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Is OTC tooth whitening different from professional teeth whitening?

With OTC tooth whitening products, you don't always know the ingredients or how to use the product properly; going to a professional will yield better, safer results. Watch dental specialist Martha Cortes, DDS, explain the difference between the two.
There are a few differences between OTC and professional tooth whitening products. The key to successful tooth whitening is having a strong enough product being in contact with the tooth surface for a sufficient amount of time to get a result. The active ingredient in both OTC and professional products is some form of peroxide, whether that be hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. The professional products have a significantly higher concentration of this ingredient in them. The other benefit of professional whitening is that the product is staying in contact with the tooth surface for a longer amount of time, due to the delivery system of either a custom tray which fits intimately over your teeth, or the direct application while you are in the dentist's chair. The drawback of the OTC product in this aspect is that with strips, paste, or paint on products, it is more quickly rinsed off the tooth by your own saliva. Finally, many professional products have additional ingredients which minimize side effects such as sensitivity or discomfort. These ingredients include potassium nitrate, fluoride, and water, to keep the tooth hydrated (dehydration can be a cause of post-treatment sensitivity).

OTC products are not harmful, and are worth a try if you have never whitened your teeth before. If you do not get the result you desire, seek out the advice of a dentist. Most people can benefit from tooth whitening; depending on how committed they are to the process. You should remember that keeping your teeth white is something that needs to be maintained throughout your life.

Yes and no. The only major difference is the concentrations of the tooth whitening solution also known as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Over the counter teeth whitening comes in a much smaller concentration and takes longer to whiten your teeth. Professional whitening is much stronger and takes a shorter amount of time. 

OTC whitening products are different than professional whitening products in their concentration. Custom made whitening trays made at your dental office offer superior fit and less leakage of the whitening gel that can harm your root surfaces and gums, and possibly the nerves of your teeth if used improperly on a consistent basis. It is best to see your dentist regularly to insure the safety and efficacy of the whitening process.

Over-the-counter and in-office tooth whitening are in some ways the same, and in other ways different. Both methods usually use some form of peroxide but the method of application may be different. Some in office treatments can provide whitening in one extended office visit. You should consult with your dentist to determine which method may best address your needs.
The differences between OTC teeth whitening from professional teeth whitening are the concentratration of hydrogen peroxide employed (OTC concentration are lower), the time necessary to complete the process, and the overall result generally experienced. On most accounts, professional teeth whitening is done in less time, with more effective concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, in a controlled environment (important for many reasons), and with superior results. The potential for overuse and misuse of less effective and lower peroxide concentrations found in OTC whitening products has recently become more of a concern because of the long term exposure to the oxidative properties of whitening gels and the 'reactive oxidative stress' (ROS) that these chemicals cause when used improperly.
OTC tooth whiteners do not always work as well as professional whitening procedures you can get from your dentist. This is because they use lower concentrations of peroxide to remove stains from teeth. On the other hand, many times an OTC tooth whitener is considerably less expensive than tooth whitening you would receive from your dentist.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.