How does teeth whitening work?

That dazzling white smile is something everyone seems to want nowadays. And there are so many options, from over the counter treatments, kits from your local supermarket to laser and specialised whitening by your dentist, you might ask ‘what’s the difference’, ‘is it worth it?’ and ‘How do I choose?’ so without further ado, let’s look at our guide to teeth whitening. 

What is teeth whitening?

As the name might suggest, teeth whitening is a process that involves lightening your teeth by bleaching or other methods such as laser lightening.

It can’t make your teeth brilliant white, (although who wants that? we all remember the Ross episode of ‘Friends’) – But it can make your teeth several shades whiter and leave you with a noticeably brighter smile. 

Brushing and flossing are still everyday ways to keep your teeth, white and healthy. 

Why do teeth change colour? 

Over time, teeth can become stained and discoloured. Here are the primary culprits when it comes to those nasty surface stains.

Food and drink: Tea, coffee and red wine contain colour pigments called chromogens that attach themselves to the white outer part of your tooth (the enamel) causing stains. Try to limit your exposure to these substances. Drink clearer liquids and keep up a good oral health routine, brushing and flossing twice a day. 

Smoking: Tar and nicotine are the wicked teeth staining duo if you happen to smoke. Tar is a dark sticky substance. Nicotine, when mixed with oxygen, turns into the yellow teeth (and everything else) staining substance we are familiar with. Give up smoking if you can.

Damaged Teeth: if your teeth have suffered a blow, due to an accident or injury, your teeth can change colour by producing more dentin underneath your tooth enamel. This can cause discolouration of one or more teeth, which can be quite noticeable. 

Age: over time, tooth enamel gets thinner. The substance underneath our tooth enamel is called dentin. This is much yellower in colour naturally, so as tooth enamel gets thinner, the dentin shows through. Veneers can also help with this. 

Medication: Some antihistamines, blood pressure medications and antipsychotic medication, and even antibiotics can contribute towards the darkening of your teeth. Chemotherapy and radiation can also affect the colour of your teeth. 

Who can whiten my teeth? 

Despite numerous online offers, coupons, and DIY whitening kits, all promising white teeth at low, low prices, teeth whitening is a form of dentistry, and as such it should be carried out by your dentist, or a trained dental professional such as a dental therapist or hygienist.

Beauty salons sometimes offer teeth whitening treatment, but did you know this is illegal if they don’t have a dental professional present? Would you want to risk your oral health for a cheap fix? 

You can buy kits to do yourself at home, but the cheaper home kits don’t work very well, and all of them run risks which we will discuss later in this blog.

What is the process of getting your teeth whitened? 

There are a couple of types of whitening methods that are usually carried out by dentists. We use Enlighten in tray whitening and Zoom laser lightening for the best results.

At home, in-tray teeth whitening is a multi-step process, and you may need to make a few visits to your dental surgery over a couple of months. 

First, the dentist will take an impression of your teeth using a mould. This is sent away to create a set of mouthguards that fit the profile of your teeth exactly. Your dental practitioner will then show you how to use this with a bleaching agent. 

Using your mouthguard at home, you apply the gel to the mouthguard yourself, as directed for 2-4 weeks. The gel adheres to the surface of the tooth. The made to measure mouthguard prevents the gel from harming your gums, and since its perfectly aligned to the shape of your teeth, it makes sure the bleaching agents get to your teeth to achieve the best whiteness possible.

You can wear one for several hours, which can shorten the treatment period. Discuss this with your dentist, and you can figure out the best times to wear the mouthguard in order to fit in with your schedule and achieve maximum whiteness. 

If you opt for a laser whitening treatment, then a bleaching agent is painted onto the teeth, and a laser light is shone at the teeth which activate the agent and whitens the tooth. This process takes little over an hour and can have some great results. 

Your dental practitioner can show you a before and after shade guide so you can see your results. 

Is any dentist able to whiten my teeth? 

Yes, all dentists can carry out this procedure, so long as they are registered with the GDC. A registered dental therapist or dental hygienist can also carry out this treatment is prescribed by the dentist.

<mention who can do it at AJD>? 

Is teeth whitening permanent? 

Sadly, no. it can last for a few months to several years. This all depends on how well you look after your teeth, and the food and drink you consume. Substances like coffee, nicotine and red wine can all contribute to shortening the effects of your newly white teeth.

Does whitening work on all teeth? 

No. That’s why it’s essential to talk to your dentist before going ahead with any treatment, as whiteners may not correct all types of discolouration. Yellow teeth will probably bleach well, brown teeth may not respond as well, and teeth with grey tones may not bleach at all. 

Does teeth whitening work on false teeth? 

No. whitening does not affect crowns, veneers, false teeth dentures or fillings. If you have any of these and are looking for professional whitening, it may be best to replace these with the desired shade. The best course of action is to speak to your dentist. At Alex jones, we specialise in smile makeovers <add more>

What about DIY Home whitening kits? 

You do get what you pay for. Most home whitening kits don’t contain enough whitening agent to do the job properly. The DIY trays are not moulded to your teeth with the same accuracy of professional whitening, so the bleach can leak into your mouth, causing sensitivity or blisters. For the best results, it really is better to have your teeth professionally whitened by a dentist. 

Dental teeth whitening – What Should I ask My Dentist? 

Speak with your dentist about what types of whitening are available, what the expected results are and the costs. Is there any time guarantee? What are the risks? Always get a plan and a price estimate before proceeding with your treatment. 

Does teeth whitening hurt? 

There is always a chance your gums will be sensitive to any chemicals used in the whitening process, especially if your teeth are already sensitive. Laser whitening can also cause the teeth to tingle and feel sensitive, though this goes away after treatment. 

We do not recommend home whitening products as some of them can harm the enamel surface of your teeth.

Are There Any Side Effects from Teeth Whitening?

Some people who have their teeth whitened can experience sensitive teeth. This can happen when the peroxide in the whitener gets through the enamel to the soft layer of dentin and irritates the nerve of your tooth. In most cases, the sensitivity is temporary. You can delay treatment, then try again.

Overuse of whiteners can also damage the tooth enamel or gums, so be sure to follow directions and talk to your dentist.

How much does teeth whitening cost?

Book A Consultation

More Stories

Kenneth’s Story

Zygomatic Implants

I’ve got my smile back! I’m overjoyed at the outcome. Don’t let age hold you back. Alex Jones gets five stars from me.

Katie’s Story


I’m over the moon with the treatment. The team are always friendly and very welcoming each time I visit.

Ross’s Story

Smile Makeover

My Smile Makeover experience has been such an easy and relaxed process due to the highly skilled team at Alex Jones Dentistry

Book A Consultation

Call 01226 290017 for our Barnsley clinic or 01226 762242 for our Penistone Clinic. Or just fill out the form below and one of our team will be in touch