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Teeth Whitening Costs Simplified: Budgeting for a Brighter Smile

8 min read
by Dylan Hao |

It’s not surprising that the teeth whitening industry is worth billions of dollars

But how much should you expect to pay for your bright white smile?

We’ll break down your options and how much you should expect to budget in your quest for the ideal smile.

How Teeth Whitening Works

Although almost all of our first baby and permanent teeth come in pearly white, over time, we end up with more eggshell and yellow shades. Why does this happen?

To understand the cause of discoloration and how teeth whitening works, we must first look at each tooth's layout.

How Teeth Are Formed

Looking closely at your tooth, it seems pretty solid, right? Luckily for us, teeth are the hardest substance in the body, even stronger than bone. But they are still susceptible to internal and external damage.

Your teeth are made up of two main layers:

  • Hard outer enamel
  • Soft inner dentin

There are other parts of the tooth network, but these two are the layers responsible for the coloring of the tooth.

Your enamel protects the sensitive dentin from anything you put in your mouth. Technically, the enamel is clear, even though it looks white. The layer of dentin is what gives your teeth their natural white or off-white color. Dentin is naturally pale yellow, but it often becomes darker and browner as you age.

How Discoloration Happens

Discoloration can be on the tooth's surface or from the inner dentin layer. Surface stains come from what you put in your mouth, including meals, beverages, and tobacco (if applicable).

Those items leave particles behind, building up into a film that changes the visual shade of the tooth.

This type of staining is usually easily removable with regular oral hygiene or a little extra scrubbing with a good abrasive toothpaste. But when the stains are more stubborn, they get into the pores of your enamel and need more powerful help to remove them.

Removing Staining Agents With Whiteners

Whitening toothpaste is usually enough to get rid of light surface stains. But when those staining compounds absorb into the pores of your enamel, it takes something a little more substantial to remove them.

Whether in at-home or professional teeth whitening forms, whiteners use bleaching agents to produce a chemical reaction that breaks the compounds up. 

The bleaching agent enters the enamel through the pores, creating an oxidation effect. Particles that once discolored your enamel are destroyed, leaving your teeth their natural shade of dentin.

Hydrogen Versus Carbamide Peroxide

Tooth whiteners use carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide to get this effect. Both are safe in limited quantities, although they shouldn’t be ingested. Carbamide peroxide is simply a more stable form of hydrogen peroxide. Once activated, it becomes hydrogen peroxide, which is the active whitening agent. 

Some whiteners use hydrogen peroxide because it breaks down faster than its counterpart. Most of the whitening agent is fully released within 60 minutes, and users get that “instant” whitening effect, but this comes at a cost — intense whitening can cause enamel and gum sensitivity.

Carbamide peroxide remains active for up to six hours. Both are effective whiteners, but when the product stays on your teeth longer, carbamide is typically used because it’s gentler.

At-Home Treatment Options and Their Costs

If your discoloration is external, you could benefit from over-the-counter products. These are found in three main types:


striped toothpaste squeezing out of a tube

Regarding budgeting, whitening toothpaste or mouthwash is your cheapest option. You can find effective products between $5 and $20, depending on the brand.

These are great for removing the buildup of layers of surface stain from food, beverages, and tobacco. They’re easy to use and can prevent future buildup as well. 

Toothpaste doesn’t use hydrogen or carbamide peroxide but instead has whitening agents such as baking soda, peroxide derivatives, and blue covarine, which aren’t as strong as other products.

The upside is that whitening toothpaste is less likely to cause sensitivity.

Whitening mouthwashes use a very low concentration of hydrogen peroxide and sodium hexametaphosphate, potassium pyrophosphate, and sodium citrate. They can bleach or remove the stains and control short-term future buildup.

However, the results of toothpaste whiteners and mouthwashes aren’t long-lasting. You’ll need to keep using them to prevent more staining buildup, which can irritate your gums. The effects aren’t dramatic, either, because they won’t get into the enamel and remove deeper discoloration.

If your goal is a gradual lightening of your smile, whitening toothpaste or mouthwash are good choices. But if the stains are deeper, strips and kits could better help.


The next level is a box of whitening strips, sold for $20-$60 on average for a set of 20 treatments. These are easily applied at home by peeling the adhesive backing off and placing the strip’s gel side against your upper and lower front teeth.

Whitening strips have peroxide or bleach in them, lifting the deeper stains off your teeth and removing discoloration. You must follow the instructions on the package, as each brand has a different concentration of bleaching agent in the strips. Leaving them on for too long can damage your enamel and gums. But taking them off too soon doesn’t give the product enough time to work.

These at-home strips are cheaper than professional treatments because they are made from inexpensive materials like plastic for the strips and peroxide as the active ingredient.

The results begin to show within a few days and last a few months.

However, keep in mind that overusing whitening strips can irritate your gums and teeth and erode the enamel, causing decay. Since the strips are one-size-fits-all, the bleaching agent covers the soft tissue of your gums and can damage this sensitive area.

Whitening Trays

The last level of at-home treatments is whitening trays. These come in kits that include a flexible, soft application tray and a whitening gel syringe. To use them, you fill the tray (which looks like a night guard) with the gel and apply it over your teeth.

Costs depend on whether you use a general kit or have yours professionally made. OTC kits start around $100 and work relatively well for most people.

The downside is that the trays aren’t designed for your teeth, so the whitener doesn’t get into all the nooks and crannies of your unique arches.

Professional kits, like ours at JS Dental Lab, use a mold of your top and bottom teeth to create the tray.

Our high-quality gel uses top-of-the-line ingredients for a safer, faster, and more powerful effect. The whitening agent is applied across the custom-made tray to ensure it hits all of the surfaces of your teeth.

This kind of whitening product gets into the pores of your enamel to remove stubborn stains. The results depend on the product you use, with JS Dental Lab’s whitening trays holding the same effectiveness as professional whitening kits at a fraction of the cost.

Read more: How to Whiten Teeth Without Damaging Your Tooth Enamel

In-Office Treatment Options and Their Prices

Male dentist with his female patient, teeth whitening treatment in-office

Professional whitening treatments at the dentist’s office are your priciest option, but they’re the best bet for certain situations. For instance, if you have a major event in a few days, like a wedding, this is the fastest, most powerful way to get whiter teeth before the big day.

These dentist-supervised cosmetic procedures use carbamide or hydrogen peroxide in gel form. The level of active bleaching ingredients depends on the patient’s overall oral and medical health. The dentist may complete the treatment in-office or provide a take-home whitening kit.

One benefit of in-office teeth whitening is that the dental hygienist will clean your teeth first, scrubbing and scraping off any surface debris for even bleaching. The dentist will ensure your gums are healthy enough to handle the gel. 

The treatment typically combines the active bleaching agent application with a high-intensity light that speeds up the oxidation. How long it takes to bring your teeth to your goal shade will vary, depending on the level of staining. However, many patients see dramatic results after one in-office treatment or about one week of using the at-home custom trays.

The two main downsides of this whitening system are the cost and the need to stop your day to visit the dentist.

Typical dental whitening treatments range from $300-$1,000 or more and generally aren’t covered by insurance since they’re considered cosmetic dentistry care.

How to Budget for Whiter Teeth

So now that you know your options, it’s time to discuss your financial situation. How can you budget for whiter teeth?

First, answer these two questions:

  • What are your whitening goals? A shade lighter, multiple shades whiter, or a complete renovation of your smile?
  • How long do you have before you want to hit that ideal white hue?

If you only need to remove some light surface stains, budgeting for an effective whitening toothpaste or some at-home strips should do the trick to whiten teeth to the right level. Less than $30, and you’re on your way to meeting your goals!

However, if you need to get in deeper and remove stubborn stains, your best option depends on your timeline. For a less-than-two-week-away goal, contact your dental office right now to see if they can squeeze you in for an appointment to ensure you have time for this whitening process. 

Otherwise, you have time to invest in a high-quality, custom-made teeth whitening kit from JS Dental Lab for long-term results. The average cost of the kit is $165, but if you can put away $10/week, you can have your kit and whiter teeth within six months.

How to Keep Your Teeth White

No matter what teeth whitening treatment you use, it won’t last forever. Your lifestyle habits and dental hygiene play a major role in getting and keeping a bright white smile.

The good news is that there are some easy things to do — and not to do — to prolong the effects of your whitening investment.

These tips will help your newly lightened teeth stay that way longer:

  • Take good care of your teeth and gums by using a soft-bristled toothbrush twice daily (unless your dentist recommends otherwise) and flossing each morning or night.
  • Stay away from products with staining agents, including dark liquids (such as red wine) and bright foods like berries and sauce. Say no to tobacco, if not for your health, then for your white teeth. If you do eat, drink, or use these stainers, brush and rinse quickly afterward.
  • Go to the dentist for regular professional cleanings and dental care to keep tabs on your overall oral health.

With these tips and proper oral care, you may be able to prevent a repeat of the teeth staining that brought you here today!


Dazzlingly white teeth are the envy of millions of people worldwide, and they can be yours with the right teeth whitening product.

Which one do you need, and how can you budget for it? 

Armed with this information, you can start saving and shopping, or check out JS Dental Lab’s Try Now for $1 and interest-free installment payment options. Show off your whitening results quickly, and see how a brighter smile can change your confidence!

Learn more: Everything a Consumer Needs to Know Before They Purchase Teeth Whitening Products

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