There are several teeth whitening options available: whitening toothpaste, at home whitening strips and gels, tray bleaching systems and more. 

But an in-office teeth whitening procedure at the dentist is effective, long-lasting and very safe.

Let’s take a look at the in-office teeth whitening procedure – before, during, and after – and dispel some common myths about in-office whitening.

The Basics of Teeth Whitening and Its Use in Treating Stains

teeth whitening before and after

Teeth whitening refers to a number of different procedures used to lighten the color of teeth. 

Over time, teeth can become stained and discolored due to aging, poor oral hygiene, use of tobacco products, and consuming certain foods and drinks such as coffee and tea, wine, fruits and berries, and soft drinks among others.

Pre-Procedure Considerations

When preparing for having your teeth whitened at your dentist’s office, pre-procedure considerations may include:

Initial consultation

Your dentist will review your dental history (including any allergies or sensitivities) and perform an exam. There are certain things that might impact your candidacy for teeth whitening, which include:

  • Dental health – any gum disease or cavities would need treating before the whitening procedure is initiated, for example.
  • Previous dental work – certain dental materials such as bonding, fillings, crowns, and implants, can’t be whitened.
  • Degrees of whiteness – the whitening procedure can only make your teeth a certain shade of white. If you want them whiter, there are alternatives such as veneers, bonding, or crowns.
  • Cause of stains – teeth whitening procedures are only able to fix external stains, not stains that come from injury, genetics, or medication, for example.

Preparing for the procedure

The following practices and cautions will help you achieved the desired result:

  • Dental routine – Maintaining a good dental routine leading up to the procedure is very important. And make sure to brush and floss before you go in for the procedure.
  • Avoid stain-causing foods – Avoid foods and drinks leading up to the procedure that could stain your teeth even more. Some examples of foods to avoid are soy sauce, beets, chocolate, and barbecue sauce.
  • Day-of care – On the day of your procedure, make sure to drink only water and avoid any foods that are heavily acidic.

The In-Office Whitening Procedure – Step-by-Step

A typical in-office whitening procedure lasts between 1 and 2 hours. The procedure should be painless and may include the following steps:

  • Teeth cleaning – if your teeth show signs of plaque or tartar, they will be cleaned and polished. This allows the whitening agents to better penetrate your teeth’s enamel, giving you more uniform results.
  • Shades of white – the dentist will record your teeth’s current shade with the aid of a shade guide, which will allow them to measure the improvement during and after the process.
  • Protecting the rest of your mouth – a tool called a retractor may be implemented to help keep your teeth exposed while also keeping your cheeks, lips, and tongue safe and away from the whitening agent. A resin called a gum barrier is also used to protect the gums, and cotton balls may be inserted under the lip as well.
  • Application of the gel – Now that the rest of your mouth is protected and your teeth are isolated, your dentist will coat the fronts of your teeth with the whitening gel using a small brush. Depending on the type of whitening agent used, the gel may need to be cured with a curing light to activate the peroxide. The gel is then left on your teeth for a short amount of time, usually between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on what the desired results are and how strong the solution is.
  • Repeat as needed – this process of application and curing of the whitening gel may be repeated several times during the procedure. 
  • Finishing touches – After the desired shade of whiteness is achieved, the gel is removed through rinsing and suctioning, and an agent such as fluoride is often applied to treat any sensitivity. Finally, the new shade of your teeth is recorded by your dentist.

Multiple dental whitening sessions may be necessary to see the results you are wanting.

The gel used for in-office whitening procedures uses one of two types of peroxide (hydrogen or carbamide). These gels contain anywhere from 15% to 43% peroxide, compared to various at-home applications which contain between 3% and 20%.

Post-Procedure Aftercare

Possible side effects

Directly after your teeth whitening treatment, you may have some side effects, including tooth pain or sensitivity and gum irritation.

  • Tooth sensitivity/pain – Some people may experience increased tooth sensitivity following the teeth whitening procedure, especially when eating or drinking things that are very hot or cold. Increased tooth sensitivity will usually subside after a few days. However, we can also recommend toothpastes that can help reduce your sensitivity.
  • Gum irritation – Teeth whitening requires the use of bleaching agents, which can irritate and inflame the gums. Our dentist may use a gum protectant to help reduce the likelihood of this side effect.

Tooth sensitivity, pain, and gum irritation should resolve on its own after two or three days. If you experience these symptoms for longer it’s important to contact your dentist for further care instructions.

Eating and drinking in the first 48 hours

Food and drinks to avoid after a teeth whitening procedure - red wine, tomatoes, berries, and chocolate.

For at least the first 48 hours, it’s best to avoid darkly colored foods and drinks, including berries, coffee, tea, red wine, and tomato sauce. This is to make sure the whitening effect is not dampened by tooth-staining foods early on.

Additionally, you’ll want to avoid highly acidic foods, like fermented fruits and vegetables or anything put in vinegar, and you’ll want to skip eating citrus fruits. Be careful with food and drink at extreme temperatures – consuming foods or beverages that are too cold or hot could irritate your teeth.

Safe foods include things such as bananas, chicken, cucumbers, milk and non-dairy substitutes, pasta and of course, water.

Dental care in the first 48 hours

While you don’t need to make big changes to your oral hygiene routine after teeth whitening, there are some extra considerations to keep in mind.

  • Wait 30 minutes after eating to brush your teeth – It’s important to wait 30 minutes after eating before you brush or floss your teeth. This is especially important if you’ve eaten food that is acidic or sugary. These foods can temporarily weaken the enamel, which means that if you brush or floss your teeth directly after eating, you could further damage your enamel with the bristles on your toothbrush.
  • Use white toothpastes and clear mouthwashes – Avoid colored toothpastes and mouthwashes as they could prematurely stain your teeth.
  • Rinse your mouth with water – If you do happen to eat or drink something that could stain your teeth, you can thoroughly rinse your mouth with water to help remove the residual particles.
  • Brush and floss as normal – You can continue with the recommended dental care routine immediately after teeth whitening – that means brushing twice a day and flossing once daily.

For long-term care, the best practice post-whitening is to avoid or limit stain-causing foods and drinks, while maintaining a healthy regular oral routine of brushing and flossing twice daily with regular dental checkups. This is the best way to keep your newly whitened teeth whiter for longer.

For a more comprehensive look at teeth whitening aftercare with detailed instructions, check out our complete aftercare guide.

Debunking Common Teeth Whitening Myths

Professional teeth whitening can damage enamel

While in-office teeth whitening gels contain more peroxide than at home options, when administered by a dental professional the process is very safe, as opposed to having teeth whitening performed by non trained professionals where your mouth and gums may not be properly protected and damage to tooth enamel can occur.

In-office teeth whitening results are permanent

Unfortunately, there are no permanent teeth whitening options, even in-office treatments. The amount of time that the effects will last vary from person to person, based in part on personal habits and dental routine. As mentioned above, certain foods and drinks will have a more adverse effect on white teeth, causing them to stain quicker than others.

Whitening causes teeth sensitivity

Teeth whitening CAN cause increased tooth sensitivity in some people, especially those who already have teeth that are very sensitive. However, for the majority of patients the increased sensitivity is temporary. For those few people for whom the sensitivity continues long after the procedure, there are desensitizer products and toothpastes with strong fluoride that are available, and can even be used ahead of time to prepare for the procedure.

In-office Teeth Whitening at Bunker Hill Dentistry

Our in-office teeth whitening procedure and Bunker Hill Dentistry is safe, painless, and effective. 

We can also provide you with home kits to help you maintain your teeth’s new color. Reach out to us to see if in-office whitening is right for you.

Learn more about teeth whitening treatment at BHD