First things first: your safety. Having a professional whiten your teeth can help minimize risks or side effects.
One of the most common side effects of bleach-based teeth whitening is tooth and gum sensitivity. Incorrect use -- especially overuse -- of OTC at-home teeth bleaching products has been shown to cause tooth sensitivity and pain along the gum line. The custom-fitted trays of professionally-prescribed at-home kits help minimize the amount of bleach that comes in contact with the gum tissue, lessening the sensitivity that can happen at the gum line. Similar considerations are taken during in-office whitening: During the intense bleaching of chairside whitening treatments, gums are protected from bleach, light and heat with a rubber shield or protective gel.
It's also hard to deny the effectiveness of in-office bleaching. The fastest way to the whitest smile is chairside whitening. It immediately whitens teeth, up to several shades during a one-hour treatment.
And also unlike a teeth whitening kit you buy at the local pharmacy, professional tooth whitening treatments take your individual needs into consideration. For example, are your teeth deeply stained by antibiotics or tobacco, or do you have any fillings?
Light-activated teeth whitening is successful in whitening teeth in patients with stubborn stains, such as teeth that have been stained by tetracyclines (a type of antibiotic) or teeth with deep-rooted gray or brown-ish hues. With this type of treatment, your dentist can also treat unevenly stained teeth or just a single dark tooth. OTC products can't do that.
OCT products also can't change the color of any teeth that have tooth-colored fillings, bonding, crowns or any dental work that is made with resin composite materials. Only your dentist can recommend options such as dental bonding or veneers to change the color of these teeth to match your new whiter smile.
The bright, immediate results of chairside whitening come at a cost, though, and professional teeth whitening can be pricey. Even if you have dental insurance (plans differ but many don't cover cosmetic procedures), chairside treatments can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. In comparison, over-the-counter whitening kits typically cost less than $100 -- many less than $50 -- and most whitening toothpastes, mouth rinses, flosses and chewing gums are priced under $10.
The high costs can be hard to swallow if you're one of the many people with yellowing teeth. Nearly all (96 percent) of people with teeth yellowed over the years by tea, coffee, wine, tobacco and aging see some level of whitening with OTC at-home bleaching kits [source: American Dental Hygienists' Association]. The trade-off? No instant gratification here -- those kits can sometimes take up to a month to show any noticeable whitening effects.
No whitening product or procedure is perfect. The degree to which your teeth whiten depends on a few things: how badly stained your teeth are before you begin to whiten them, how powerful the whitening ingredients are in the products you use, the amount of time the whitening product is in contact with your teeth and how often you use products to maintain your white smile.
And once you've perfectly whitened your whites, remember that keeping teeth white takes some at-home maintenance. Your dentist may prescribe whitening products such as custom-fit trays to help you keep your professionally-whitened smile bright after chairside whitening. Also, over-the-counter whitening toothpastes, mouth rinses, chewing gums and kits may help extend the whiteness and brightness of your smile. When in doubt about stains, remember this common advice from dental professionals: If it can stain your shirt, it can stain your teeth.