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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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