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OTC Whitening Kits and Dentist Teeth Whitening: What’s the Difference?

Photo of pearly whites after using a dental bleaching kitImage: Oasisdentalcare

When you smile, do you like what you see? Everyone wants to have stunningly white teeth, but for some of us it can be tougher to achieve that perfect smile. Thankfully, there is help out there in the form of teeth whitening products and treatments. Turning your dull, stained, or yellow teeth into a brilliant shade of white can be just a few treatments away!

There are lots of reasons to want to whiten your teeth. Confidence in yourself, grabbing the attention of others around you or maybe you just want the smile of a celebrity! The why may not matter all that much but the how is very important.

If you're looking to brighten up your smile you might be wondering what is the safest way to whiten your teeth.  We understand that looking into the various types teeth bleaching products available on the market can be a little overwhelming. There are tons of options out there, and sometimes the choices can all blend together.

The main options available are:

  1. Dental whitening procedure - offered in-chair by your dentist; or
  2. Over the counter products (OTC) such as at-home teeth whitening kits.

What Is a Dental Whitening Procedure?

Photo of dental bleaching procedure at the dentist, not a kitImage: kreativedentalclinic

Professional dental (in-chair) treatments

When you go to the dentist, you can ask if the office provides professional bleaching treatments. These treatments involve the dentist painting a bleaching gel on each tooth. As the Colgate Oral Care Center explains, this gel is pretty powerful, “in-office whitening procedures are carefully monitored and contain a higher concentration of bleaching gel.” The bleach is left on for a specific amount of time, and much like a kit, a light may be used to help increase the results you see. A professional whitening session typically lasts between 30 and 60 minutes depending on the type of bleaching agent used. The molds used for the procedure are made by the dentist to mold perfectly to your teeth, offering a very precise procedure. 

The benefits of an in-chair whitening treatment: 

  1. A dental professional knows your teeth and your enamel, so they can judge whether it will work for you; 
  2. Unlike with a kit, the process is fully monitored, as is the progress of the teeth whitening treatment while you're in the chair; and 
  3. The gel used to whiten your teeth can be stronger that you might find in a kit as it is closely monitored by a dental professional. 

One especially big distinction that people want to understand is what the difference is between an over the counter teeth whitening kit, compared to bleaching by a dental professional. We'll go into further detail about these benefits vs a kit to help you choose the best option for your individual needs.

What Are Over the Counter Whitening Kits?

Pearly Whites professional kit

There is a wide range of teeth whitening products available both online and in your local pharmacy. One type that has been growing in popularity is teeth whitening kits. A kit typically comes with special trays that will fit snugly over your teeth. When you open the kit, you will find the trays, a specific type of whitening gel, and in some cases, a portable LED light. The purpose of the light is to increase the power by activating the bleaching ingredients. However, some kits do not use the light method, and rely on the active ingredients to complete the treatment.

Each kit comes with specific instructions, but you will typically need to place a designated amount of gel in each tray. You will then place the tray over your teeth to hold the gel closely against each tooth and ensure they all are exposed to the bleaching agents. You will generally need to wear the trays for a specific amount of time (usually under an hour) for a few days to a few weeks in order to see the full results.

What is included in the kit?

An over the counter whitening kit will generally (but not always) contain: 

  • a set of moldable mouth trays for use on your top and bottom teeth;
  • bleaching gel;
  • a LED light is offered by some companies; and
  • a set of clear instructions to ensure the safest treatment for you at home.

Which Type Is Right for Me?

First, it is important to talk to your dentist. They will be able to give you helpful advice about which products will work best while keeping your pearly whites nice and healthy. Your dentist can also check your teeth to make sure they are in good shape and will be good candidates for the procedure.

Beyond a dental consultation, the choice of which type of whitening you get is up to you. There are a few important factors you should consider when deciding whether to use a kit or get it done at the dentist:

  1. How much do you want to spend? This is an important question because teeth whitening costs can vary greatly. Kits can range from close to $100 and up, while most professional in-chair dental treatments cost around $650.
  2. How discolored are your teeth? Check out your current smile, is it just a bit dull or does it need a lot of work? The type of treatment you choose depends heavily on how much improvement you want to see. If you just want your teeth to be a few shades lighter, you might want to do a less intense treatment, like you would get with a kit. If you suffer from  extreme tooth staining or discoloration, you should probably consider a professional treatment as the agents used are more aggressive. Professional treatments are especially popular with people who drink a lot of red wine or coffee, and people who smoke heavily.
  3. Where do you want to receive your treatment? Some people aren’t big fans of going to the dentist, and would much prefer to do their treatments using a kit at home. Other people find it tough to remember to use the kit consistently, so they prefer to go to the dentist and get it done quickly.

There are people who absolutely love both the in-chair and kit methods. We recommend you do your research and consider your options when choosing which type of teeth whitening will be best for you.  We recommend you consider how safe it is to whiten your teeth and the cost of teeth whitening when making your decision.

Please do note that some people report an increase in tooth sensitivity after treatments, so it is extremely important to make sure your teeth are very healthy when you start. Whether you choose to use a kit or go for in-chair dental bleaching, you can look forward to a brighter smile in your future!


Buy a Pearly Whites At-home Teeth whitening kit online for $ 99.95  $ 1,190.95, that's $ -1,091 off.

Professional Teeth Whitening Kit


Other Over the Counter Whitening Products

Whitening Toothpastes and Rinses

Whitening toothpastes contain mild abrasives (gentle polishing agents) to facilitate the removal of stains on the outer surfaces of the teeth while brushing. A whitening mouthrinse may contain hydrogen peroxide as a bleaching agent to help whiten your teeth while you freshen your breath at the same time. These products can be used daily, especially after meals that cause staining to occur. Special whitening toothbrushes are also available to polish teeth without abrasion using special condensed bristles.

Results: The results will be minimal and to maintain them will require daily use.

Who is it good for: These types of OTC whitening products are good for people who have little to no staining and want to maintain their already bright smile. They may be suitable for pregnant women and others that would normally be advised to refrain from using stronger dental bleaching methods.

Chewing Gum

Sugarless chewing gum helps to remove food residue after eating. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), chewing gum stimulates saliva which can help to prevent plaque build up. Whitening chewing gum has an additional whitening agent that coats the teeth to prevent staining. Both normal and whitening chewing gum can be used daily but be sure to only buy the sugarless varieties.

Results: Whitening gum is more about preventing stains than it is about removing them. So while you hopefully won't see any new staining, or darkening of existing stains, you also won't see much stain removal.

Who is it good for: Pretty much everyone. Dentists agree that chewing sugarless gum after snacking, whether or not it's a whitening gum, is a good way to get the saliva flowing and help prevent plaque build up. This does not replace daily brushing and flossing.

Whitening Strips

Typical OTC whitening strips are small strips with a peroxide-gel side that you apply to the outer surface of your teeth, which can also help to facilitate a whitening effect. Some brands can be used up to 30 minutes a day for maximum results and can be repeated for a consecutive number of days as per the manufacturer's suggestion.

You can also find non-peroxide (non-bleaching) white strips, like the Pearly Whites Coconut and Activated Charcoal Strips, that offer a more natural alternative to bleaching. These come in various "flavors" and are a good alternative for people with sensitive teeth or those who can't use bleaching agents, like hydrogen peroxide, that most OTC kits and strips contain.

Results: The results will vary widely by brand with customers claiming significant results from some and very little from others. Check reviews before buying.

Who is it good for: The variety of white strips on offer means that there is something for everyone, from high percentage HP to bleach free alternatives.

Tray-Based Teeth Whiteners

This product is mostly sold in OTC kits that involve the use of a mouthguard-like tray with a gel-based whitening solution with peroxide-based bleaching agents. Because it's meant for at-home treatment, these trays usually have a lower concentration of peroxide than what is available from an in-office procedure. How often you use the trays and how long they are meant to remain on your teeth varies so be careful to read the instructions and follow them closely.

Results: The results will vary widely by brand with customers claiming significant results from some and very little from others. Check reviews before buying.

Who is it good for: Anyone who wants brighter teeth and does not have significant tooth sensitivity or another reason why they cannot use peroxide based whiteners.

best teeth whitening dentists

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