I'd be lying if I said I'm not confident in my smile. My parents spent good money on years of orthodontic work to get my pearly whites in tip-top shape. And for that, I'm eternally grateful. My smile is one of the things I get complimented on the most, so I'm forever indebted to my parents' good genes and my hardworking orthodontist. Bless up.
However, being the curious beauty editor that I am, I'll never turn down the opportunity to make my smile a little brighter. When the opportunity presented itself to try out Zoom teeth whitening, I was all in. Like many other beauty treatments that seem cool in my head, I walk blindly into them with minimal information and maximum excitement. According to 2019 report by market research firm Arizton, the global teeth whitening industry is expected to reach revenues of more than $6 billion by 2025. In short, the hype surrounding whiter teeth is real, and I was all in.
If you prefer to know what you're walking into when trying something new, keep scrolling to read everything the pros want you to know about professional laser teeth whitening.
What Is Laser Teeth Whitening?
For decades, getting your teeth whitened involved soaking them in a hydrogen peroxide-based solution, which lifted stains but required several treatments to see results. Thanks to technology, that process has been sped up significantly, with lasers spurring on the chemical reaction of the solution—and whitening teeth in half the time. One of the most common laser teeth whitening procedures, Zoom teeth whitening, is a process by which a light-activated 25 percent hydrogen peroxide gel is applied to the teeth before a blue plasma light activates the solution. It is only offered in-office.
Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical compound made of H202 that kills germs that cause bad breath, reduces bacteria buildup, acts as a bleaching agent, and diminishes gum inflammation.
"Some people's teeth are dark because they have internal stains on the tooth, not on the surface," says Marc Lowenberg, DDS. "Surface stains come off, but the deeper stains embedded in the enamel are what comes off during in-office treatments when the oxygen molecules from our Zoom light are released from hydrogen peroxide, which causes the stains to break up and dilute, which makes the teeth whiter.”
Sadly, even in-office professional whitening doesn't work on everyone. "The marketing of this industry is so convincing, making everyone feel like they can get whiter teeth," Lowenberg emphasizes. "However, lots of the results have to do with the genetic makeup of your teeth. Some people's teeth are dark because they've stained over the years, and others' teeth are dark genetically—just like the color of your eyes. Sometimes you just can't whiten your teeth enough to see an obvious difference. You never know with anyone until you actually do it. You can sit here through the whole process and not see any difference, or sometimes you'll see a great difference—this varies from person to person."
What to Expect During a Laser Teeth Whitening Treatment
As soon as I walked into his office, I was greeted with a big smile by Lowenberg, who has a star-studded lineup of smiles under his belt, from Chris Rock's to Russell Simmons's. A few minutes after meeting me, he gave me the lowdown on all things Zoom teeth whitening, including the zoom light and high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide that would be used to create my whiter smile.
At the start of the procedure, an employee took a mold of my teeth to create a custom tray for my mouth, which I'd need after I left (more on that later). They gave me safety eyewear and set up a contraption inside my mouth to protect my gums from the strength of the hydrogen peroxide. Lowenberg's partner, Brian Kantor, DDS, did the honors for my first session, applying bleach to my teeth and explaining the process.
My teeth were positioned in place, and I didn't move for 15 minutes at a time during each session. Kantor checked in on my teeth periodically and applied more bleach after each one to ensure I'd get the best and brightest results possible. Toward the end of my procedure, I started feeling sharp electric shocks. Kantor warned me that these feelings were normal and are signs of my teeth's sensitivity to the high percentage of hydrogen peroxide. The shocks were bearable, just a tad uncomfortable. Afterward, Kantor and Lowenberg revealed my results, and to say I was happy and thoroughly impressed would be an understatement. I could not stop staring at them. My teeth were shades brighter than what they were before.
At-Home Whitening vs. In-Office Whitening
Kantor breaks down the difference between treating teeth stains with at-home versus in-office treatments. "Things like oil-pulling, white strips, whitening toothpastes, and charcoal-based cleaners to whiten your teeth are removing surface stains and making your teeth appear whiter," explains Kantor. "Those products don't actually bleach your teeth like professional teeth whitening. What determines how white your teeth are going to get is how concentrated the hydrogen peroxide is, which is a bleaching agent. With our treatment, the peroxide is remaining isolated on your teeth for a significant period of time."
"When we're doing it in the office, we're using 35 percent hydrogen peroxide," says Lowenberg. "When you do it at home, it can be anywhere from 7 percent to 10 percent. When you're doing an in-office treatment, there's a much better chance that your teeth will whiten." Lowenberg recommends coming for an in-office treatment every six months. You can use the at-home, customized tray to whiten your teeth once a month.
Side Effects of Laser Teeth Whitening
The biggest side effect of laser teeth whitening is sensitivity—both in the sense that your teeth will be more sensitive to temperatures (you might wince a little from anything too hot or cold) and may be more sensitive to staining. In fact, I was advised not to eat any colorful foods or beverages for the next week since they could stain my teeth—a hard task. "Right after your teeth are professionally whitened, you can't eat or drink anything with color," Lowenberg told me as my eyes widened. "Don't eat things like spaghetti with marinara sauce, red wine, ketchup, or blueberries. If you're a coffee or tea drinker and you absolutely can't go without it, drink it through a straw. After five days, the new color of your teeth is locked in."
For those who absolutely can't resist the urge to drink red wine after a whitening, Lowenberg suggests an old-school trick that works: rub Vaseline on the fronts of your teeth. "The Vaseline will act as a barrier so it won't allow the liquids that stain teeth to permeate the teeth. Also, if you're going to drink red wine, coffee, or tea, it is imperative that you immediately drink water afterward so that the residue doesn't sit on your teeth and you're washing it away with water."
It's important to note that one treatment doesn't mean your teeth are eternally white. "The bleaching doesn't last forever," says Lowenberg. "We can whiten your teeth in the office, but eventually, it fades back. In order to maintain it, we make you customized trays that you take home with you. Once your teeth are white, you can do it once a month for a half-hour—this will maintain the whiteness."
I was instructed to use my customized tray and apply a lower dosage of peroxide on my teeth for 30 minutes for seven days straight post-procedure to maintain the look of my icy whites. I was also given soothing gel in case I experienced those tingly, shock sensations in my gums again.
The Final Takeaway
Even two weeks after my session, my teeth were still frosty white. And Lowenberg offered a tip to maintain the color: "The best way to keep your teeth as white as they can be from surface stains is by mixing a fresh batch of Arm & Hammer baking soda powder and liquid hydrogen peroxide. Be sure to mix it to the consistency of toothpaste. If you brush your teeth with that, it'll remove all surface stains.”
If it's been on your mind for a while, this honest laser teeth whitening review hopefully inspires you to take the plunge. If you want to ease into your teeth whitening process before trying an in-office treatment, try the below products to help remove surface stains.
Known for its insanely dramatic results, this teeth-whitening gel claims to give you whiter teeth in just two days.
This extensive kit includes two whitening gels, five LED lights, and a flexible tray to deliver an immediate whitening effect.
This five-minute system not only whitens your teeth after a couple of uses but also fights tartar and reduces bad breath.
This is a popular option because many can attest to its whitening powers. In the span of 10 days, Crest White Strips can diminish the look of surface stains.
With this two-step system, you get a whitening toothpaste and whitening "accelerator" in one to ensure your smile stays the brightest it can be.
Al-Maliky MA. Clinical investigation of 940 nm diode laser power bleaching: an in vivo study. J Lasers Med Sci. 2019;10(1):33-36. doi:10.15171/jlms.2019.05
Rashed HT. Evaluation of the effect of hydrogen peroxide as a mouthwash in comparison with chlorhexidine in chronic periodontitis patients: a clinical study. J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2016;6(3):206-212. doi:10.4103/2231-0762.183114
American Dental Association. Whitening. Updated October 30, 2020.