According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, when asking people what they would like to improve most about their smile, the most common answer was the whiteness of their teeth. Whitening teeth is an improvement to your appearance that is very popular.

Benefits of Professional Teeth Whitening v/s OTC Whitening

There are quite a few options available for whitening your teeth from professional teeth whitening at your dentist to over-the-counter (OTC) systems you use at home. If you are considering teeth whitening, understand the facts about the process, how it works, and what you can expect. You should also check with your dental provider to be sure you are a candidate for teeth whitening and inquire about the best whitening method for your situation.

At Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry, we advise patients and perform teeth whitening all the time. In this article, we present the benefits of professional whitening vs. over-the-counter products to provide facts you need to know.

Teeth Stain Types and Causes

The color of your teeth can change for various reasons over time. Tooth enamel is the outer covering of your teeth that shields the crown from cavities and damage. It is incredibly durable and is the hardest substance in your body—even harder than your bones. However, it is porous, which lends itself to discoloration and becoming stained from foods and beverages. 

Stains are categorized as either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic stains are inside your tooth and are usually a result of medication, high levels of fluoride exposure, and your tooth enamel growing thinner as you age. Extrinsic stains are on the outside of your tooth and are caused by environmental exposure to things that leave discoloration on your tooth enamel.

Common Culprits that Stain Your Teeth:

Food and Drink

Beverages like coffee, tea, and red wine are leading contributors to tooth stains. The intense color pigments in these beverages, called chromogens, attach to the tooth enamel and cause discoloration.

Tobacco Use

Tobacco is a major factor in stained teeth due to the tar and nicotine chemicals. Tar is naturally dark while nicotine is colorless until it is mixed with oxygen. When nicotine mixes with oxygen while smoking, it becomes a yellow substance that is a contributor to staining teeth.


Having an injury to your mouth, such as being hit while playing sports, can cause a tooth to change color when it isn’t getting adequate blood flow. Over time, a tooth that has had physical trauma may heal itself or die. It is best to have a dentist examine the damage and recommend a treatment plan going forward after sustaining an injury to your mouth.


Some antibiotics, antihistamines, antipsychotics, and high blood pressure medications can have a side effect of darkening teeth. Children who are exposed to antibiotics like tetracycline and doxycycline while their teeth are forming or while in the womb may have some discoloration of their teeth in adulthood. Chemotherapy and neck radiation can also darken teeth.


As people age, the dentin, which is just below the tooth enamel, can show through and give teeth a yellow appearance.

Options for Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening is a simple process, but the steps vary depending on whether you use a professional system or one you purchase over the counter. Whitening products contain one of two peroxide bleaches, either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. These agents break down stains on the tooth enamel and make it porous. This in turn exposes more of the dentin below the enamel so that the bleaching agent can penetrate deeper into the tooth’s core to rebuild white tooth tissues from the inside out, making your teeth brighter. 

Professional Teeth Whitening

Dentists use several professional teeth whitening procedures in their offices. In-office whiteners are stronger than over-the-counter alternatives because they contain more peroxide in the solution and, therefore, they can change the color of your teeth faster. Depending on the whiteness you want, in-office teeth whitening may require several administrations of the bleaching solution.

Whitening Gel in the Office 

During an in-office session, your mouth and gums are protected and a whitening gel is placed on your teeth. Then, typically a light activates the whitening process. The session usually takes approximately one hour. 

Whitening Trays in the Office

Whitening trays are another option provided professionally by your dentist. In this option, the dentist supplies a custom-made whitening kit with fitted trays and a bleaching solution that you can do at home, as well as instructions. The first step is having a consultation with your dentist and creating impressions for the custom-fit whitening trays. The trays are shaped to whiten teeth evenly and to limit exposure of the solution to sensitive areas like the inside of your mouth and gums. You usually see results in a few weeks with this option.


  • Protects gums and sensitive teeth
  • Stronger solutions for quicker results
  • Long-lasting results
  • Improved oral health
  • Brighter smile
  • Cost-effective
  • Safe and effective

Over-the-Counter Whitening Products

There is no shortage of teeth whitening products available over the counter for in-home use. Because the bleaching agents are weaker in strength than professional systems, it takes longer to get the results you may be seeking. Here are a few at-home products available:

Whitening Rinses

A rinse is easy to use because you only need to swirl it in your mouth for a minute. Since the whitening agent is in contact with your teeth for only a short time, your teeth whiten gradually. The problem with this method is that the rinse is also in contact with your gums and mouth, which can be sensitive to the bleach.

Whitening Toothpaste

Toothpaste that whitens has some abrasive quality that slowly removes surface stains from gentle brushing. These products can contribute to sensitive teeth over time.

Gel Strips

Typically, you apply gel strips once a day for anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. This allows the bleaching gel to penetrate the enamel to remove stains. Depending on the strength of the product and the level of whiteness you want, you may need to wear them for 10 to 20 days.

Whitening Trays

You fill the trays with a gel and then fit them over your teeth. Unlike the professional trays provided by your dentist, these trays are not custom-made to fit your teeth exactly. This allows for more likelihood they will rub and irritate your gums.

Benefits of OTC Teeth Whitening Solutions

  • Over-the-counter may be less expensive per product but cost more in the long run because the process takes longer.
  • Convenient
  • Easy to perform touch-ups when needed

Which Teeth Whitening Options is Best for You?

In the final analysis, which is best for you–professional teeth whitening or over-the-counter products–depends on several factors.

  • The level of discoloration
  • How much whiter do you want your teeth
  • Your time available
  • Cost
  • How quickly you want the change to occur

You and your dentist can discuss these personal factors to make the right decision on which method is best for you to whiten your teeth.

Schedule an Appointment for Professional Teeth Whitening

If you want to improve your smile quickly, make an appointment at Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry for professional teeth whitening, offered at both of our office locations. Our experienced dental professionals are ready to get your teeth whiter and makeover your smile. Call our Holly Springs dentist office at 919-600-6262 and our Cary, NC dentist office at 919-467-2203. Or use our convenient online form below to schedule an appointment. We look forward to helping you brighten your smile.

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