Choosing a teeth-whitening treatment is an important decision. After all, you’re entrusting the vibrancy of your smile to a procedure or product. There are a ton of options available, and anyone looking for a powerful, dentist-directed treatment should consider laser whitening.
Often confused with LED whitening, laser whitening is a different procedure, though many elements are similar. This guide will review everything you need to know about laser teeth whitening, so you can decide if it’s the best option for your needs.
Table of Contents
How Does Laser Teeth Whitening Work?
During treatment, your dentist uses a special, low-intensity laser to activate a peroxide-based whitening gel. This causes a chemical reaction, boosting the effectiveness of the gel by helping it penetrate deeper into the tooth, removing stain buildup.
Because the laser emits a narrow, pinpoint beam, it is mostly used to whiten one tooth at a time — unlike LED light, which affects many teeth at once. However, some laser manufacturers have an attachment that allows a dentist to whiten up to five teeth at a time.
Is Laser Whitening Right for You?
Laser whitening is a great choice for people who have little free time and want to whiten their teeth quickly and effectively. Because the laser beam is so narrow, it’s also good for people who just want to whiten one or two teeth.
An ideal candidate for laser whitening also has a healthy mouth with no cavities or gum disease. Your dentist will do a brief exam to ensure your mouth is in good shape before they give you the go-ahead.
If your teeth are discolored from years of coffee drinking or smoking, a laser whitening session can remove decades of stain in just one appointment. Laser whitening can remove most stains, but not all. Some stains, like those from certain medications, are deep in the tooth and may take more than one session.
Just remember that teeth whitening only works on natural teeth, so if you have veneers, crowns, bridges, they won’t get any lighter. If you need dental work, your dentist might recommend whitening your teeth first so that they can match the shade of your restorations to your new, bright smile.
Pros and Cons of Laser Whitening
Like any treatment, you should weigh the pros and cons as you evaluate your options. Here are some key points to consider before committing to treatment.
- Your dentist can use the highest concentration of whitening gel on the market.
- Can remove years of stains in just one visit.
- The laser’s precision tip is perfect for spot-treating one tooth at a time.
- Doesn’t require any cleanup.
- Results last one year or longer.
- No messy trays, pens, or strips.
- Whitens teeth at least five to six shades in about one hour.
- A dentist will administer the entire treatment.
- Laser whitening is expensive, running from $500 to $1,500 per session.
- Slight risk of nerve damage from the laser’s heat.
- May expose the patient to infrared emissions.
- Must be administered by a dentist. There’s no at-home option.
- Stronger whitening gel can make your teeth and gums temporarily sensitive or irritated.
How Much Does Laser Whitening Cost?
Laser teeth whitening is an investment in self-care. It can boost your self-esteem and make you feel years younger. But it can be pretty pricey.
Depending on where you live and the brand of whitening your dentist uses, a session of laser whitening ranges from $500 to $1500. Some dentists include a set of custom trays in the cost, so you can touch up your smile at home after your treatment. If you don’t have a regular dentist, don’t be afraid to call around and compare prices. Just remember that cheaper isn’t always better.
Does Insurance Cover It?
No. Teeth whitening is a cosmetic procedure and rarely ever covered by insurance. Occasionally, insurance will cover the whitening of one tooth if they think it’s medically necessary.
Is Financing Available?
Many dental offices offer financing, whether it’s an in-office payment plan or through a third-party company like CareCredit or LendingClub. Some financing companies require a credit check, so be sure to read the fine print before you apply. And many plans include interest, so you end up paying more in the long run.
How Do I Get Laser Whitening?
Laser whitening is only available from a dentist. If you don’t have a local dentist, try searching online for local offices in your area. In-office whitening is very popular, so finding a dentist who offers laser whitening shouldn’t be hard.
If it’s been a while since your last visit, your dentist may recommend a cleaning immediately before your whitening procedure, since clean teeth are more receptive to whitening. They may also perform a comprehensive exam to check for cavities or gum disease.
What to Expect During Laser Whitening Treatment
Your dentist will use a cheek retractor to hold your lips and cheeks out of the way during your procedure. This keeps the whitening gel away from your soft tissue and exposes more teeth for even whitening. They will then paint a light-cured liquid rubber dam over your gum tissue to prevent the gel from irritating them.
Next, your dentist will apply the whitening gel, give you special protective glasses to wear, and begin shining the laser on each tooth. The heat and light will activate the whitening gel, allowing it to penetrate your enamel and lift out stains. After they’ve hit every tooth you want to whiten, your dentist will wash off the whitening gel, then reapply it. Depending on the severity of your stains, your dentist might repeat this process a few times. If your teeth are sensitive or you have stubborn, deep stains, you may need to schedule another visit.
Afterward, your dentist may give you a set of custom whitening trays you can use at home to maintain your results.
How Long Does the Procedure Take?
The length of your laser whitening session can vary depending on the number of teeth you need whitened and the severity of your stains. You can usually expect to be in the treatment chair for about an hour. However, if you include setting up and applying the liquid dam plus cleaning up after your session, it could take up to 90 minutes.
After your whitening session, avoid eating or drinking for at least an hour. Whitening opens microscopic pores in your teeth, making them more susceptible to staining right after treatment. Eating or drinking during this time can cause your teeth to stain faster.
All procedures have some side effects, and whitening is no different. The most common side effects are sensitivity, pain, white spots, and gum irritation. Fortunately, they’re all temporary and usually improve in a few days.
In rare cases, the laser’s heat can cause an already injured or damaged nerve to die. If this happens, you’ll need endodontic therapy (root canal) to remove the tooth’s pulp.
Another side effect that might cause lasting sensitivity is thinning enamel. This rarely happens after one treatment — rather, it’s a cumulative effect of repeated whitening.
How Long Does It Take to See Results?
Most people see full results after a single visit. Your dentist may recommend a second visit if you have sensitive teeth or deep staining.
Some people notice that their teeth have white spots or look unnaturally white immediately after a professional whitening session. That’s because teeth get dehydrated during the whitening session and the white spots usually disappear in about 24 hours.
How Long Will My Results Last?
The longevity of your results depends on a few factors. If you are careful to limit food and drinks that cause stains, like tomato sauce, coffee, berries, or wine, your result may last around one year.
Smoking also stains your teeth. If you smoke, you should consider quitting, not only for your white smile but for your overall health.
How Do I Maintain My Results?
If you notice your teeth look duller after a few months, there are many options for touching up your smile. If your dentist provided custom whitening trays after your laser treatment, you can use them for quick touch-ups. Or, you can pick up whitening pens or strips from a local drugstore or online.
Before committing to a particular maintenance routine, ask your dentist which method they recommend.
Laser whitening is a fast, effective way to whiten your teeth. You can remove years of discoloration in as little as one hour and, if you’re careful, your results will last one year or more. It might be a little pricey, but with financing options, it could be more affordable than you think.
Treating yourself to a professional laser whitening session might be just what you need to boost your self-confidence and make you look and feel younger.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is laser whitening safe?
Yes. The lasers used for teeth whitening are low intensity, and your dentist has had special training in how to use the laser safely.
How much does laser whitening cost?
Depending on where you live and the brand of whitening your dentist uses, a session of laser whitening ranges from $500 to $1,500.
How long will it take to see results?
Laser whitening can achieve full results in as little as one hour, but might take two visits if you have sensitive teeth or stubborn stains.
What if I don’t have a dentist?
Many dentists offer professional whitening, so a quick online search for dentists in your area is a great place to start. Check out their website and read reviews to ensure the office is a good fit for you and your whitening goals.
Are there any side effects?
You may experience tooth sensitivity or gum irritation, which are common and should disappear in a few days. In rare cases, a nerve that is already compromised might die, requiring a root canal.
Who is an ideal candidate for laser whitening?
An ideal candidate has healthy teeth and gums. Remember that veneers and crowns don’t lighten, so if you have any dental restorations, you may need to have them replaced.
Does insurance cover laser whitening?
Laser whitening is a cosmetic procedure, so insurance rarely covers it.
Are there any financing options?
Many dentists offer either payment plans or accept third-party financing. Some require credit checks, so be sure to read the fine print.
How long will my results last?
Laser whitening results usually last around one year, depending on your lifestyle — like how often you consume staining food and beverages, how often you smoke, and if you maintain a consistent oral hygiene routine.
How do I maintain my results?
Your dentist may include a set of custom whitening trays in your professional whitening package, which you can use for occasional touch-ups to your smile. If not, ask your dentist which method of at-home whitening is best for you between professional visits.