Person who had teeth whitening treatment smiling on the street

Breaking Down the Differences Between At-Home Kits and Professional Clinical Whitening

Everyone wants a brilliant, white, healthy smile—just look at the range of products out there promising a quick fix for stained teeth, and you’ll get a sense of how much demand there is for whiter teeth.

If we’re being honest, part of the challenge of teeth whitening is sorting through all the products and conflicting information available to you. Where do you start? What works? What should you avoid?

It’s tough to navigate, especially if all you’re after is a smile that you can feel confident in. That’s part of the reason why we’ve put together this guide to teeth whitening products and services. Read on to find out more about teeth whitening options at home and in the clinic!

Why Do Teeth Stain or Turn Yellow?

Let’s start with the basics: what causes stains in the first place? There are actually two types of staining that can impact teeth: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic staining occurs when things like coffee, soda, or juice stain the outer enamel of your tooth. These stains are typically superficial and are often the easiest to address.

Intrinsic staining happens within the tooth. Anything from exposure to an excessive amount of fluoride to tooth damage can cause these stains.

If you’re a smoker, you might start to notice telltale yellowing of your teeth from nicotine. You may also get yellower teeth from improper cleaning or tartar buildup, which regular professional dental cleanings can help alleviate.

Simply put, your teeth deal with a lot on an everyday basis—food, drink, and activities all contribute to staining, which is why it’s important to maintain your teeth and get them checked out regularly!

How Does Teeth Whitening Work?

This is the big question: how does teeth whitening work? The answer is simple, but frustrating: it depends on the products you choose.

By and large, you’re going to be choosing between at-home whitening products and clinic-administered whitening services and products. What you choose will determine the actual whitening mechanism or action.

At-home products typically use a gel, paste, or rinse of some sort to deal with staining. Clinical whitening services can go into greater depth and offer services that can more directly address individual concerns via laser technology or superior products.

At-Home Whitening vs. Clinic Whitening

What’s the best way to whiten your smile? It really depends on the results you want. At-home products can lighten your teeth a little or (perhaps more importantly) can reduce the amount of staining that occurs over time.

But to get truly dramatic, effective results, you usually need a clinic whitening service. It’s important to note that some products used for teeth whitening at home can be dangerous if used improperly or long-term.

Whitening Toothpastes

Many whitening toothpastes contain both a bleaching agent and an abrasive agent. These are usually minimal: over time, they can lighten your teeth a shade or two.

Mostly, they remove the exterior film on your teeth, so the stains are less prominent. Using an abrasive toothpaste consistently can wear down your enamel, however, leading to tooth sensitivity.

Whitening Gels

Whitening gels are bleaching agents applied directly to your teeth. They penetrate the exterior surface of your teeth, lifting stains.

If overused, these gels can harm your enamel, which can cause higher rates of cavities. When properly used, they can lift a few shades of staining, over time.

Whitening Strips

Whitening strips are small strips that are covered in whitening gel. They often come in a teeth whitening kit that’s intended for use over days or weeks. They lift shades over time.

Improper use of whitening strips can lead to unusual coloration (with some stains being lifted, and some stains remaining) and tooth sensitivity. However, proper use of whitening strips can be effective for those who want to lighten their teeth a few shades.

Professional Whitening With Zoom

Zoom is a professional whitening process that uses laser light to break up stains on the surface of teeth. This process usually takes about an hour to complete and can quickly and dramatically lighten teeth.

During the process, a special solution will be applied to the front teeth, and then laser light will shine on the teeth to activate it. There can be some discomfort related to using Zoom, but the process itself is safe and harmless.

Professional Whitening With UV Light

During the process of bleaching, UV light exposure may be used to improve the effectiveness of the bleaching process. UV light is believed to yield better results, but it’s overall a slightly deprecated service.

New products such as Zoom are more likely to be effective and more likely to be safe. Either way, your gums, face, and eyes will generally be protected.

Professional Whitening With Laser Light

While Zoom uses both a bleaching agent and a laser, there are services that only use laser light. A special type of laser is used that will break down surface stains. A laser light is inserted into the individual’s mouth, shining directly on the individual’s teeth. These laser light sessions are short and may be repeated. The largest issue with laser light is that it tends to be the most expensive option.

Am I a Good Candidate for Whitening?

If you want to lighten your teeth and have otherwise healthy teeth, you’re an excellent candidate for whitening. If you just want to lift a few surface stains, you may want to try some at-home teeth whitening products. When used sparingly and according to the directions, at-home teeth whitening should be safe.

If you want to lighten your teeth more significantly (or don’t want to wait for the results), a professional service is better.

Address Other Dental Issues First

Before asking about how to whiten teeth, you should be resolving any other issues you have with your teeth. Dental issues such as cavities or weak enamel need to be addressed first, because they can be made worse by even the best teeth whitening processes.

Ultimately, teeth whitening is a cosmetic process: it’s important to deal with medical issues first. When done under the supervision of a professional dentist, teeth whitening processes are absolutely safe and effective. At-home processes are a bit more of a mixed bag: a teeth whitening kit could lift some stains, but it could also damage your enamel if used improperly.

If you’re wondering whether teeth whitening is right for you, your first step should be to make an appointment with Affinity Dental for a consultation.