work

In a nutshell, whitening agents are bleaching chemicals engineered to set off a chemical reaction when exposed to enamel.

This reaction breaks apart the staining compounds on your teeth, which tend to accumulate and stain the teeth after years of consuming coffee, red wine, and ketchup.

The tooth whitener your dentist will most likely use in a professional procedure has one of two chemical agents: either carbide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. (Yes, the same stuff used to bleach your hair.)

Hydrogen peroxide is the main, active whitening agent. When carbide peroxide is used in your mouth, it breaks down into hydrogen peroxide and urea to whiten your teeth.

Read more about whitening agents here.


As I mentioned above, the average patient leaves with his or her teeth 2 to 3 shades whiter. People feel younger, more confident and happier with their newly bright set of pearly whites.

Keep in mind that some patients do have sensitivity from teeth whitening in general. But those patients who do, tend to have sensitive teeth in general.

As you can see, teeth whitening is a simple, relaxing process that really works. Consult with us before scheduling an appointment to ensure teeth whitening is right for you.

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