Teeth Whitening: Professional Vs. Over The Counter | Guest Post

We all want whiter teeth, it’s seen as one of the most attractive features we see in one another and having a whiter and brighter smile can really boost your confidence.

Now, it’s a natural fact of life that teeth lose their pearly white gleam over the years but don’t feel too down because all is not lost. There are numerous options to bring back that dazzling smile. But what is the best option for you? In this article, we take a look at professional whitening vs. over the counter products.

The Science Behind Teeth Whitening

The enamel that covers our teeth is made up of a mineral that contains calcium and phosphate. When we eat food and drink certain drinks molecules can get stuck in between the calcium and phosphate within our enamel and causes us to see stains. Teeth whitening works by using a form of Hydrogen Peroxide or Carbamide Peroxide to break down the stains and remove the discolouration. The peroxide oxidises in the mouth and the oxygen molecules penetrate the dental enamel, breaking apart the chemical bonds between the food molecule and removing the stain.

The Discolouration Culprits

There are several factors that discolour our teeth. The most common culprits include:

  • Coffee, tea and red wine — I know the best things are always the worst for us
  • Genetics — thanks, dad!
  • Aging — including untreated stains accumulation and the wearing down of enamel
  • Environmental factors
  • Diet — sugary drinks etc
  • Smoking — it’s extremely bad for dimming the whiteness of your teeth and damaging healthy gums

Am I Suitable for Teeth Whitening?

The first thing you have to do is ask yourself are you looking to just freshen up your smile and perhaps increase the shades slightly.. Or do you drastically want to change your smile?  This question will lead you to decide if you are happy with the benefits that over the counter products will provide or if you need more effective and fast results that the professionals can offer you.

Secondly, what is the condition of your teeth? This is vital, because if your teeth are sensitive, crooked or have fabrications then you will more than likely need to go professional as you will need the personalisation and advice.

Always speak with your dentist before going ahead with any form of teeth whitening. They will advise if you are suitable and what treatment method would be best for you in terms of safety and results.

Who Isn’t Suitable for Teeth Whitening?

As teeth whitening is a fairly safe and non-invasive most people are suitable. However, it is strongly recommended that pregnant women and people suffering from tooth decay and gum problems avoid it. Patients with tooth sensitivity, sufferers of bruxism and patients with tooth fabrications should consult with their dentist before going ahead as it may not be suitable.

The Deciding Factors

We understand that it isn’t just as simple as wanting the whitest teeth possible no matter what. There are a few extremely important but different factors that will affect your decision between professional or over the counter products.


We know that we don’t all have the budget of celebrities, but when it comes to your teeth see it as an investment and if you want big and long lasting results you might have to stretch the wallet a bit.


We all know what we are looking for, a whiter, brighter healthy looking smile. We will also look at how quick the results are achieved, how long-lasting, how drastic, how safe and how easy it is to do, via each whitening method.


This is easily the most important factor to consider, as relatively safe as teeth whitening is it still has its risks and side effects that need to be understood before moving ahead with it.

Risks include:

Permanent gum or tooth sensitivity

Damage to your dental roots

Enamel erosion

Uneven results

Teeth whitening addiction and overuse

Common side-effects include:

Temporary tooth sensitivity

Temporary gum irritation

Now we understand the process behind teeth whitening and what we are looking to achieve, let’s have a look at the options.

Over the Counter Products

Over the counter products are a great and easy introduction into the world of teeth whitening. They are accessible and cheap which is why they prove so popular.

Whitening toothpaste

Whitening your teeth with toothpaste makes perfect sense because you are going to be brushing your teeth anyway! It is an extremely low cost way of trying out teeth whitening, normally around the price of regular toothpaste. But the question is always how well do they work?

First you need to look at what products they contain. If it is abrasive agents like magnesium carbonate then they will only remove the surface states rather than penetrating the enamel to change the colour. If it contains peroxide, however, then it will attempt to penetrate the enamel to change the colour of your teeth and whiten them.

However, toothpaste will only contain a very low dose of peroxide and will stay in contact with the teeth for a few minutes. Therefore, it won’t have fast or drastic results but it can definitely improve the whiteness of your teeth over extended use. The negatives with using whitening toothpaste other than the lacklustre results, is that it can cause tooth sensitivity and only get worse with extended use.

Whitening strips

This is where the world of over the counter teeth whitening really starts to make a name of itself. Whitening strips are still very much in the lower end of the cost scale for teeth whitening, costing between £5-£25 for a week’s worth of strips. It works by moulding the flexible strips that are covered in peroxide gel onto your teeth, one strip for the top and one for the bottom. You leave the strips on your teeth for between 10 and 30 minutes depending on your product recommendations.  This allows the peroxide gel to oxidise and remove the stains on your teeth as well as whitening them.

These products do work to whiten your smile by several shades, depending on your product and number of uses. It is also fast, cheap and relatively easy. However, as effective as this product is at whitening your smile, much more than the toothpaste would, it definitely has some drawbacks.

Firstly, if the gel comes in contact with your gums it can cause irritation and can even cause gum damage. So you need to be extra careful at applying the strips to only your teeth.

Secondly, if you have crooked teeth, the strip might not cover it properly and therefore can cause uneven whitening. Likewise the strips only target the fronts of the teeth and normally only reach back 6 teeth so the back teeth might not get reached at all.

Thirdly, and common with all whitening, it can cause tooth sensitivity, but as it is a stronger dose this time the pain can increase and you will have no option but to stop.

Fourthly, these products are so easy to buy and are effective, therefore people can over-use them and increase the risks of really damaging their teeth and gums.

Whitening tray kits

This is easily the best option from over the counter products in terms of results. However, it is more expensive, kits ranging from £25 to £100, and is a bit more complicated to use. The trays work in the same way as the professional dentists use it.  You are given a tray that fits into your mouth and over your teeth like a gum shield. You apply the peroxide gel into these trays before placing them over your teeth. The gel should cover your teeth and over the time the tray is worn the gel should start to oxidise and break down the stains whitening the teeth.

Some kits are given a light to use as well to speed up the process, however there is no research to show that backs this up.  This product definitely works, and depending on the strength of the gel and the number of uses you can see drastic changes in your smile over a short period of time.

The downsides to this product is again very similar to the rest. The tray given in these kits are one size fits all, sure you might be able to mould it too your teeth but it still might not cover them properly, and will likely go over your gums as well. As as we know if peroxide touches your gums for long is can cause burns and serious irritation. Secondly, the effects will be less than professional as the strength of the peroxide will still be weaker, so it will take longer to reach your desired results. And again, there is a worry of over-use with these products where people can become “addicted” and seriously damage their teeth.

Professional Whitening

For us, professional whitening is hands down the best way to go if you are looking to dramatically change your smile. Not only is it much safer, it is also much more effective in terms of results.

Dentists will typically use the ‘tray system’ similar to the kits that you can buy over the counter. In this case, however, the trays are entirely customised to the shape and fit on your mouth, which is perfect if you have crooked teeth. Your dentist will mould it and then trim it so that when it fits over your teeth it will fit perfectly and not touch the gum line. The gel will then be dispensed directly into the tray and placed over your teeth. This means that the gel will cover all surfaces of your teeth with the required amount and will be held in place for the duration.

As the dentist is there to supervise and has already evaluated your teeth you will be able to get the strongest amount of peroxide that your teeth can handle, therefore the results will outshine what you can get from over the counter — literally! It is much safer because, as discussed, the gel won’t touch your gums and the dentist will know how much your teeth can handle in terms of sensitivity pain. It also reduces overuse as it is in the controlled environment of the dental surgery and the results will be achieved far quicker. The only downside to professional whitening is the cost. It can be expensive for a lot of people, ranging from £100 to £400.

However, we consider your teeth a massive investment. It will increase your confidence ten-fold and investing more to get the best and safest results seems like a really good way to spend your money if you are set on whitening your smile.

The other benefit is normally with professional whitening they offer after care treatments or take-home kits so you can top it up yourself. And if you keep good care of your teeth they should stay white for a very long time.

Remember whitening your teeth is permanent but it is up to you that they don’t get discoloured all over again. No matter what option you decide is best for you, always consult your dentist before attempting to whiten your teeth.

And remember, keep smiling!

Author Bio

Aimee works with Glasgow-based dentist Buttercup 7-Day Dental , writing about all things oral care, cosmetic dentistry and healthy dazzling teeth.

*This is a guest post.*