Privacy Policy Cookie Policy Terms and Conditions
Mind and Body

How Long Does Teeth Whitening Take? | Unlocking Your Brightest Smile

We discuss the different methods of teeth whitening, the speed of each, and how much it will cost you to bring back those pearly whites!


Dympll Staff Writer


Feb 26, 2023

Disclosure: This article was not written by a medical professional, unless specifically stated otherwise. Advice or support content is not intended to be either professional medical or mental health advice or recommendations. All support and advice is from direct and/or anecdotal contributor/author experiences and topic research. If you are experiencing a physical or mental health emergency or mental or physical abuse, please seek professional support. Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to us, at no cost to you when you decide to purchase a reviewed product.

Unlocking Your Brightest Smile: How Long Does Teeth Whitening Take?

Teeth whitening times can vary widely based on the method used. While in-office professional treatments can show dramatic results in a single 1-2 hour session, at-home treatments may require several weeks for significant changes.

When it comes to achieving that dazzling Hollywood smile, one of the most common questions that arise is "How long does teeth whitening take?" It's tough to give a precise answer and it's not as straightforward as you might hope; it depends greatly on the method of whitening used, the degree of discoloration, oral health, and if you use good oral hygiene practices and habits.

But, the good news is, there are many good options available to you for that whiter smile that we'll go over now. In this article we'll cover:

  • The different methods of teeth whitening
  • The speed and cost of each method
  • Pros and Cons of each method
  • Additional important information regarding teeth whitening

Chart: Comparison of some common methods of teeth whitening with approximate cost and time to results

Teeth Whitening Method Comparison Chart

In-Office Professional Whitening (1-2 hours)

If speed is your priority, then an in-office treatment is the fastest way to brighten your smile and obtain maximum results. These procedures can dramatically lighten teeth in a single session, typically lasting 1-2 hours. Using high-concentration professional bleaching agents, they can brighten your teeth by up to 3-8 shades in one go. Examples of in-office treatments include popular methods like Zoom and BriteSmile.

In-office professional teeth whitening is typically performed by a dentist or a trained dental hygienist under the dentist's supervision. The procedure performed by the dental team usually involves the following steps:

  1. Initial Assessment: The dentist first evaluates your dental health to ensure you're a good candidate for teeth whitening. This evaluation might involve a dental exam and possibly X-rays to assess the condition of the teeth and gums. Your dentist will also discuss your lifestyle habits, expectations, and preferences to create a treatment plan that suits your needs.
  2. Cleaning: Before the whitening procedure, your teeth will be thoroughly cleaned to remove any plaque or tartar on the tooth's surface, which could hinder the whitening process.
  3. Protection: The dentist or dental professional will apply a substance to protect your gums from the bleaching agent. This may involve applying a gel to your gums or placing a rubber shield around the gum line.
  4. Whitening: Once your gums are protected, the dentist or dental professional will apply the bleaching agent to your teeth. Some procedures may use a special light or laser to enhance the action of the whitening agent. In this Laser Whitening procedure, a peroxide bleaching solution, applied to the tooth surface, is "activated" by exposure to laser light energy, which accelerates the process of bleaching in a dental office.
  5. Rinsing: After the bleaching agent has been on your teeth for the appropriate amount of time, the dentist will rinse off the whitening agent and remove any gum protection used.
  6. Review: Finally, the dentist will review the whitening results with you, provide instructions for aftercare, and discuss any necessary follow-up treatment or appointments.

In-office professional teeth whitening is a popular choice for individuals seeking fast and noticeable results. However, it's essential to weigh the pros and cons before deciding if it's the right option for you. Here are some pros and cons to consider:


  1. Speed and Effectiveness: In-office professional whitening provides the fastest and most significant results compared to other methods. A single session, typically lasting 1-2 hours, can lighten teeth by several shades, offering immediate satisfaction.
  2. Customized Treatment: The treatment is tailored to your specific needs and goals. A dental professional will assess your dental health and recommend the appropriate concentration of bleaching agents, ensuring the best outcome.
  3. Professional Supervision: The procedure is performed by a dentist or trained dental professional who has expertise in teeth whitening. They can monitor the process, adjust the treatment as needed, and address any potential complications or concerns.
  4. Optimal Safety Measures: With professional whitening, proper protective measures are taken to shield your gums and other sensitive oral tissues from the bleaching agents. This reduces the risk of irritation or damage to the surrounding areas.


  1. Higher Cost: In-office professional whitening is typically more expensive than at-home options or over-the-counter treatments due to the expertise and specialized equipment involved. Costs can vary, but they often range from $500 to $1000 per session.
  2. Time Commitment: While the procedure itself may only take 1-2 hours, it requires a visit to the dental office. Depending on your treatment plan, you may need multiple sessions for optimal results, adding to the overall time commitment.
  3. Potential Sensitivity: Teeth sensitivity can occur during or after the treatment. Although temporary, it can cause discomfort for some individuals. However, dentists can take precautions, such as using desensitizing agents, to minimize sensitivity.
  4. Not Suitable for Everyone: In-office professional whitening may not be suitable for individuals with certain dental conditions, such as tooth decay, gum disease, or tooth sensitivity. A thorough dental examination is necessary to determine candidacy.

Dentists At-Home Whitening Kits (Days - Weeks)

If you prefer the convenience of whitening your teeth at your own pace and in the comfort of your home, dentist-supplied at-home kits might be the best option. These involve wearing custom-made whitening trays filled with a professional-grade bleaching gel. Although slower than in-office treatments, significant results can be seen after several days to 2 weeks, with improvements of 2-4 shades.

To obtain an at-home whitening kit from a dentist, you generally need to follow these steps:

  1. Consultation: You'll first have a consultation with your dentist where they will evaluate your dental health and the suitability of teeth whitening for your specific situation. They will consider factors such as existing dental work, the cause of the discoloration, and the shade of your teeth.
  2. Impressions: If you're a good candidate for at-home whitening, the dentist will take impressions of your teeth. These impressions will be used to custom-make a mouthguard-like tray for you.
  3. Fitting: Once the trays are ready, you'll return to the dentist for a fitting. The dentist will make any necessary adjustments to ensure the trays fit properly and comfortably.
  4. Instructions: Your dentist will provide you with the whitening gel (which usually contains a form of peroxide as the active ingredient) and detailed instructions on how to apply the gel to the trays and how long to wear them. The length of time will depend on the concentration of the whitening agent and the degree of discoloration.

Some examples of dentist-supplied at-home whitening kits include Opalescence PF, DayWhite, and NiteWhite. These products typically have a higher concentration of bleaching agents than over-the-counter kits, which can lead to more significant whitening results.


  • Custom Fit: The trays are custom-made to fit your teeth exactly, which can make the treatment more effective and comfortable.
  • Professional Guidance: Even though you're doing the treatment at home, you have the guidance and supervision of a dental professional.
  • Stronger Whitening Agents: The whitening gels provided by a dentist typically have a higher concentration of peroxide than over-the-counter kits, potentially leading to faster and more noticeable results.


  • Cost: While not as expensive as in-office treatments, these kits can still be quite a bit more costly than over-the-counter options.
  • Time: Although you're able to do the treatment at your own pace, the whitening process may still take several weeks to reach the desired shade.
  • Sensitivity: The higher concentration of peroxide might lead to increased tooth sensitivity or gum irritation, though this is typically temporary.

Over-the-Counter Whitening Kits (Days - Weeks)

If you'd rather avoid the dentist and want to try diy teeth whitening, over-the-counter whitening kits like strips, gels, and trays offer an accessible and cost-effective way to give you whiter teeth and brighten your smile. These treatments typically contain a lower concentration of bleaching agent, meaning that they may take 1-2 weeks to show visible desired results, lightening your teeth by 1-3 shades. These OTC products are a good option for diy home tooth whitening. Crest Professional Effects 3D Whitestrips is one such product, approved by the American Dental Association (ADA).


  1. Affordability: OTC kits are typically cheaper than professional whitening treatments, making them a cost-effective option for many people.
  2. Convenience: They are easily accessible, available at most drugstores, supermarkets, or online. This means you can purchase and use them at your own convenience without needing a dentist appointment.
  3. Ease of Use: Most kits are straightforward to use, often involving just applying the whitening solution to your teeth via strips or a gel and tray system.


  1. Less Effective: While these kits can whiten your teeth, they are generally less effective than professional treatments because they contain a lower concentration of bleaching agents. This means that they might not be as effective on darker stains or discoloration.
  2. One Size Fits All: Unlike the custom-fit trays you get with professional at-home whitening kits, the trays or strips in OTC kits are a standard size that might not fit your mouth perfectly. This can lead to uneven whitening and potential gum irritation if the whitening solution comes into contact with your gums.
  3. Potential for Misuse: Without professional guidance, there's a higher chance of misuse, such as leaving the whitening solution on too long or using it too often, which can lead to tooth sensitivity or damage.

It's important to follow the manufacturer's instructions when using over-the-counter whitening kits and to consult with a dental professional if you have any concerns or if you don't see the results you desire. Whitening treatments are most effective when coupled with a consistent oral hygiene routine and regular dental check-ups.

Whitening Toothpaste and Rinses (Week - Months)

Whitening mouthwash, toothpaste, and rinses, available at most drugstores, are designed to remove surface stains, gradually improving the appearance of your teeth with regular long-term use. It may take 1-4 weeks or longer to see a noticeable difference, generally improving your tooth color by 1-2 shades.

These toothpastes and mouth rinses are common products many people turn to when wanting to brighten their smiles. They offer a non-invasive, gentle way to improve tooth color, though their results might not be as dramatic or immediate as with other methods. Here are some pros and cons to consider:

Whitening Toothpastes:

All toothpastes help remove surface stains because they have mild abrasives. Some whitening toothpastes contain gentle polishing or chemical agents that provide additional stain removal effectiveness.


  1. Easy to Use: Whitening toothpastes can be used just like your regular toothpaste, making them an easy addition to your daily oral hygiene routine.
  2. Accessible and Affordable: They are widely available in stores and online and typically cost about the same as other premium toothpastes.
  3. Gentle Whitening: Whitening toothpastes mainly work by using mild abrasives or polishing agents to remove surface stains, making them less likely to cause tooth sensitivity.


  1. Limited Whitening: They can only remove surface stains and cannot change the natural color of your teeth or lighten a stain that goes deeper than a tooth's surface. Therefore, the whitening effect may not be as pronounced or quick as with other methods.
  2. Abrasive: Some whitening toothpastes may be overly abrasive, which can wear down tooth enamel over time if used excessively.

Whitening Mouth Rinses:

Among the newest whitening products available are whitening rinses. They freshen breath, help reduce dental plaque and gum disease, and include ingredients like hydrogen peroxide that whiten teeth.


  1. Ease of Use: Like whitening toothpastes, whitening mouth rinses are easy to incorporate into your daily oral care routine.
  2. Additional Benefits: Many mouth rinses also contain ingredients to help protect against tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath.
  3. Mild Whitening: They generally provide a gradual whitening effect over time, which may be preferable for those with sensitive teeth.


  1. Limited Contact Time: Since the rinse is only in contact with your teeth for a short time each day (usually a minute or two), it may not be as effective at whitening compared to products that remain on your teeth for longer periods.
  2. Gradual Results: It may take several weeks or even months to see noticeable results from a whitening rinse.

The Cost of Teeth Whitening

In addition to the treatment time, cost is a significant factor for many when considering teeth whitening. Professional in-office treatments are the most expensive, often ranging from $500-$1000 per session, while at-home kits from dentists are somewhat less costly, usually around $200-$400 for the kit. Over-the-counter whitening kits and toothpaste are the most affordable, ranging from $3-$50.

Crest 3D Professional Whitening Strips
More Info
Colgate ComfortFit LED Optic White System
More Info
Smile Direct Club Teeth Whitening
More Info
Auraglow LED Whitening Kit
More Info
Crest Brilliance 2 Step Toothpaste
More Info
Pronamel Sensitive Teeth Whitening Paste
More Info

After investing time and money into whitening your teeth, you'll want to maintain your bright new smile for as long as possible. The effects of whitening are not permanent; they can last anywhere from a few months up to 3 years, depending on your lifestyle and oral hygiene habits. To prolong the results of teeth whitening, maintain good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing regularly, get regular professional cleanings, avoid foods and drinks known to stain teeth, and avoid tobacco use.

Some tools can help maintain teeth whiteness after treatment. Electric toothbrushes with whitening modes, LED whitening kits, whitening toothbrushes, and water flossers with whitening infusers can all help remove surface stains and prevent new ones from forming.

Types of Bleaching Agents

Bleaching agents used in teeth whitening products primarily include hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. Both of these are effective in whitening teeth, but they function a bit differently.

  1. Hydrogen Peroxide: This is the active ingredient in many professional and over-the-counter whitening products. In a professional setting, the concentration may range from 25-40%. Over-the-counter products, like whitening strips or gels, typically contain a lower concentration, ranging from around 3-15%. Hydrogen peroxide works quickly, which makes it suitable for in-office treatments where immediate results are desired.
  2. Carbamide Peroxide: Carbamide peroxide breaks down into hydrogen peroxide and urea in the mouth. It's a common ingredient in at-home whitening products and typically comes in concentrations ranging from 10-20%. Because it breaks down slower than hydrogen peroxide, it's considered safer for at-home use. Products with carbamide peroxide are typically used for longer periods, often overnight.

Both of these bleaching agents are effective at whitening teeth. Hydrogen peroxide works faster, but carbamide peroxide is considered safer for longer durations and unsupervised use.

It's important to note that the effectiveness of these bleaching agents also depends on the length of time they're in contact with the teeth, the health and cleanliness of the teeth, and the type of staining present. Results can vary from person to person, and while some individuals may see significant whitening after one or two treatments, others may require multiple treatments over a longer period of time to achieve their desired level of whiteness.

Additionally, while these products are generally safe for most people, they can cause side effects such as tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. They should always be used under the guidance of a dentist or according to the manufacturer's instructions if you're using an over-the-counter product.

Managing Sensitive Teeth

If you have sensitive teeth, it's important to discuss this with your dentist before beginning a teeth whitening regimen. While teeth whitening is generally safe, the process can occasionally cause tooth sensitivity or enhance existing sensitivity, primarily because the whitening agents can penetrate the enamel to reach the dentin layer of the tooth.

However, there are several ways to manage and minimize teeth sensitivity during the whitening process:

  1. Pre-Treatment: Your dentist might recommend using a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth for a few weeks before starting the whitening treatment. These toothpastes contain compounds that help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve.
  2. During Treatment: For in-office procedures, your dentist can apply a gel or use a rubber shield to protect your gums and reduce sensitivity. Additionally, the concentration of the bleaching agent and the duration of the treatment can be adjusted to minimize discomfort.
  3. Post-Treatment: After a whitening treatment, avoid hot or cold foods and beverages for a couple of days to reduce sensitivity. Continue using toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth.
  4. At-Home Whitening: If you're using an at-home whitening product, you might want to shorten the application time or reduce the frequency of applications. For example, you could use the product every other day instead of every day.
  5. Professional Consultation: If sensitivity persists, stop the whitening process and consult your dentist. They can suggest alternate treatments or methods to address the issue.

Whitening Yellow Teeth

Several at-home teeth whitening products are available on the market and can effectively address yellow teeth to some degree. The effectiveness can depend on the individual and the cause of the discoloration. Here are a few options:

  1. Whitening Strips: These are among the most popular at-home teeth whitening products. They are thin, flexible plastic (polyethylene) strips that are coated on one side with a thin film of hydrogen peroxide-based whitening gel. They're applied to the teeth for a certain period of time, usually around 30 minutes. Results can typically be seen within a few days, and they usually last for about four months.
  2. Whitening Toothpaste and Mouthwash: These can remove surface stains on your teeth, resulting in one to two shades lighter over time. These are typically less effective than other methods because they have less contact time with your teeth.
  3. Whitening Gels and Trays: These can be bought over the counter or from your dentist. You fill a mouth guard-like tray with a gel whitening solution which contains a peroxide-bleaching agent. The tray is worn for a period of time, generally a couple of hours a day or every night for up to four weeks.
  4. Whitening Pens: These are portable, easy to use, and convenient but are less effective than other methods as they have less contact time with your teeth.
  5. At-Home LED Light Systems: These systems are used in combination with a whitening gel to speed up the process of the peroxide-based gel. However, some research suggests that the use of a light may not significantly improve the whitening effect compared to using the gel alone.

Remember, the best product for you will depend on your individual needs, the extent of the discoloration, and your budget. Also, it's important to follow the product's instructions to achieve the best results and to avoid potential side effects such as tooth sensitivity or gum irritation. Always consult with a dental professional before beginning any teeth whitening regimen, especially if you have severely discolored teeth, as this can sometimes be a sign of other dental issues that need to be addressed.

Whitening Brown and Gray-Toned Teeth

Brown and gray-toned teeth can be more challenging to whiten than yellow-toned teeth, and the effectiveness can depend on the cause of the discoloration.

For example, if the discoloration is due to staining from things like coffee or tobacco, then teeth whitening procedures or products may help. However, gray tones, which can be caused by factors like certain antibiotics, fluorosis, or tooth trauma, can be particularly resistant to whitening.

Here are some options:

  1. Professional Teeth Whitening: A dentist can evaluate your teeth and suggest the best approach for teeth whitening. This could involve an in-office procedure or a professional at-home whitening kit. They might use higher concentrations of bleaching agents, which could provide more substantial results than over-the-counter options.
  2. Dental Veneers: For teeth that do not respond well to whitening, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are a thin layer of porcelain or composite resin that is bonded to the front of the teeth. They can cover up stains that can't be removed by whitening and provide a bright, white smile.
  3. Dental Bonding: In this procedure, a tooth-colored resin is applied to the tooth and hardened with a light, ultimately "bonding" the material to the tooth to improve a person's smile. While bonding might not make your teeth as bright as veneers, it's a less expensive option and can cover stains that don't respond to whitening.

Understanding Teeth Shades and Monitoring Whitening Progress

An essential aspect of the teeth whitening process is understanding teeth shades and how to monitor the progress of your whitening treatment. By establishing a baseline of your current tooth shade and then tracking the changes, you can see the effects of your whitening treatment and gauge its effectiveness.

Dental professionals use shade guides to determine tooth color. These guides typically feature around 16 different shades, varying from light to dark, and encompassing various undertones of yellow, red, gray, or brown. The shades are often categorized into four basic shade ranges: A (reddish-brown), B (reddish-yellow), C (gray), and D (reddish-gray), each further divided into lighter to darker shades within each range.

To monitor the progress of your at-home whitening treatment, you could consider purchasing a tooth shade guide. Here's how to use it:

  1. Before Starting Treatment: Under natural light, compare your teeth with the shade guide to find the closest match to your current tooth color. This is your baseline. Consider taking a picture of your teeth next to the shade guide for future reference.
  2. During Treatment: Regularly (perhaps once a week), compare your teeth to the shade guide to see if your tooth color is changing. Ensure to always check under the same lighting conditions.
  3. After Treatment: Once your whitening treatment is complete, compare your teeth to the shade guide one final time. This comparison will help you visualize how much your tooth color has improved.

While professional-grade shade guides, such as the Vita Classical Shade Guide or the 3D Master Shade Guide by VITA Zahnfabrik, are industry standards, these can often cost over $100 and might not be necessary for personal use.

For individuals looking to track progress at home, more affordable shade guides are available online and at some dental supply stores. These cost-effective options, available for under $20 on popular e-commerce sites, may not offer the same level of precision as professional guides, but they can provide a helpful reference point for tracking your whitening progress.

Causes of Teeth Discoloration

Teeth discoloration is common and can occur due to various factors. Here are some examples:

  1. Extrinsic Discoloration: This type of discoloration affects the outside of the tooth, or the enamel. It often results from the consumption of certain foods and drinks, such as coffee, tea, cola, red wine, and certain fruits and vegetables (like apples and potatoes). Smoking and tobacco products use can also cause extrinsic stains.
  2. Intrinsic Discoloration: This is when the inner structure of the tooth, or the dentin, darkens or gets a yellow tint. Causes include excessive exposure to fluoride during early childhood, the use of tetracycline antibiotics by mothers during the second half of pregnancy or by children who are 8 years old or younger, trauma that affects a tooth when it's developing (which could potentially disrupt enamel formation), or rare conditions like dentinogenesis imperfecta.
  3. Age-Related Discoloration: This is a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic factors. The dentin naturally yellows over time. The enamel that covers the teeth gets thinner with age, which allows the dentin to show through. Foods, smoking, and other external factors can also stain teeth as people get older.
  4. Discoloration Due to Dental Restorations: Some materials used in dentistry, like amalgam restorations, especially silver sulfide-containing materials, can cast a gray-black color to teeth.
  5. Discoloration Due to Disease or Treatment: Certain diseases or treatments can affect tooth color. For example, head and neck radiation and chemotherapy can cause teeth discoloration. Additionally, certain infections in pregnant mothers can cause tooth discoloration in the infant by affecting enamel development.
  6. Genetic Factors: Some people naturally have thicker or brighter enamel.


Remember, everyone's teeth are unique, and the rate and extent of whitening will vary from person to person. Some teeth may become more sensitive during treatment, so it's crucial to follow all instructions and consult with a dental professional if you have any concerns. Teeth whitening should always aim at achieving a color that you're comfortable with and looks natural for you.

Individual results may vary and teeth can't be bleached to a color whiter than their natural shade. Also, whitening treatments do not work on dental restorations like fillings, crowns, or veneers, and not everyone is a good candidate for teeth whitening.

In conclusion, while teeth whitening is not a quick fix and requires a commitment of time and resources, it can lead to a significant improvement in the appearance of your smile. Always consult with a dental professional to determine the most effective and safest whitening method for your unique situation. Remember, the goal is not only a brighter smile but a healthy one, too.

The ultimate goal is a healthy white teeth and bright smile.

Related Articles:

Self Care After a Breakup -  Top 15 Tips For a Breakup Recovery


Get Our Monthly Newsletter, Directly Into Your Inbox!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form
California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) Opt-Out IconYour Privacy Choices Notice at Collection