What are the Different Types of Teeth Whitening Systems?

B. Miller

Virtually all teeth whitening systems make use of a type of peroxide, typically hydrogen peroxide. It is an effective ingredient at whitening the teeth, yet is very safe and leaves the enamel unharmed. The two main categories of teeth whitening systems include those done by a dentist, and those done at home. There are numerous different at-home whitening system options, however.

Sodium tripolyphosphate, which is often included in whitening toothpaste.
Sodium tripolyphosphate, which is often included in whitening toothpaste.

The main difference in the teeth whitening systems used at home or at the dentist is the percentage of peroxide. Treatments from the dentist will have a higher percentage of peroxide, and may be left on the teeth for one to two hours per session. Teeth whitening systems for use at home will have a lower percentage of peroxide, and are typically only left on the teeth for approximately 30 minutes per session. It may only take one treatment from a dentist to whiten teeth to their desired shade, but most at-home whitening systems take longer.

People use various methods to whiten their teeth.
People use various methods to whiten their teeth.

Teeth whitening systems designed for use at home are intended to be easy and convenient. Usually, the system is designed to be used every day for a week or two, one or two times per day. Common types of teeth whitening use sticky strips or tooth trays to keep the whitening gel on the teeth. For instance, the sticky strips will already have the whitening gel applied, and they are simply stuck on to the teeth for 30 minutes at a time. The strips may either dissolve or need to be removed.

Some types of mouthwash is designed to whiten teeth.
Some types of mouthwash is designed to whiten teeth.

Whitening trays may need to be filled with the whitening gel, and then simply placed over the teeth. Other teeth whitening systems use a gel that must be painted on to the teeth, such as in the morning and the evening. Nothing keeps the gel on the teeth, which can make this method slightly less effective than the ones mentioned above. Finally, some teeth whitening systems combine a whitening mouthwash with a whitening toothpaste.

At-home teeth whitening systems may use trays to get whitening gel directly on the teeth.
At-home teeth whitening systems may use trays to get whitening gel directly on the teeth.

Though a mouthwash and toothpaste may not be able to get teeth as white as other whitening treatments, they can be effective at lightening some stains as well as maintaining newly whitened teeth. All teeth whitening treatments can cause temporary tooth sensitivity. People who have recently whitened their teeth should avoid drinking staining liquids such as red wine, coffee, and tea, and should drink dark liquids through a straw as much as possible. Teeth should also be brushed after each meal, and flossed at least once a day to stay their whitest.

Teeth should be brushed after each meal to stay their whitest.
Teeth should be brushed after each meal to stay their whitest.
More and more people are using at home systems to whiten their teeth.
More and more people are using at home systems to whiten their teeth.

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Discussion Comments


Teeth whitening is important because 58 percent of men say teeth are the first thing they notice about a potential date.


@JimmyT - I have a friend with the same problem of not being able to use the strips. It's too bad, because I always use some sort of whitening product after I get my teeth cleaned, and I can always see some difference.

My dentist actually has one of the laser teeth whitening systems. I live in a pretty big town, though, where there are enough people willing to pay for it that they can make a profit with it. I have never used it, though, because of the extra price.

I was asking about it one time I was there, and they said it costs around 750 dollars for a session. The length of the session can be around 45 minutes to 2 hours and just depends on how much work needs to be done. I'm not sure exactly how it works, though. It seems like using a laser would damage the enamel somehow, but I guess not. Since my teeth are in pretty good shape, though, I am fine just using the at home systems.


I like the idea of the do-it-yourself teeth whitening kits, but they aren't for everyone. I have a wide smile and big teeth (think Julia Roberts), so the strips usually won't cover all of the tooth area, and usually aren't long enough to cover all the smile surfaces. I finally found one type with the trays that was big enough, but didn't think it worked too well. Since they don't work for me, I just have to use the professional teeth whitening systems.

Has anyone ever heard of some of the other techniques that don't use the strips or peroxide or anything? My technician was telling me about it the other day while she was cleaning my teeth. Apparently, some places do things like laser whitening. I go to a pretty small dentist's office, so they don't have anything like that, but she said it works pretty well if you have very stained teeth. I'm sure it is expensive, though.


@kentuckycat - It is too bad you had a poor experience the first time around. Like you, I remember when the initial products started coming out, and they weren't nearly as good as they are now. Since they have been around for several years, they are more effective and easier to use. Since no one seemed to have any success with the brushed on kind, I don't even think they make that stuff anymore.

Personally, I use the Crest Whitestrips just because they are the easiest to find and reasonably priced. I have heard good reviews about some of the other brands, as well. The strips had their problems at first with wanting to slide around, but they've improved them to the point where they stay in place fairly well.

I would definitely suggesting getting some type of home teeth whitening system the next time you need it done. It is much cheaper than the dentist and has a similar effect in my experience.


I remember when all of the at-home tooth whitening products started to show up. There were a lot of wacky ideas at first. I even remember a lot of products were being sold on infomercials. The one I remember best used a black light or something to supposedly whiten teeth.

I have only ever tried the tooth whitening products one time. I got the kind that you brush on, and like the article mentioned, I didn't feel like it stayed on long enough to have any effect. I did it for the recommended amount of time and saw a minimal difference. Before that and since, I have just gone to the dentist and got a tooth whitening once every year or year and a half. That seems to work fine for me. It is more expensive than the kits you can buy at the store.

Has anyone else here ever had success with the at home teeth whitening systems? Are the strips better than the brushed kind, and are there any other tips for doing the whitening?

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