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LED Whitening: Is it a gimmick?

9 min read
by JS Dental Lab |

A dazzling white smile is certainly something on most everyone’s wish list! After all, your smile says a lot about you! Even our caveman ancestors cared about how white and bright their smiles were, often using available resources such as charcoal to help remove pesky stains brought on by eating and drinking. Of course, we’ve come a long way from using hunks of burned ash to brighten our smiles and keep our mouths clean. 

Unfortunately, simply brushing and flossing your teeth will not prevent them from becoming discolored or stained over time. From coffee to fruits, your teeth are constantly bombarded by stain causing food and drink. 

A quick scan of your dental needs aisle at your local supermarket or major box store will reveal a wide array of options for your whitening needs. Toothpastes, whitening strips, and the latest trend in over the counter teeth whitening is the at home LED whitening kits. With the popularity of LED technology, many individuals are flocking to this new method to help improve their smile to the dazzling brightness often seen in Hollywood movies.

How whitening works:

Most whitening products and options are based on the application and usage of either a hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide solution. 

Hydrogen peroxide based solutions

Most people are familiar with the hydrogen peroxide they keep in their first aid cabinet to clean cuts and scrapes. However, many people fail to realize that hydrogen peroxide has a natural whitening effect. This 'bleaching’ action occurs through oxidation as oxygen is released. The oxidation removes the color from matter, making it appear colorless, or as in the case with your teeth, bright and white. This natural effect can be activated to produce more rapid chemical reactions, thus increasing the speed and efficiency of the whitening effect. 

Hydrogen peroxide can be tricky and potentially toxic if not used correctly. Additionally, the shelf life and stability of hydrogen peroxide based whitening solutions is a bit more complicated, often requiring specific containers and refrigeration. Even with all precautions taken, hydrogen peroxide based whitening solutions often lose their effectiveness after about 18 months for refrigerated solutions and 9 months for unrefrigerated solutions.

Carbamide peroxide based solutions

An alternative to a hydrogen peroxide whitening solution is a carbamide peroxide based solution. This solution is most commonly used in the whitening products sold to whiten your teeth at home. Carbamide peroxide produces hydrogen peroxide as part of the oxidation process. 

Carbamide peroxide has a slower reaction time and less stringent storage requirements, giving it a longer shelf life with greater stability. In fact, unrefrigerated carbamide peroxide whitening gels can last as long as 12 months before they start to show any decrease in their effectiveness. Even then, the decrease isn’t large enough to be noticeable. Carbamide peroxide whitening solutions that are stored in the refrigerator can go up to 24 months without losing any percentage of effectiveness.

Carbamide peroxide whitening solutions are what are most commonly used for any type of at home whitening product as it is far less “risky” to the consumer and tends to have a longer life on store shelves before needing to be replaced. 

What is LED whitening?

blue led light for whitening

LED whitening is a process in which a blue LED (light emitting diode) light is used in combination with a whitening gel. The gel is applied to the teeth and the LED light is positioned so that the gel is exposed entirely to the light. 

The exposure of the whitening gel to the blue light helps to activate the oxidation processThis process causes the gel to break up, during which the chemical reaction lifts the stains from your teeth. 

LED whitening was initially done at your dentists office, but in recent years, with the development of technology, at-home whitening kits using blue LED lights have not only become more accessible, but also more affordable. 

LED whitening treatments at your Dentist’s office

Dentist Teeth Whitening

Much like most dentist vs OTC treatments, LED whitening which occurs within the dentist chair can be a little bit different. 

Let’s talk about some of the obvious and not so obvious differences between going the DIY route for teeth whitening and going to your dentist.

The first, and probably most obvious difference comes from the cost. Your dentist may charge anywhere from $500 to over $1000 dollars for a treatment of LED whitening. 

However, this is often wagered against the second most obvious difference, the overall results. Talk to friends, family members and co-workers who’ve tried both, and they are very likely to report that while pricy, their teeth were whiter, brighter, and more dazzling after forgoing the time and money to have their dentist whiten their teeth.

Why is this? Well it comes down to a couple of those not so obvious differences. Earlier, we talked about carbamide peroxide solutions versus hydrogen peroxide solutions. In your dentist’s office, the choice is most often a hydrogen peroxide based whitening gel.

Unlike the average consumer, a dentist has the skills and equipment to determine the level of intensity that your teeth can withstand. Through the use of x-rays and other procedures, a dentist can determine the sensitivity of your teeth and apply a higher concentration of whitening gel, or even attempt multiple sessions in a single visit, based on your individual dental profile. 

The process may take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to complete for a single application.In some cases, your dentist or dental assistant may recommend multiple treatments. 

Another not so obvious difference comes from the type of LED light that is used to accelerate the whitening process. An LED light in a dentist’s office is going to be of higher caliber and better performance than any LED light that can be purchased by the average consumer. 

Whitening treatments at the dentist can run upwards of $1000, after application, treatment and “chair time”. The results are pronounced and with caution and proper after-care, the whitening results can last for several months, depending on the individual daily habits, before needing a second application. (Activities like smoking or eating or drinking foods which stain can and will impact the effect of your whitening effects.)

At-Home Whitening Kits

at home whitening kit

The options for trying LED whitening at home can be enough to drive a sane person crazy! With a number of options and kits, determining which of the kits can be “worth the money” can be a bit tricky. With options starting as low as under $10 for a “LED Tooth whitening light”, you might be wondering, can these over the counter treatments really be all they claim?

On average, a typical at home, LED whitening kit can cost around $40. Most often these kits are fitted with a LED device which harbors a U shaped tray or attachment and several applications of the whitening gel. 

It sounds simple enough, right? You just load one application of the gel into the device ‘tray’, slide your teeth into the fitting, turn the light on and wait. The processing time can vary between kits, but most on average recommend the treatment to take place once per day, for about 10 minutes. An at home LED whitening kit typically contains enough chemical whitening agent for about 7 days, promising noticeable results in that same time frame. 

does at home whitening kit work

Fact or Fiction: Do the at home kits really work?

The science behind LED whitening is solid. The process of whitening teeth with LED lights, even with at home kits, has been studied and examined pretty closely.The LED light acts as an accelerator for the whitening gel, most often a carbamide peroxide gel,  during which the chemical reaction produces a bleaching effect, leaving your teeth a bit brighter than before.  

In a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the subjects who were selected to participate in the Dentist’s office whitening process received three such applications, each application was accompanied by a 10 minute exposure to the LED light device. 

The at home subjects were instructed to use the solution and generic trays for a period of 14 days, each session totaling 30 minutes. These individuals were also advised not to eat or drink anything that was considered “high in color” or heavily pigmented for a period of one hour following the whitening application. 

In the NCBI study, both groups of subjects showed a noticeable difference in the brightness of their smile. At home whitening subjects, however, showed a slightly less improvement in their experience. 

The Takeaway

With a proper light, correctly applied gel and adequate timing for the treatment, LED whitening can produce a noticeable difference in your smile, whether you choose to seek out the professional services of your dentist or opt to spend the next week nightly applying the gel. 

However, much like many “at home” versions of your favorite beauty treatments, the results are subject to a number of issues which can impact your individual results.

First, at home whitening kits may contain a whitening agent that isn’t exactly as strong as claimed. A survey of over the counter LED whitening kits will show results with varying percentages of carbamide peroxide solution. With ranges from 18 to 35%, it can be difficult to determine which kit may be the right one. 

Additionally, the “LED” lights often provided are not true LED’s, which doesn’t add much value or effectiveness to the whitening process. Any “noticeable” change from using such a device could simply be a result of the added heat produced from adding a light. The same might be achieved by holding a flashlight to your teeth while wearing whitening gel. 

That said, the LED whitening you receive from your dentist is very likely to be much more dramatic and worth the extra cost if you need severe whitening to brighten your smile. 

At Home Whitening Downsides

At home whitening products can, and often do, create teeth sensitivities. This can be a result of the chemical agent being too harsh for your individual teeth. On the other hand, opting to select a kit with a lower percentage of gel can leave with with less than thrilling results and a hand full of frustrations. 

Another common issue with at home LED whitening kits are that the device tray used to hold the whitening gel is limiting, offering only one size to accommodate the wide arrange of mouths that will be using the device. This can make the treatment painful if the fitting isn’t quite right. 

downside of at home led whitening

Third, the application of the gel can be a bit tricky. Ensuring even coverage across the teeth can be a difficult task, leaving more of the whitening gel on your lips and gum than your actual teeth. This is true for strips, whitening gel pens, and even whitening kits that use generic trays to “hold” the gel against your teeth. In addition to these trays not quite living up to their “one size fits all” promise, depending on how your teeth fit, the gel may be shifted or pushed into the tray instead of on your teeth. 

Our Alternative Solution

While we’re not jumping on the LED whitening bandwagon just, we do have an alternative option for helping you achieve your dazzling white smile. 

Did you know that customized trays are the best way to go about whitening your teeth at home? 

Yep, that’s right. Even your dentist’s office is likely to use a similar process to create custom, or semi-custom fitting trays.

Unlike generic whitening trays, strips, or messy gel pen, customized whitening trays are designed to fit the shape of your teeth. This allows the whitening gel to be evenly distributed across your teeth for the maximum effect. 

Whitening trays are made very similarly to our retainers. An impression is made of both the upper and the lower teeth using a putty and appropriate sized tray. A plaster mold of your teeth is poured and the whitening tray material is thermoformed over the mold to have a  customized fit to your teeth. Once the trays are fabricated, the whitening gel is applied in the tray and they are snapped onto the teeth, holding the gel evenly in position. 

Here at JS Dental Lab, we have partnered with manufacturers to bring you a customized whitening system. Our whitening gel, when used with the customized whitening trays, can help improve the shade of your teeth. You can take a closer look and place your custom whitening trays here.

With customized trays, you’ll also have the opportunity to purchase only the whitening gel in the future, should you be ready for another treatment. Unlike waiting for your dentist appointment and sitting in a chair or worrying with holding an LED light against your teeth for 30 minutes at a time, our customized whitening trays can offer you the convenience of whitening your teeth without the hassle of interrupting your day! 

Reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4178330/#ref12

Reference: https://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-hydrogen-peroxide-and-vs-carbamide-peroxide/

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