OTC Teeth Whitening Kits vs Dentists—What’s Preferable?


Over-the-counter, do-it-yourself (DIY) teeth whitening kits sound like a good idea for a number of reasons, including convenience, a lower cost than going to a dentist, and relative ease of use. That’s the good news.  But, like everything in this world that sounds too-good-to-be-true, you also need to pay attention to the “bad news.” 

These over-the-counter, teeth-enhancement kits are, first of all, not without significant risks.  If you accidently swallow the cleansing chemicals these kits require, for example, you could find yourself in a potentially life-threatening situation; this is especially true if you experience an allergic reaction, even after following directions meticulously.

It is also unfair and even unrealistic for the makers of this product to expect you to come up with results commensurate with what you would expect from dental professionals.  After all, dentists and their staff have received extensive training, are less likely to make a potentially dangerous mistake and know what to do if, say, something goes wrong during the process.  Even the best OTC whitening kits can’t replace professional dental care. 


1.  One of the trickiest aspects of whitening teeth is being able to achieve results evenly and uniformly.  Your dentist will apply a whitening gel and then activate such with a curing lamp.  If this isn’t done using the right amount of gel, the right amount of curing time and intensity, then the results may be lopsided, uneven or of less quality than you should expect. 

2.  The products you get over the counter contain smaller amounts of cleaning solutions and basic ingredients than the products dentists use in their practice.  Such products may contain, to cite just one of many examples, around 3% of hydrogen peroxide, which may be enough for light stains and a temporary whitening effect, but certainly not for long-term, major stains situations. 

3.  The gels that dentists use generally contain much higher concentrations of cleaning ingredients, as high as 35% of hydrogen peroxide, in fact.  This more powerful dose of a cleaning agent is capable of penetrating the teeth’s enamel, thereby providing a more thorough and more long-lasting cleaning effect. 

4.  Just one whitening treatment by a professional can whiten teeth by up to 10 shades. 

5.  Dentist-provided teeth whitening sessions can be cheaper, in the long run, than store-bought DIY kits because you will have to buy several kits over time just to achieve a fraction of the quality you will receive at the hands of a trained, experienced professional.  Don’t just add up the cost of the kits but also the time that you spent treating yourself, the cost of fixing complications that may arise, and the cost of finally getting professional help because of long-term dissatisfaction. 

6.  There is always the chance that you will start but not finish the necessarily-long treatment plans schedule imposed by DIY kits.  You are more likely, on the other hand, to complete a treatment plan implemented by a dentist. 

7.  You will always wonder if you did everything right when you use a DIY kit.  When you delegate the process to someone that does this every day for a living, however, there is no guess-work and you can rest easy knowing that everything was done optimally. 

8.  It is much less likely that a mistake will be made when you hire a professional to do an important task like whitening your teeth. This isn’t to say that professionals don’t slip up and commit errors now and then but whom should you trust more with ANY job:  a professional or an amateur? 

9.  When handled by professionals, teeth whitening takes minimal amounts of time, meaning that a stress-filled (because you haven’t done this very often, if at all) 2 to 3 hours DIY session may translate into a more palatable, easier-to-endure session lasting only an hour or less.  

10.  If something goes wrong during a teeth-whitening treatment (such as maybe a potentially life-threatening reaction—which is possible anytime you introduce ANY chemical near, on or into your body) at a dentist’s office, you are likely to get the medical care you need to survive the incident.  Your chances of doing so, however, are sketchy at best, if the same thing happens while you’re using a DIY kit at home. 

11.  People who experiment with DIY kits have reported sensitivity, irritation and pain emanating from their teeth during and after treatments.  This may partly be due to hydrogen ions penetrating the teeth’s enamel or whitening agents making impromptu contact with gums or lips because of incorrect-size strips and/or trays.  Your dentist will either mitigate such mishaps by placing protective coverings over your gum and taking other steps, such as recommending fluoride treatments after whitening procedures.  

12.  Finally, even the take-home kits that dentists provide are better than the DIY kits you can buy over the counter.  For one thing, the gels in the dentist-provided kits is too thick to leak/spill out and these are provided merely as supplementary and complementary treatment options.  


Although they may seem to be convenient and maybe a viable alternative to anyone with no access to a dentist, over-the-counter, do-it-yourself teeth whitening kits are, to be blunt, no substitute for what a licensed, highly-trained dentist can do for your teeth. 

Before you use these kits, therefore, consider carefully all the potential ramifications.  In most (if not all) cases, you will find that the services of a dentist are simply safer, more reliable and much more effective than any DIY devices or procedures. 

Copyright, 2018.  Fred Fletcher.  All rights reserved. 




9/13/2018 7:00:00 AM
Fred Fletcher
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Fred Fletcher is a hard working Consumer Advocacy Health Reporter. Education: HT-CNA; DT-ATA; MS/PhD Post-Graduate Certificates/Certifications: • Project Management • Food Safety • HIPAA Compliance • Bio-statistical Analysis & Reporting • Regulatory Medical Writing • Life Science Programs Theses & Dis...
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Personally, I don't think these kits should be accessible to the public. There's lots that can go wrong. I'm speaking from personal not just professional experience.
Posted by Susan Blakely
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