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How Does Teeth Whitening Actually Work?

Teeth whitening is a common process, asked for by quite a few of our patients. Not only is it available in dental procedures, but you can also buy over-the-counter whitening strips, or even whitening toothpaste. 

With all of this available to anyone who takes a trip to the grocery store, we often get asked the same specific question: Does whitening actually work?

Yes! Tooth Whitening Does Work!

That’s the short answer. The more thorough answer requires a little more detail about the whitening process itself, as well as the products being purchased.

Part of the reason we offer professional whitening treatment at our office, rather than simply sending you to the local shop for some whitening strips, is that there is a significant difference between professional-grade formulas and over-the-counter products.


The greater effectiveness of these professional formulas has to do with the concentration of peroxide included in the whitening gels. 

Most teeth whitening solutions are made from a peroxide mixture, usually either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Carbamide breaks down into hydrogen peroxide once inside the mouth, making the process very similar for almost any product.

Here’s how it works:

Hydrogen peroxide is two parts oxygen, and two parts hydrogen, or H2O2. Yes, that’s very similar to water (H2O), but with one extra oxygen atom per molecule. The extra oxygen is the key to everything that happens 

When this peroxide is placed on your teeth, it automatically starts to break down even further into a single oxygen atom, and water (becoming O and H2O instead). The interesting thing about oxygen is that it doesn’t like to be alone. When it occurs naturally in the air, it usually comes in sets of two—or even threes in some cases.

Oxygen Reactions

The reason oxygen doesn’t like to be alone is that it only has six electrons in its outer shell, but the shell can fit eight. This means it wants to bond with other molecules to fill up the rest of that space.

One of the oxygen atoms in the broken down peroxide is perfectly happy—it has two hydrogens to fill up the rest of its electrons. 

The other oxygen, though, is left without anything, so it goes in search of something else it can bond with. It finds what it needs in the molecules that stain our teeth, which it then reacts with. This oxygen reaction breaks down the stains, leaving your teeth much whiter than they started.

Professional Grade Peroxide Formulas

The whitening products at the grocery store use this same process, and they do help with the whitening of your teeth. However, the amount of peroxide in these items is very low.

Professional whitening is faster and more effective because the amount of peroxide in the formula is much higher. Higher peroxide levels means more unattached oxygen atoms. More oxygen means more breaking down of the stains on your teeth.

These formulas deliver results that are both more immediate and more visible. However, they must be administered or distributed by trained professionals. They cannot be sold alongside the toothbrushes and mouthwash in the hygiene aisle.

Join Us in Our Office for Professional Whitening Treatment

In our dental office, we can provide you with whitening treatments that use this professional grade peroxide formula, giving you the dazzling results you deserve. Contact us today to discuss our whitening options.

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