Even if you haven't tried them yourself, you've no doubt seen several over-the-counter teeth whitening solutions in stores. The whitening agent in these is much weaker than the type you'll find at your dentist.

Before you schedule an appointment, take a closer look at the methods they implement.

Gel Application

Your average professional whitening procedure involves the direct application of gel to the surface of the teeth. The gel contains a certain level of hydrogen peroxide depending on your dentist's specific formula, and though some offices use UV lights or lasers to activate the gel and speed the bleaching process, it's not always necessary. Aside from the increased strength of the agent, one of the key advantages of professional gel application is superior protection for the rest of the mouth and gums.

The number of sessions required varies from patient to patient. Some may need anywhere from one to three appointments, each of which can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. It all comes down to how stained the teeth are, how white the patient wants them to be, and the dentist's method.

Vital & Non-Vital Whitening

Teeth whitening is divided into two categories: vital and non-vital. The former is the most common, as it refers to whitening procedures performed on teeth with live nerves. Non-vital whitening, on the other hand, is used to improve the appearance of teeth after a root canal. To brighten this interior staining, the dentist will need to use a whitening agent on the inside of the tooth, insert a temporary filling, and leave it for a few days.

Even if your smile needs to be a little brighter, you'll get more out of one visit with your dentist than you will from a handful of store-bought alternatives. Set up a session and you'll start to see the difference immediately.