Over-the-Counter Whitening vs. In-Office Teeth Whitening

Over-the-Counter Whitening vs. In-Office Teeth Whitening

A whiter, brighter smile is often associated with youth, warmth, and happiness. It also has a large effect on how society will view you. According to a survey conducted by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), 99.7% of adults view a smile as being the most important social asset. The survey also shows that the majority believe an attractive smile makes you more attractive to the opposite sex, while an unattractive smile may prevent career success.

Once you understand the benefits of a whiter, brighter smile, you can make the decision to do something about your smile today. As you seek out a way to whiten and brighten your teeth, you will find there are two options, in-office whitening and over-the counter treatments. The treatment you choose will depend on the reason you need teeth whitening, as well as the specifics of the treatment.

Why You May Need Teeth Whitening

Perhaps the largest reason that whiter teeth are associated with youth is that our teeth often become yellow or discolored over time. This can be caused by foods, genetics, antibiotics, or even the passage of time. External discoloration is very common in adults. However, more severe internal discoloration may also occur. This happens when the enamel and the dentin of the tooth are discolored. This is most frequently caused by childhood antibiotic use, tooth decay, root canal problems, trauma, high levels of fluoride, developmental delay, and tetracycline. Any one of these factors can caused a yellowed or stained appearance to the teeth and result in a desire for teeth whitening in the future. External staining is often caused by coffee, carrots, and other foods, as well as tobacco use.

Types of Over-the-Counter Teeth Whitening

When you choose to whiten your teeth at home, you have several different options including teeth whitening strips, gels, toothpaste, and bleach kits.


Strips can be effective for whitening teeth. They also can be worn longer, depending on the severity of the staining on your teeth. The disadvantage of choosing teeth whitening strips, however, is that they usually only cover the six front teeth. This means that your back teeth go without whitening. This gives your entire mouth an uneven covering, however, they may work well for individuals who have capped back teeth.


Teeth whitening gels are typically sold as either a “paint-on” application, or with a mouth tray. The gel contains a peroxide-bleaching substance that whitens the teeth. There are two disadvantages to using over-the-counter whitening products. First, the peroxide solution can be dangerous if the use is not monitored. Second, if you choose a gel that comes with a tray, you may find that the tray does not fit. This can allow the gel to overflow, causing damage to the gums.


Whitening toothpaste is probably the one of the most affordable options for someone looking to whiten their teeth at home. However, most toothpaste contains abrasive agents, which help to remove surface stains regardless of whether or not it is considered whitening toothpaste. According to dentists, whitening toothpastes do only a little more than any other tube of toothpaste. They are also only effective in removing stains and discoloration from the surface of your teeth, making them a lot less effective than other teeth whitening procedures over-the-counter and in the dental office.


Like gels, other types of over-the-counter bleaching products are used with a tray, or brushed onto the teeth. The disadvantage to this method is that if your teeth are crooked, the tray may not fit. It may also be difficult to cover all areas of your teeth with the bleaching brush. The amount of bleaching chemicals is also significantly lower than the amount used in a dentist’s office, because its use is not closely monitored. This makes it less effective than treatments done in the office.

Pros and Cons of In-Office Teeth Whitening

There are several advantages to choosing to whiten your teeth using professional procedures at a dental office. First, the results of the treatment are seen immediately. Often, whitening procedures are performed in a one-hour time frame. At the end of this hour, you can see your results. This is different because most over-the-counter products take weeks before you see results. At a dental office, you can have your teeth whitened by up to 10 shades by the end of your visit.

Another advantage of choosing in-office teeth whitening is the strength of the whitening solution used. The reason professional whitening is so much faster and more effective than over-the-counter treatments is because it has a higher concentration of the bleaching element. This higher concentration is FDA approved because its use is monitored by your dentist.

Finally, in-office whitening is safer than over-the-counter treatments. While the concentration of the bleaching element is higher, it is better monitored by a professional. This allows for a safer and more effective treatment.

There are two disadvantages of choosing in-office teeth whitening. First, it is one of the more costly forms of teeth whitening. However, you may find that your insurance will cover some of the procedure. The second disadvantage is that the high concentration of chemicals means you can only have your teeth whitened as often as your dentist will allow. Luckily, you can use over-the-counter products to touch up your smile between visits.

When to Use Each Treatment

While it may seem that in-office teeth whitening is the only option you should choose, it is important to remember that each option does have benefits. Some dentists recommend restricting the number of in-office whitening visits to no more than once or twice yearly. In between professional whitening procedures, you may find that over-the-counter treatments work very well. They give you the option of touching up your smile between visits, so that the results of your last professional visit can last a year or longer. If you are concerned about the upkeep of your white smile, speak with your dentist about prescribing a customized tray or whitening procedure that will work best for your smile.