Here’s a not-so-well-kept secret: some of the best things in life stain your teeth. Coffee, red wine, berries — their pigments get into the enamel’s pores and create set-in stains. But just because you indulge a bit doesn’t mean you can’t have a stunning smile!
Head to the store and you’ll find teeth whitening products lining the shelves of the oral health care aisle. They’re solid options, but if you want fast, highly effective whitening, professional treatments are the way to go. But just like those OTC products, not all in-office treatments are created equal. To help you narrow down your options, we’ve compiled our picks for the best professional whitening treatments.
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How Does Professional Teeth Whitening Work?
Professional teeth whitening systems aren’t all the same. Some use lights or lasers; others don’t. Some require custom trays; others don’t. You might need just one session to achieve full results, or perhaps 2–3, or even several weeks of hybrid in-office and at-home treatment. Basically, every whitening system has its own unique features.
So, what unites them? A few features are pretty much universal when it comes to professional teeth whitening systems:
- High-Strength Gel: At-home products typically top out at a 15% concentration of hydrogen peroxide — and even this strength of a solution is rare. Professional systems can use up to a 40% concentration, making them significantly more powerful.
- Single-Session Results: Some systems require multiple visits. But even in cases like this, you should see significant results after the first treatment. At-home treatments typically take one to two weeks for full results.
- Direct Supervision: With at-home treatments, you should be safe if you follow directions and purchase from a reputable provider. Still, that can’t beat the direct oversight you get when you work with a dentist in person.
- Sensitivity Management: Many whitening products can cause tooth and gum sensitivity. On your own, there isn’t a lot you can do to manage it beyond using a formula to minimize sensitivity. However, during an in-person appointment, your dentist can adjust your treatment time, use special oils on the gums, and even create a gum barrier that helps protect you.
- Restricted Access: Only dental professionals are supposed to have access to professional-strength treatments. While most of the treatments on this list also have direct-to-consumer versions, they’ve lowered the peroxide concentration to make them safe for at-home use.
So, now that you have a primer on professional teeth whitening systems, let’s dive into the four systems we consider the best of the best.
#1: Opalescence Boost: Best Overall Professional Treatment
Considered the biggest name in professional teeth whitening, Opalescence launched in 1990, just as professional teeth whitening went mainstream. Opalescence Boost is their signature product. An award-winning system, it’s known for its whitening power that produces minimal sensitivity.
The gel comes in syringes with a double-barrel design, keeping the ingredients separate until you’re ready to apply it. This keeps them fresher and more effective, maximizing your results. It also contains potassium nitrate and fluoride to reduce sensitivity and typically uses a gum barrier to protect the gingiva. While it isn’t the most affordable whitening treatment, it strikes a nice balance between price, effectiveness, and comfort.
- Relatively Low Price: Most Boost treatments cost $600, making it one of the more affordable professional systems.
- Potent Formula: With a hydrogen peroxide concentration of 40%, Opalescence Boost is among the most powerful formulas on the market.
- Minimal Sensitivity: Boost contains fluoride and potassium nitrate. These ingredients help to keep the enamel strong and stop the gel from getting into the tubules of the teeth, which causes sensitivity.
- Fast Treatments: Active whitening generally lasts just one hour. There is prep and cleanup to consider as well, but these usually add just 20 minutes.
- Regular Touch-Ups: Whitening results aren’t permanent — you’ll need to complete maintenance treatments in order to keep your smile bright. Typically, Opalescence Boost patients complete at least one 20-minute touch-up session per year.
- Gel Reapplications: During each treatment, the dentist reapplies Boost’s gel every twenty minutes. This can be annoying if you’re hoping to spend your treatment streaming content on your phone.
#2: Philips Zoom: Most Patient-Requested
Philips Zoom launched in 2011, making it quite a bit younger than Opalescence. However, it has quickly become the number-one patient-requested professional whitening system (according to Philips). There are multiple versions of Philips Zoom, allowing patients to get the exact type of whitening they want, but WhiteSpeed is currently the most popular.
Since there are different Zoom systems, the components of treatment can vary. Typically, they include an LED light, gum protection, a bite retractor, protective glasses, and whitening gel. Most of the time, you can finish treatment in about an hour, prep and clean-up included.
- Eight Shades in 45 Minutes: According to Philips Zoom, their treatment is clinically proven to whiten teeth by up to eight shades in a single 45-minute session.
- Uses an LED Light: LED lights can speed up the chemical reaction of the whitening process and provide better results. Not all professional systems use lights, but Zoom does.
- Built-In Customization: Your doctor or technician can customize the strength of the LED light based on your comfort and tailor the results to your smile goals.
- Results That Last: Philips Zoom providers report that results can last between 12 and 24 months.
- Less Powerful formula: Zoom uses a hydrogen peroxide concentration of 25%, which is weaker than some of its in-office competitors.
- Sensitivity Is Common: While you might not experience sensitivity and zingers after Zoom treatment, some patients do, especially if they already have sensitive teeth.
#3: KöR: Best for Deep Stains
If you are looking for maximum power, KöR is the professional whitening treatment for you. It eliminates stains that other professional products can’t touch. This makes it something of a niche product — and justifies its fairly steep price.
At the moment, KöR has four distinct offerings:
- KöR HOME: A fully at-home system you can get from your dentist. You can choose from two options: Day and Night. Both require one treatment per day for two weeks.
- KöR MAX: Designed for stains that are slightly deeper than what purely at-home treatment can address. It uses an in-office treatment to start, then the patient switches to two weeks of at-home whitening.
- KöR ULTRA: Designed for deeper stains. It starts with an in-office treatment, segues into 3–4 weeks of at-home whitening, then finishes with a final in-office treatment.
- KöR ULTRA-T: For tetracycline stains and other previously untouchable tooth staining. It bumps up the at-home whitening to 6–8 weeks of overnight sessions and also includes start-up and wrap-up in-office sessions.
- Whitens Even Deep Stains: All professional treatments are powerful, but none match KöR’s ability to reduce or eliminate deep, dark stains — including those from medications.
- Treatments Tailored to You: Since KöR has multiple treatments, your dentist can select the one that best suits you. They also have some flexibility in setting how many weeks you whiten.
- Easy to Find: KöR is one of the most widely available in-office systems.
- Comfortable at-Home Whitening: KöR at-home treatments use custom-made mouth trays that fully seal around the teeth. They’re smooth, thin, and prevent the gel from causing chemical burns.
- Wide Price Range: Most dentists charge between $800 and $3,500 for KöR, depending on the system. This makes it one of, if not the most, expensive whitening treatments.
- Whitening at Home: For many, the appeal of in-office whitening is getting significant results in a single treatment. KöR requires multiple weeks of at-home treatment (and usually an extra in-office session).
- Session and Treatment Length: In-office sessions can last up to two hours. And from start to finish, it can take almost two months to finish treatment.
#4: Invisalign Whitening: Biggest Brand
Invisalign Professional Whitening is the youngest treatment on this list, having just launched in February 2022. Its formula is an adaptation of Opalescence Boost, switching the 40% concentration of hydrogen peroxide for a 45% concentration of carbamide peroxide. Don’t let that bigger number fool you; carbamide peroxide is about one third the strength of hydrogen peroxide, making this a less effective formula when compared to traditional Boost.
However, it’s safer to use with aligners and retainers. And Invisalign designed their whitening system specifically for their aligners and Vivera retainers. They function as your custom whitening trays, keeping the gel on your teeth and off your gums and other soft tissues.
- Speed: Typically, professional treatments take at least 45 minutes of active whitening, plus 20–30 minutes of prep and clean-up. Invisalign requires no prep, has minimal cleanup, and the active whitening time is just 30 minutes.
- Made for Aligners: Not all whitening treatments are safe to use with clear aligners. However, Invisalign formulated their Professional Whitening specifically to pair with both aligners and retainers.
- Minimal Sensitivity: Invisalign Professional Whitening is designed with sensitivity in mind. The aligners or retainers help keep the gel off the gums, and carbamide peroxide is gentler than hydrogen peroxide. Plus, potassium nitrate and fluoride strengthen the enamel to protect the tubules where sensitivity develops.
- Requires Invisalign Products: To use the system, you must have either Invisalign aligners or Vivera retainers. If you don’t, you’ll need to purchase them.
- Powered by Boost but Not as Powerful: One of the big selling points is that Invisalign Professional Whitening is powered by Opalescence Boost. The problem is that the formula is weaker, making it less powerful than its in-office competitors and even certain home whitening treatments.
Qualities We Considered
What makes one professional whitening system better than the others? Honestly, it’s pretty subjective. The qualities that matter most to you might not be as important to someone else. We wanted to zero in on the qualities with the most universal importance — the ones everyone wants their whitening treatments to have.
Above all, you want a whitening system that will deliver the results they promise. Full disclosure: we did not use all these whitening treatments before writing this review. Our knowledge of each system comes from a wide variety of sources: patient testimonials, dental websites, company websites, and more. Any system that wasn’t well reviewed didn’t make our list.
Professional treatments always come with bigger price tags than their direct-to-consumer counterparts. Still, we believe that the price should make sense given the effectiveness a system offers. Even if it doesn’t have a low sticker price, it must represent a solid value.
Quality of Ingredients
Anything that touches your teeth needs to be high quality and safe. With professional treatments, this isn’t a big concern; no reputable dentist would use anything besides dental-grade ingredients. Still, we took the time to check the active ingredients and make sure they’re safe.
In-office treatments are less convenient than at-home ones because you have to attend at least one appointment to get them. Still, some are more convenient than others. We tried to focus on fast and simple treatments unless their results justify more time and extra steps, like KöR.
Teeth whitening can be uncomfortable no matter which route you take, and in-office treatment means having an audience. Still, it shouldn’t be painful. All the systems on our list are quite comfortable as far as professional whitening goes.
Professional whitening treatments make it easy to get a brighter smile in minimal time. You benefit from direct oversight, strict quality standards, and fine-tuned customization. While there are trade-offs compared to at-home whitening — most notably higher prices and less convenience — if you have severe stains or a tight deadline, a professional system might be worth it.
Frequently Asked Questions
What makes professional whitening different from direct-to-consumer kits?
There are five features that set professional systems apart from direct-to-consumer ones:
- High-strength gel — typically much stronger than what’s available in at-home whitening kits.
- Results in just one whitening session, while at-home kits usually take one to two weeks to see full results.
- Your dentist will supervise your entire treatment and usually evaluate you beforehand to make sure your teeth are healthy enough for whitening.
- Your dentist can manage dental sensitivity more than you can by yourself at home.
- You can’t get these products for use at home. Only dental professionals can access them.
Is professional whitening safer than at-home whitening?
Generally speaking, yes. Even if reputable at-home kits are safe when used correctly, the average person cannot match the expertise a dentist brings to the table.
Should I get a dental exam before whitening my teeth?
Yes, and with professional whitening, this is almost always part of the process. Your dentist should ensure that your teeth and gums are healthy enough for whitening before beginning.
Which treatment is best for deep stains, like those from tetracycline?
KöR. In fact, it is the only treatment that can treat these types of stains. Just keep in mind that this system requires a greater time and financial investment than other ones.
I just need a touchup before a big event. Which treatment is right for me?
If you have tooth sensitivity, Opalescence Boost. If you don’t, Philips Zoom. Both deliver impressive results in a single treatment, are widely available, and don’t require you to have specific trays.
How much should I expect to spend for professional whitening treatment?
A minimum of $300 and potentially up to $3,500. But before you write off professional whitening, schedule a consultation with your dentist. They should be able to help you find the right option for your budget.
Are professional whitening sessions long?
Not necessarily. Some are as long as two hours but others take just 30 minutes. It depends on how much change you want and which whitening system you select.
How long should I expect my results to last?
It varies between systems and patients. Ask your dentist the typical lifespan of results for your treatment and take steps to preserve your results as long as possible by avoiding staining foods and beverages, quitting smoking, and practicing good oral hygiene.
Which whitening treatment is the easiest to find?
It’s pretty much neck-and-neck between Opalescence Boost and Philips Zoom. However, Zoom is typically slightly easier to find.
Are there any advantages to using trays as part of in-office treatment?
Basically, they keep the gel on the teeth and off the soft tissues of the mouth. This lets you avoid wearing the cheek retractor and gum barrier, both of which can be uncomfortable.