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The Controversy: Are bleaching lights necessary in professional laser teeth whitening treatments?

Apr 17, 2010
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Last Updated 4/17/2010 - There seems to be a bit of disagreement within the dental community regarding the effectiveness of laser beams or other sources of light in tooth bleaching. Some dentists believe that tooth bleaching is more effective with the use of lasers and other sources of light, while others are of the opinion that the effect of tooth bleaching remains the same, with or without the use of lasers or lights.

The makers of light-activated tooth bleaching products promptly claim that the use of light makes bleaching all the more effective. While different manufacturers give different reasons behind the effectiveness of light-activated tooth bleaching products, the general logic behind them is that the laser or light "activation" acts as a catalyst and triggers a quick degradation of the peroxide whitener. The laser or light aids the bleaching process by quickly converting the peroxide into the reactive oxygen free radicals. The effect speeds up the bleaching process and also makes it more intense, giving better whitening results.

Bleaching lights can cost a few thousand dollars, making the setup of such a system quite expensive for the dentist. Until recently, there was a general acceptance within the dental community that the lights or lasers were essential for tooth bleaching. It was only when a few dentists realized there were no clinical studies to prove this that the controversy began.

Many recent studies by prominent dentists have shown that bleaching compounds contained in tooth whitening products seem to work well and give good results even without the use of lasers or lights. The use of lasers or lights had no effect on the results. The study was done by using the "split arch" method, wherein the teeth on one side were treated using just the whitener, while the teeth on the other side were treated using the whitener as well as an activating light source. The study stated that the results were the same in both cases. The teeth on both sides were equally whitened in the initial comparisons as well as the evaluations that were made after one year of treatment. With a conclusion like this one might wonder if the lights are merely a marketing gimmick.

This is why many manufacturers of tooth whitening products and dentists do not incorporate a light source as a part of the whitening process today. Some of the leading professional in-office brands that do not use an "activating" light or laser (or consider it to be optional) are:

• Ultradent Opalescence Xtra Boost
• Rembrandt Virtuoso Lightening Gel
• Niveous

Update 07-14-2007
Light or no Light?

According to a recent study done by CRA on light assisted whitening, the light does not do anything. The data from the study shows that one week post bleaching shades showed no difference between the non-light and light treated teeth for any of the three test systems.
View the CRA Study Here

However, in another study, it was shown that peroxide and light treatment significantly lightened the color of teeth to a greater extent than did peroxide or light alone.
View the Study Here

Update 04-18-2008
NPR recently did a segment on this subject titled "Simple Formula for Whitening Your Teeth"
View Here

Update 02-07-2009
British scientists have released results of a study concluding that UV light-enhanced tooth bleaching is not only ineffective, but dangerous.
View Here

Update 2013
We've created a section of product reviews specifically for laser whitening. Check it out here:

Related Article:
Am I really whitening? Tooth Dehydration and Light Assisted Bleaching


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1. - James Hernoney - 08/24/2007
I am a professional photographer. Most of my work is non-commercial. My personal favorite photography is small things like incects and flowers. But I also know something about peroxides.

Having said that the photographs in the JADA article may look impressive but they are not unlike comparing apples to oranges.

Two different sets of teeth? Do I have to illustrate the varibles that apply in this?

And the observation "light appeared to have a bleaching effect" What about the light having a "dehydrating effect?" Especially directly after the treatment.

Oh yes the sensitivity issues are pretty clear in our society. I have met many people who have undergone the light systems and all told me the sensitivity is almost not worth it. or that they will not do it again.

The CRA study seems to be more tangible and reliable. I think comparing these studies is ridiculous. One is an independent orginization (CRA) and the other study was conducted for and I suspect by a toothbleaching company (britesmile).
2. - - 09/09/2007
Great observations James! I agree, the CRA study is a much more reliable study. Have you seen our other article on tooth dehydration with light assisted whitening?
3. - lilian - 11/27/2007
James, thanks for your comment, specially about the dehydration of the teeth immediately after bleaching. Usually immediately after bleaching the teeth will be dehydrated and will look whiter than they will be in a week time. But usually after the in-ofice bleaching you will be directed to used the home-bleaching gel to keep on bleaching your teeth. the problem is that a great deal of the gel will be swallowed. The active component of the gel is hydrogen peroxide, source of free radicals. Maybe someone could comment on the effect of free radicals on the human body. Going back to dental bleaching, to me the in-office chemical (not light)activated gels are acceptable because they eliminate exposure and swallowing of the peroxide.
4. - sheila - 11/28/2007
I want to bleach my teeth, but now I am so confused. Especially with all the side effects I am hearing about? What method is best? I am wanting laser whitening because I will only need to go one time, unlike the in denist gels. visit after visit. But I don't want my lips to swell.
5. - lilian - 11/29/2007
Sheila, for in-office bleaching, the peroxide gel that is applied to the teeth can be self-activated, with no light activation used, or, of course, light activated. The are differences in the source of light used. The Zoom lamp is a UV lamp, not laser. The Lasebrite lamp, is not laser either despite of the name. The Smarbleach lamp is true laser, and there are, of course other laser system. Laser bleaching is a good option as you will not get the UV associated burns, however, few dentists have true laser machines as they are quite pricy, could cost more than 10 times than the UV or plasma light lamps. Also laser bleaching is most often the ONLY option if you have dark teeth due to having taking antibiotics in childhood, or due to a medical condition. If you cannot afford laser bleaching and want to avoid the UV, consider chemically acticated or plasma-light activated systems applied in the dentists office. Hope this helps.
6. - Ahmed el-hoshy - 12/23/2007
I am lecturer in Restorative department in Cairo university, and we have made lots of research concerning the whitening process.Personely i have used both systems (With light and without light).what i can conclude that using the light might speed up the reaction. Second the light may generate more free radicals of oxygen that will increase the bleaching process, as the effect of whitening depends on the concentration and the time of contact between the gel and the stained tooth.
Thank you
7. - Book Kulula - 01/30/2008
I suppose I am just a little nervous about any kind of potential permanent damage
8. - Kelly - 02/13/2008
I am actually in the process of starting my zoom make over, im supose to pick up my trays and gel today, then the 27th of this month I go to have the 45 min laser thing done its suppose to whiten my teeth six shades, is it to late to turn back? is pola zing just as good how do they compare?
9. - Jacob - 04/18/2008
I have tried teeth bleaching with trays and also with the light. I can say for sure that I had better results when I had my teeth whitened using a light.

My experience is that the light helps in producing better results.
10. - Mike - 05/06/2008
Within the professional dental community, this is now “old news”. At least 90% of all dentists are now aware that lights do virtually nothing. So WHY might your dentist still use these lights? The answer is that YOU, the public demand it. You see something on television about bleaching lights, or you read an article about bleaching lights, and then you go to your dentists to ask if they have that “magical” light.
11. - Lee - 07/07/2008
I am thinking of whitening my teeth. Initially i thought of laser whitening as i heard that the results are much better and is safer than bleaching with trays. However after reading this article i a few concerns. Are homekits being talked about here or professional laser whitening sessions. I have seen a site that resembles what i initially wanted. Can someone tell me if this laser treatment will work better than trays.

12. - jean - 07/11/2008
In January 2008 I had one session of 4 x 10 minute treatments with gel and UV light which worked - initially. After three days my teeth reverted back to the original colour. The dentist then agred another session of 4 x 10 minute treatments with the same initial success. However, after another three days - yellow again. I was very lucky in that my dentist gave me a full refund, but I am now in a quandry as I want my teeth whiter - should I now look for a genuine laser treatment and will this even work?
13. - Dan B - 07/14/2008
Mike, you are mistaken. To say that the accelerator lights do nothing is huge misconception. As the name implies, the accelerator lights speed up the breakdown of the H2O2. Much like when you go to the store to buy H2O2, it comes in a brown bottle, to keep the light out.

Will H2O2 still break down without the light? Absolutely - which is how the Crest WhiteStips operate. The difference is that you wear the WhiteStrips for 2 weeks, whereas systems that use the light treat the client for 30-60 minutes.

I've included a link below that is an independent study of how the lights work. It comes to the same conclusion. I'm sure you'll find it most educational.
14. - Alexander - 07/15/2008

Did you bother reading their conclusion?

"The use of light activation using the BriteSmile in-office bleaching system resulted in increased whitening at the immediate postbleaching evaluation compared with Opalescence Xtra Boost, which does not require light activation. This is believed to be the result of dehydration of the tooth caused by the generation of heat from the curing light.4 This increase was temporary, however; AFTER 2 weeks no differences were recorded between the 2 systems.

It is reasonable to conclude that with the increase in temperature, *dehydration* occured, which was subsequently followed by rehydration. Therefore, in spite of the initial perception that an increase in whitening took place, the 2-week postbleaching evaluation did not demonstrate a difference. This was confirmed by an absence of a statically significant difference between the 2 materials."

Dan: Dehydrating the tooth temporarily is not whitening. This is discussed in more depth here: .
15. - Dan B - 07/15/2008

Did you bother reading my second paragraph? I'll repeat myself for your benefit. The results of the accelerator light show improvement after 30-60 minutes. The results without the accelerator light show improvement after 2 weeks. You then proceed to repeat what I had said. I have no problem admitting that you can bleach without the light - it is absolutely possible. It is not possible, however, to get these results after only 30-60 minutes without the light
16. - Alexander - 07/15/2008

Tooth Dehydrating is not teeth whitening. If you think it is, why not sell a blow dryer and market that as a teeth whitener?
17. - Michael Rogers - 08/07/2008

As a practicing dentist who has read all the research, I can tell you the light only makes a difference in how fast the product works, not in the final result. Both light and heat speed up the degradation of hydrogen peroxide, and that's one reason the results with most systems are so variable. Most products are delivered by UPS to the dentist's office, and often sit in an unairconditioned truck all day. I use BriteSmile in my office for one-hour bleaching with good, not always great, results. For truly white teeth, I use a system called "Deep Bleaching" developed by Dr. Rod Kurthy. It does not require light at all, but has significant differences from other products. It is shipped in a thermal container with dry ice, so it never gets warm on the way to my office. It comes with a desensitizer, and it uses both in-office and take home trays to complete the process.
18. - TAMMY - 04/23/2009
OK, So no one said anything about swallowing some of the gel when you have the trays in your mouth. is it harmful?
19. - Adam - 12/12/2009
Light treatment is great for an event within several days that you need white teeth for. I just believe that it is worth subjecting your gums and skin to the UV light for 30-45 minutes. The UV light will produce UVa and UVb rays that have been known to cause cancer. I believe in the, at home treatments a more predictable and safer treatment in my opinion. You can find some information at
20. - Vipul - 07/27/2010
As a practising dentist in the Toronto area, I totally agree that light or "laser" is not necessary to whiten teeth. It may temporarily accelerate the process, that's all. The reason many dentists still offer it is because patients insist on "in-office laser whitening". The sensitivity immediately following it is just not worth it.
Hence, we recommend and do the safe and predictable take-home professional whitening, and use a product called 'NiteWhite ACP' or 'Daywhite ACP', where the bleach only gets activated as you load it into the bleaching tray just prior to wearing it, since it comes in a special mixing syringe.
The process of whitening is akin to bleaching the surface of the enamel, which is best accomplished by a 16% to 22% carbamide peroxide gel, and we have had phenomenal results in the last 3 years that we have been using it, and the sensitivity is temporary and very low. Plus, we are offering it for free as a special promotion at our office!
21. - sophia su - 02/27/2012
This is sophia from huaer technology who is the professional manufacturer for teeth whiteningproducts .
we supply many whitening products,such as LED teeth whitening light,gel,kit,pen and so on.
22. - Karen Jemmett - 04/22/2012
Here's an alternative perspective, folks.

What if the dental profession are getting defensive now that LED curing lights are being mass produced for home use in China? Like so much other new technology used in the aesthetic industries, it's likely to have a sigificant impact on their profits in future. Call me a cynic. But I might just invest $40 on a rechargeable curing light to test my theory.

Remember, folks, deinstitutionalisation policies are as much of a loss leader in many elite professions as they are in central government.

Have a good day now!
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