How Does Teeth Whitening Work?

A bright, beautiful smile is part of looking and feeling your best. Teeth whitening can help almost everyone improve the appearance of their teeth. You can choose from a number of over-the-counter products, or you can have the procedure done at your dentist’s office. The choices can be overwhelming, so it’s important to learn about how teeth whitening works.

Bleaching Process

Teeth whitening is essentially a bleaching process. Most whitening products will use either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. These are bleaching agents that break down stains on your tooth enamel that build up over time due to consumption of drinks like coffee, tea, and cola or tobacco use. Some foods that are high in carbs can also discolor your teeth.

Some products such as whitening toothpaste may rely on baking soda, which is a mild abrasive that scrubs off surface stains. You can use a baking soda paste directly on your teeth without harm. You can also use over-the-counter hydrogen peroxide, but it will not be as effective as whitening products, and used incorrectly or in too strong of a concentration, it may cause enamel damage or make your teeth sensitive to cold or hot.

LED Lights

If you have your teeth whitened at your dentist’s office, an LED light will be used. Some store-bought whitening kits will also make use of a light. An LED light shines a harmless, direct beam of light directly on the teeth. The effect of the light is to accelerate the chemical reactions of the whitening agents on your teeth.

The advantage of using lights is that they shorten the time you need to have the whitening agents or devices (such as trays or strips) on your teeth. Simply put, you can get the job done faster. However, don’t try to use just any light you have at home. The LED lights used for teeth whitening are safer because it doesn’t produce high levels of heat nor does it contain UV radiation that may be linked to cancer.


Since each individual is unique, the effectiveness of teeth whitening will vary from person to person. For a few people, it will not work because their discoloration has been caused by illness, injury, or medication. Teeth whitening will also not work on porcelain crowns, veneers, or partial dentures. Your dentist will be able to tell you whether you are a candidate for teeth whitening.

For the average person, the teeth whitening process can be very effective in removing common stains and noticeably brightening the teeth. The results can last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years, depending on individual factors and what method or product you use. It’s important not to whiten your teeth too often because you could damage your tooth enamel.

Advantages of Professional Whitening

While over-the-counter products can whiten your teeth, you will probably have better results with fewer side effects if you have your teeth professionally whitened at your dentist’s office. Your dentist knows your specific dental history and how whitening may affect your teeth. He or she can recommend the best procedure and products for you.

If appropriate, dentists can use a stronger concentration of hydrogen peroxide than home whiteners use, which means the whitening process can be faster and the results more visible. Your dentist may also have access to products and procedures that are gentler and cause less irritation and tooth sensitivity.

Whitening your teeth can improve your overall appearance and give you confidence in business or social encounters. The process is fairly simple, but if you have any questions or concerns, you should consult your dentist before beginning any whitening program.

In the Salt Lake City area, Dr. Nate C. Lewis offers a gentle, easy whitening process and other cosmetic dental procedures. Click here to learn more.