Does teeth whitening hurt and how long do results last? The need-to-knows before booking

From whitening strips to charcoal toothpaste and even lip glosses, there are seemingly endless products on the high street promising a whiter smile. I should know, I’ve tried many of them.

But when it comes down to it, it’s likely that only a dentist can really change the colour of your teeth to that of a dazzling smile of a Hollywood celebrity. Both in terms of safety and the quality of results, it’s worth saving up your pennies to have it done properly.

Despite some of the (dangerous) hacks you’ll find on TikTok suggesting otherwise, professional-grade teeth bleaching using peroxide can only be carried out by exactly that: a professional.

“Tooth whitening is a dental treatment which can permanently alter the structure of your teeth,” says cosmetic dentist and facial aesthetician Dr Krystyna Wilczynski. “It should only be undertaken following a proper assessment by a registered dentist and on their prescription.

“[This is because] it is important to have a healthy dentition [position and condition of teeth] prior to any cosmetic whitening, and this can only be confirmed by a professionally qualified and licensed dentist.”

In the UK, any dentist can provide teeth whitening provided they are registered with the General Medical Council. The NHS notes that it’s illegal for beauty salons to offer teeth whitening if there is “no dental professional present”, so always do your homework before you book in.

So, considering teeth whitening? Here’s what you need to know about how the treatment works, the results, and if you can expect it to hurt.

How does teeth whitening work?

There are two main types of professional teeth whitening supervised by a dentist. Either your dentist gives you custom-made trays and gel to gradually whiten them at home – which I opted for – or the process is carried out in-chair using a bleaching agent and laser.

The latter is the more expensive option of the two as it’s usually done in one hour-long session, while the tray process takes several weeks.

With trays, you apply a small amount of whitening gel to each tooth section and wear them for a set amount of time each day or, in my case, overnight. This will vary depending on the formula you’re prescribed, but your dentist will explain the instructions to you.

Does teeth whitening hurt?

If you’ve opted for trays it’s very likely that you’ll experience some sensitivity while whitening your teeth. For me, this started just under a week into the process.

“Typical discomfort is often attributed to either the teeth or gums and is dependent on the type of teeth whitening treatment provided,” explains Dr Krystyna.

Personally I didn’t find the pain to be too bad (worth it for the results, no pain no gain, etc), at worst a dull ache. However, as with regular sensitivity, it’s worse when you eat or drink, especially anything hot or cold (I found colder stuff worse).

How to prepare for a teeth whitening appointment

“Make sure you have had a good hygienist deep clean prior to the whitening to remove any plaque, staining or possible gum issues,” Dr Krystyna advises. “Use a sensitive toothpaste two weeks prior to starting to try and limit the sensitivity effect.”

How much does teeth whitening cost?

Teeth whitening prices will vary depending on where you live and your dentist of choice, but at White & Co’s Battersea outpost in London, where Dr Krystyna is based, Philips Zoom whitening costs £350 for completely at-home, while an in-chair session plus home whitening costs £550.

Teeth whitening is not available on the NHS, unless there is a medical reason to do so.

How long does teeth whitening take?

Once you’ve had moulds or scans taken of your teeth to make custom trays, it takes around a fortnight for these to be made and sent to your dentist. You’ll then need an appointment to collect them and for your dentist to ensure that they fit your teeth properly.

Once this is done, you’re sent home with your moulds and gel to use every day (or overnight) for the next 2-3 weeks. During that time you can’t eat or drink anything that could stain your teeth, so red wine, ketchup, the creamy delights of Heinz tomato soup are all a no-go.

After my initial whitening stage of 18 nights worth of gel, my teeth were considerably less yellow by four or five shades on the chart enclosed with my kit. They’re not quite as white as I’d like them to be yet – understandable as this was my first ever course of whitening – but they are nowhere near as yellow as they were before I started treatment.

How soon can you whiten your teeth again after your first session?

If, like me, your teeth aren’t as bright as you’d like after a whitening session, you are able to order more gel through your dentist. However, if it’s your first time whitening your teeth, you’ll need to leave some time before starting on your next round of gel.

“If, after your first course of treatment, you decide you want to top up your whitening, you can buy more gel. It is best to leave it for three months after your first round of treatment, and then you can whiten for one week,” Dr Krystyna explains.

“After this, you can top up as and when you need,” she confirms.

What are the teeth whitening aftercare steps?

Teeth whitening results aren’t permanent and will vary depending on your lifestyle. For example, if you’re a smoker or somebody who drinks a lot of coffee, your results are unlikely to last as long as somebody who does neither of those two things.

Dr Krystyna recommends the following steps to ensure your results last as long as possible:

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