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Teeth Whitening vs Bleaching: What is The Difference

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Teeth whitening and bleaching are two popular dental terms associated with white, sparkling teeth. However, these two terms are basically the same thing. While teeth whitening is the general name for the procedure of removing stains and improving the color of the teeth, bleaching, on the other hand, is one of the teeth whitening methods available.

Although dental treatments in general aim to whiten the teeth, you get a whiter and more effective result with teeth bleaching compared to other whitening methods such as toothpaste and strips. Teeth bleaching involves the use of bleaching agents such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. This is a popular teeth whitening method that has proven to be quite effective.

This article contains a more in-depth explanation of how this teeth whitening procedure works. Teeth whitening vs. bleaching: Here’s what you need to know.

Understanding Teeth Whitening

Teeth whitening is the removal of stains caused by smoking, coffee, tea, the consumption of certain foods or medications, etc. from the teeth. Teeth whitening refers to a variety of processes that aim to make someone’s natural teeth appear brighter and whiter. Teeth whitening methods include sanding down stains, bleaching, ultraviolet (UV) light therapy, and more. There are several types of teeth-whitening methods; however, they can be classified under two types.

  1. At-home teeth whitening treatment: These are over-the-counter whitening treatments such as whitening toothpaste, strips, trays, customized aligners, LED mouthpieces, etc.
  2. In-office or professional treatment: These are whitening treatments carried out by a dentist in a professional setting. Examples are chemical bleaching, UV lights or halogen teeth whitening, and laser teeth whitening treatments.

How Does Teeth Whitening Work?

Teeth-whitening solutions are applied directly to the teeth. While some treatments are designed to remove just extrinsic stains (coffee stains, tobacco, tea, wine, etc.) from the teeth, others bleach the appearance of both intrinsic and extrinsic stains, creating a lighter appearance.

Close up of a smile divided in two. On the right side, the teeth are yellowish and, on the left side, the teeth are white.

Exploring Teeth Bleaching

Teeth bleaching is a form of teeth whitening. However, unlike other whitening methods, this solution can whiten the teeth beyond their natural color. Teeth bleaching relies on chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide to penetrate the enamel and dentine of the teeth. This dental treatment can be classified into two types:

  1. In-office teeth bleaching: This involves the use of bleaching chemicals, usually 30–40% hydrogen peroxide, and a light source.
  2. At-home bleaching kits: These are over-the-counter products that are used to bleach the teeth.

Teeth Bleaching vs Whitening: Safety and Sensitivity Considerations

As a cosmetic dental treatment, teeth whitening comes with its fair share of risks. Fortunately, these side effects are mild. They include:

  • Tooth sensitivity: This is a common side effect of using teeth-bleaching chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide.
  • Gum irritation: This effect is often associated with teeth bleaching, teeth whitening gel, and whitening toothpaste.
  • Burns and blisters: These symptoms are commonly associated with laser teeth whitening. Blisters can also be experienced when using a custom-fit whitening kit.
  • Allergic reactions: Although quite rare, certain patients may be allergic to bleaching agents such as peroxide, which may result in an allergic reaction.

The chemicals used for tooth bleaching are generally safe. However, there could be a risk of enamel damage when carried out incorrectly. So, it is important that every tooth bleaching procedure is carried out by a dental professional, as they are trained in this field.

Managing Tooth Sensitivity and Gum Irritation

Tooth sensitivity and gum irritation are some of the most common side effects of teeth whitening. Teeth sensitivity can occur during or after teeth whitening treatment. These effects are usually temporary. The home treatments you can try to get relief are:

  • Brush with toothpaste or gel that helps reduce tooth sensitivity and gum irritation.
  • Take a break from teeth whitening procedures until the side effects stop.
  • Switch to soft bristle brushes.
  • Avoid cold beverages.

If tooth sensitivity and gum irritation persist, you should contact your dental professional

Safety Tips for Bleaching and Whitening Tooth Procedures

If you experience gum problems and are considering getting teeth whitening treatment, it is best to discuss it with your dentist for the best and safest option. Also, when using an at-home teeth whitening treatment, ensure you follow the directions on the product label. You should also avoid using a whitening product more often than directed, as this could result in enamel damage or tooth sensitivity.

Two women talking in a dental office (a dentist and a patient)

Teeth Bleaching vs Whitening: Cost and Accessibility

Teeth whitening products such as whitening strips, gel, and toothpaste cost between $10 and $55. Whitening trays go from $150 to $600, while take-home whitening kits such as LED teeth whitening kit cost between $100 and $400.

On the other hand, in-office teeth bleaching treatment costs, on average, $500 to $1000. So the teeth bleaching treatment is expensive compared to other whitening methods.

Factors influencing the cost of these dental treatments include:

Compared to bleaching, other teeth whitening treatments are easy to access and do not require a doctor’s prescription. Teeth bleaching procedures, on the other hand, need to be carried out by a dentist, which means a higher price.

Duration and Longevity of Results Between Bleaching and Whitening Teeth

Due to factors such as the active ingredient used and individual lifestyle, the average bleaching result lasts between three months and a year.

Over-the-counter whitening products, on the other hand, tend to last from a few weeks to months. To get a prolonged result teeth whitening, here are a few maintenance tips:

Teeth Bleaching vs Whitening: Suitability for Different Types of Stains

Teeth stains are classified into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic stains. An intrinsic stain is a discoloration beneath the teeth caused by environmental sources and factors beyond an individual’s control. These stains are difficult to remove, but not impossible.

Extrinsic tooth stains are caused by food particles and pigmented residue from drinks. They are easy to remove.

The table below explains the effectiveness of bleaching and whitening teeth against these stains.

Teeth whitening treatment Intrinsic stainsExtrinsic stains
Tooth–whitening toothpaste and gelNoYes
Whitening strips and traysYesYes
At-home bleaching kitYesYes
In-office bleachingYesYes

Alternative Methods for Teeth Whitening

There are several other teeth whitening alternatives that can be used to brighten the appearance of the teeth and remove stains in addition to the dental treatments discussed. These alternatives include:

Teeth Whitening for White Teeth and a Bright Smile

Teeth whitening solutions such as toothpaste and gel remove light stains caused by food and drinks. Bleaching the teeth, on the other hand, is a higher level of teeth whitening that removes all kinds of stains.

It is important that you understand the results each whitening method offers for a safe and long-lasting effect. Teeth whitening treatments come with different levels of whitening results. So ensure you talk to your dentist to determine the best option for you.


Teeth whitening vs bleaching: which is better?

This depends on the level of tooth discoloration and the whitening effect you are trying to achieve. Teeth whitening treatments are perfect for removing light stains from the teeth and maintaining the natural color of the teeth. However, if you intend to make your teeth one of two shades whiter, a teeth-bleaching treatment done by a dentist is a preferred solution.

Does bleaching permanently whiten teeth?

Bleaching the teeth does not permanently whiten the teeth. The result of this procedure varies and usually lasts between three and one year.

Is teeth bleaching good for teeth?

The teeth-bleaching procedure is safe when done by a professional. The chemicals used in these products are safe to use and have mild side effects. So tooth bleaching is a good and effective method to brighten the appearance of the teeth.


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