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How Long Does Teeth Whitening Last [Dentist Vs At-Home]

10 min read
by Dylan Hao |

In today’s world of social media influencers and Insta-perfect people, it can seem like everyone has a dazzling white smile. The truth is that we all have different shades of enamel, and that white color you see probably isn’t completely natural. 

Now that over-the-counter and professional teeth whitening treatments are affordable and safe, they are more common than ever. 

But you want your effort and money to last, so you must consider how long your teeth will stay white. 

Teeth bleaching of any kind isn’t permanent, but some treatments last longer than others. There are also ways you can extend your white shades. 

This article will walk you through the types of whitening options you have and how to keep your enamel safe from discoloration.

Why Most Teeth Aren’t White

When we see a baby’s first tooth pop in, it’s always the perfect pearly white. Yet, as we age, our enamel needs help to stay that shade.

What happens to turn our teeth from the bright white of our babyhood into the more yellowed color most of us have?

The answer is simple: life happens. 

Intrinsic and extrinsic staining agents, including (but not limited to) what we eat and drink, discolor our teeth. 

So, unless you’re ensuring everything that goes into your body won’t stain your teeth, discoloration will happen.

However, some people have teeth that naturally discolor easily, while others have more stain-resistant enamel. It’s also possible to reduce staining with strong and consistent dental hygiene practices.

The Most Common Intrinsic Staining Agents

The color of your teeth is a guide you can read to find out what’s causing the staining. When the stain comes from inside your body, the enamel will turn yellow, brown, gray, or white.

Intrinsic stains result from tooth abnormalities or materials (like medication) absorbed into the tooth that affect the enamel’s structure as it develops. 

Because they’re inside the tooth, they become a permanent part of the formation and can’t be removed with whitening agents or other fixes.

For the most part, these intrinsic agents only affect the part of the tooth that was developing when the agent was introduced into the body. The exception is minocycline, a medication that can get deep into the tooth and dental pulp and stain the enamel even after the tooth has formed.

Tetracycline is another medicine that stains the structure of the tooth. When your enamel is yellowish-gray, it could be from this antibiotic.

Still, most of us have yellow and brown stains from extrinsic sources.

Extrinsic Reasons for Your Discolored Teeth

Does your day start with a regular morning cup of joe? 

If so, your coffee habit could be why your teeth aren’t dazzlingly white.

When consumed frequently, coffee and other dark beverages stain the outer surface of the enamel. With 7 out of 10 Americans drinking an average of three cups of coffee daily, it’s no wonder that cosmetic dentistry treatments are on the rise.

But if you’re not a coffee drinker, you may not be out of the woods yet. 

Other food and beverages that discolor your teeth include:

  • Tea
  • Dark sodas
  • Tobacco
  • Red wines
  • Anything acidic
  • Products with flavonoids and phenols

How severely the staining occurs depends partly on the agent and partly on your tooth’s natural surface. If you have rough teeth with fissures and large pores, the agent can get into the enamel easier, staining the next layer of dentin.

Once it reaches that layer, you need more than brushing to undo the damage because you’re no longer dealing with simple surface stains. 

This is where whitening treatments enter the scene.

How Whitening Treatments Work at Home

When your stains are due to extrinsic causes, they can be reversed through whitening treatments. 

These methods are safe and effective as long as you use the right products and follow their directions.

You’ll find whitening products available over the counter, through mail kits, in dentist’s offices, and other places. Each has its own mix of bleaching agents, concentration levels, application methods, and application times.

Types of At-Home Whitening Treatments

Most at-home products use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, both of which cause an oxidation reaction that whitens the enamel. In the reaction, oxidation breaks down the discolored molecules and leaves behind a white surface.

At-Home Kits With Strips

The kits with strips you see sold over the counter should have an ADA-approved seal. This American Dental Association designation means that the bleaching agents in the product are safe and effective for human use.

To use the whitener, apply the product as instructed and leave it on your teeth for the designated time. If you follow the directions, you should have whiter teeth without many side effects. 

But many of these products are made from lower-quality ingredients, so the results don’t last as long as premium-quality bleaching agents. 

When you return to your regular habits, your teeth will quickly discolor again.

Trays

Another method of whitening application is the tray. 

Spreading strips across your teeth can be a hassle. They don’t stay on, and you end up with bleach everywhere but on your teeth. 

Professionally-designed trays stop that problem.

At JS Dental Lab, our durable whitening trays are custom-made for your teeth. 

  1. You order the kit, and it comes in the mail to you. 
  2. Use the mold to make an impression of your mouth and send it back. 
  3. Our professionals create a set of custom upper and lower trays for your teeth.

Our whitening gel is made from the highest quality agents, giving faster results that last much longer. Whereas most companies use carbamide peroxide, JS Dental Lab uses hydrogen peroxide-based gels. Carbamide peroxide has to break down into hydrogen peroxide before it becomes an active ingredient.

Our gels ensure the active hydrogen peroxide is added to your custom tray, where it breaks down into water and peroxide radicals. These oxygen ions are also known as whitening molecules.

They absorb into your tooth, where the oxygen ions break down stains through a process called oxidation. When they’re broken down, the tooth reflects more light, which makes it appear whiter.

Using hydrogen peroxide as the main ingredient requires a sophisticated blend of manufacturing and complex formula. But it delivers fast results because, unlike carbamide peroxide, it’s a direct bleaching agent. 

custom teeth whitening trays

Toothpaste and Mouthwash

As we mentioned earlier, sometimes those stains you have are too deep for normal brushing to fix. But some toothpaste and mouthwash products are marketed as whitening treatments. 

How do those work?

Whitening products such as these remove surface stains by using special abrasives to polish the teeth — and certain chemicals that dissolve stains.

These actions cause the enamel to look whiter, but they don’t get deep into the dentin, where stronger stains discolor the tooth. 

You’ve heard of the recent trend of activated charcoal whitening toothpaste. Studies show that this ingredient whitens teeth because it can adsorb chromophores in your mouth, which causes a sort of optical illusion. 

Your teeth look whiter because of the chromophores adjusting the perception of the enamel’s color, but there isn’t much scientific evidence proving that charcoal products whiten your teeth.

Of course, no toothpaste has a chance of making your teeth whiter if you aren’t brushing twice a day. Read about some essential daily dental habits.

Cautions About Whitening Products

Ready to jump in and grab the closest whitening treatment you find? 

Hold on to those turbo moves and tread with caution.

Not all whitening products are side-effect free. According to the ADA, it’s common to experience reactions like increased tooth sensitivity and gum inflammation if the chemicals stay on your soft tissue for too long.

Always follow the instructions as directed on the product’s package, and never overuse the treatment. If the results aren’t what you’d hoped, it could mean that your stains are deeper than that level of bleach is designed to handle. 

Be safe. A whitening tray with professional-grade ingredients limits the chemical contact on your gums and reduces how long you need to leave the product on for it to work.

How Dentist Whitening Treatments Work

dental office teeth whitening led

Going to the dentist for professional treatment is another way to ensure you get the best whitening ingredients. These premium-grade whitening agents are stronger and last longer than at-home kits and strips.

The type of treatment you get will depend on what’s offered at your dental clinic. These include high-concentration hydrogen peroxide gels applied to the enamel through a syringe or hydrogen peroxide combined with a high-intensity LED or UV light.

The dental office has access to higher medical-grade concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. The dentist’s DDS training gives them the skills to apply the products during the whitening process safely, and the bleach quickly gets into the dentin.

High-intensity LED and UV lights are shone on the enamel once the whitener is applied. The idea of this conjunctive treatment is that the lights enhance the speed at which the bleaching agent enters the pores in your enamel. 

This reduces the time it takes for your teeth to get whiter and brighter. 

LED Lights: A Dentistry Marvel or a Gimmick?

LED teeth whitening at home, is it a gimmick?

The lights your dentist uses during your whitening procedure are used to break apart the whitening gel faster. They don’t have any “whitening” properties themselves. So, when an OTC brand markets itself as using LED lights to whiten your teeth, that’s not exactly false advertising, but it’s not completely true, either.

In fact, in the world of dentistry, many professionals consider OTC LED lights to be a marketing gimmick. Users love the whiter color they get, but it’s a temporary illusion. 

Professional LED lights are stronger than OTC LED lights, which generate heat that makes the teeth whiter by dehydrating the enamel. This creates an optical illusion that your teeth are white, but the effects don’t last nearly as long as you’d get using powerful professional LED lights.

Woman receiving an LED teeth whitening treatment at her dentist's office

Often, one office visit is all you need to get your teeth to that dazzling Insta-worthy smile — if you’re okay with paying the hefty price of an LED whitening visit. 

How To Keep Your Newly-Whitened Teeth Lasting Longer

Whichever method you choose, you want your newly-whitened teeth to stay this ideal shade. You could re-whiten your enamel, but the more you use bleaching agents, the more likely your teeth's sensitivity will increase.

Instead of using a whitening product more often than you should, try adjusting your habits to avoid restaining your enamel. 

Keep up your home teeth care habits, and go for regular cleanings and exams with your dental professional.

Then do the following:

Avoid Food That Stains Your Teeth

The most important first step is to stay away from foods that stain your teeth for the first 48 hours after using a whitener. 

Many dentists call this the “white food” diet, suggesting you eat and drink only light-colored foods and beverages after your treatment.

Quit Tobacco

If you want your teeth to stay white, you’ll need to quit your tobacco habits. 

We know it’s not easy, but when you look at your smile in the mirror and that white sparkle winks at you, it might make you think twice about lighting your next cigarette.

Cut Down on Bruxism

After whitening treatment, one more thing to be cautious about is how you care for your teeth beyond the bathroom. You know that you need to brush at least twice a day, floss regularly and use mouthwash to kill those pesky bacteria. 

But if you’re a grinder, wear a custom-made night guard

Grinding, usually caused by bruxism, can speed up the damage to your enamel. Wearing your night guard slows tooth discoloration, letting you keep your white smile longer.

Less grinding will save your enamel, but a dirty night guard won’t do your teeth color any favors. Learn how to clean a night guard.

How To Choose the Best Whitening Product for You

what is the best teeth whitening product

With all these methods to choose from, how do you decide which type of whitening product to invest your time and money into? 

We’ll break down each and give you the information you need to solve your dilemma.

OTC Products

An over-the-counter product may work if your teeth are generally healthy with good oral hygiene and you don’t have any veneers, cavities, or sensitivity. 

Remember, these only remove surface-level teeth stains from the tooth enamel, so if you don’t get the results you’re looking for, you will need something stronger.

Custom Whitening Kits/Trays

Custom whitening trays are the just-right option for people aiming for the best at home whitening option. 

They give you the same high-quality, medical-grade ingredients for a brighter smile that you’d get with professional treatment. 

Since the trays are customized to your teeth, the results are a premium whitener without the high price tag.

If you decide to go for an OTC stock tray, take care in your selection. Many OTC trays that come from dropship distributors at cheaper prices are bulky and unwieldy. 

Not only are these uncomfortable, but they don’t fit in the nooks and crannies of each of your uniquely shaped and spaced teeth. The results can be blotchy and unevenly whitened enamel.

There are OTC trays from online dental labs, like JS Dental Lab, that contour to your unique shape. They fit perfectly over the teeth and along the gumline.

With too much tray, such as those that come in stock OTC kits, you get a lot of gel sliding around, making a mess or missing the important surface areas. A custom tray from your dentist or an online lab like JS Dental Lab holds a perfect reservoir of gel exactly where you want it, designed to last for the prescribed period.

custom teeth whitening tray vs over the counter stock trays

Professional Treatments

Do you have an event right around the corner that you want to boost your smile’s radiance for? 

If time is of the essence — and you can afford the cost of a professional treatment (which can be upwards of $1,000) — head to your cosmetic dentist’s office. 

This is also the preferred option for people with intrinsic structural staining. Your dentist will examine your teeth to see if their treatment will help or if it might worsen the oral health problems you already have.

Conclusion

Taking care of your teeth isn’t only about cavities and brushing. When your teeth are discolored, there’s a cosmetic concern that affects your confidence.

Depending on the type of teeth staining you have, there are plenty of options to get you that bright smile.

You have control of the whitening results, whether you choose an in-office teeth whitening procedure, whitening strips purchased OTC or a customized whitening tray from us at JS Dental Lab. 

With the JS Dental Lab kit, you’ll get fabulous results from the comfort of your own home and still have money in the bank after your treatment.

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