The Truth on How Long Teeth Whitening Lasts

Written & Reviewed by Dr David Chen

Oh, you may be surprised but teeth whitening can potentially last forever if you never ate or drank anything else for the rest of your life! That makes sense doesn’t it? As long as you stop consuming staining foods that are pigmented, there is no reason for why they would become yellow again.

Kor Whitening take home kit

Unfortunately that is not how life works because we need to eat and drink in order to survive. Then there is also the fact that the vast majority of foods on this planet have color in them. Colorless foods are far and few in between. In other words, your teeth are continually being stained on a daily basis which means that your newly whitened teeth won’t stay white forever.

Despite all of that you’re still willing to whiten your teeth but you just want to know how long your teeth can stay white after treatment in vivo conditions. We hate to say it but the answer is, “it depends” which is probably not what you wanted to hear but that is the truth.

All whitened teeth will regress and yellow over time but the rate that it does is highly individualized. Another major factor depends on how successful your whitening treatment was. As a ball park figure, teeth can maintain at least some of their whiteness anywhere from 6 months and up to 5 years. We will back up that claim with real research studies and results.

Can the whitening really last up to 5 years?

The color relapse from whitening is highly unpredictable. It is incredibly individualized due to the frequency of pigmented food consumption, smoking, and oral hygiene habits. Due to these reasons, studies have given a wide range of how long it can last, from 6 months to 4.5 years.

One of the earliest studies was by Dr Van Haywood from back in 1996. What he found was that the color did relapse slowly over time. They followed the subjects for up to 18 months.

  • There was a 45% change in color six months after bleaching.
  • After 18 months, about 26% of the cases completely relapsed back to starting.

A systemic meta analysis found that the whitening results could be stable for up to 2 years. This applied to both at home treatments and in-office with the dentist. However the caveat was that, the 2 year stability didn’t apply to all patients but only some of them. Once again, this alludes to the fact that it is highly individualized based on life style habits.

opalesence whitening gel in a tube

Last but not least, the study that you’ve been waiting for which demonstrated that it can last for up to 5 years. It was a long term study that followed participants for up to 5 years where they bleached tetracycline stained teeth. This drug induced stain is notorious for causing grey looking teeth

  • Subjects whitened their teeth for a total of six months using a 10%, 15%, or 20% carbamide peroxide solution. That is a precursor to hydrogen peroxide.
  • After 5 years roughly 65% of the whitening efficacy remained for all three concentrations of peroxide.

This last study demonstrated that it didn’t really matter which concentration of whitening gel you used, they were all equally as effective. They also relapsed at about the same pace as well. It wasn’t as if the 10% gel completely relapsed while only the higher 20% remained.

That is in line with how studies have shown that even low concentration whitening products can whiten teeth to the same level as in-office products. It simply takes more treatment sessions for the less potent product.

In summary, the whitening can potentially last for up to 5 years but not at their peak. Some of the color will regress over that time but it can still potentially remain whiter than before you started!

Do they really stay white if you don’t eat or drink?

The point that we want to get across to you is that teeth whitening does not regress all on its own. Your teeth will yellow again due to the consumption of pigmented foods and also your oral hygiene habits.

This was demonstrated by a study in the Journal of Clinical Oral investigations, which found that yellowness did not return after 12 months. The experiment was done on extracted teeth so after the treatment, they weren’t exposed to staining foods. They also used compared whitening strips as well as in-office bleaching procedures. All were effective in whitening teeth and none of them regressed in color after 12 months.

This just goes to show that regardless of whether you used an at home whitening method or had it done at the dentist, the whitening should last. The only reason that they discolor again is purely due to your lifestyle habits and is not because the treatment failed.

Is there a difference in how long your teeth stay white based on the whitening product?

The mechanism for how teeth whitening works is practically the same for ALL whitening products. They all utilize peroxide which produces free radicals that can diffuse through the tooth and oxidize stains.

The different bleaching products don’t bestow some magical longevity spell on your teeth to make it last longer. Therefore, that isn’t correct determinant for how long it lasts.

Technically what determines how long the whiteness last is how successful the overall bleaching process was. As we’ve discussed, the teeth will naturally yellow over time due to our lifestyle habits. Therefore the whiter you can bleach your teeth, the longer it would take for it to fully regress.

tooth whitening ladder depiction

You can think of the results of teeth whitening like on a ladder. The more levels of whiteness you can achieve with your treatment, the longer it would take for it to relapse back down. There are more levels of whiteness to relapse from. If your treatment wasn’t very successful and you only whitened one level, it can regress pretty quickly.

VITA 3D master shade guide

With that being said, we do have a ranking for which type of bleaching treatment will last longer in descending order. The first one will last the longest while the last one will be the least.

  1. In-office treatments.
  2. Customized trays by your dentist.
  3. Pre-fabricated trays with or without LED light.
  4. Whitening strips or pen.
  5. Whitening toothpaste.
  6. Whitening mouthwash.
Crest white strips only

We wish to remind you once more that the maximum level of whitening can be achieved by all products regardless of their concentration. The less potent ones simply need to be used for a longer period of time.

Theoretically, if we had test subjects that whitened their teeth to the same level with all of the above products. They should all relapse color wise at the same pace.

How to make it last longer

The amount of color relapse and the speed at which it regresses are highly dependent on your lifestyle habits. Whenever possible, you should do your best to avoid activities that can stain your teeth. That is the only way to extend the effects of your treatment and to protect your investment.

Tips on making it last longer:

  • Minimize or avoid staining foods. This means you should do your best to stay away from coffee, tea, and red wine which are notorious for staining. As a rule of thumb, if it can stain your white t-shirt it can probably stain your teeth.
  • Drinking staining beverages with a straw. You can minimize the discoloration if you drink through a straw. This isn’t a fool proof method of avoiding staining but it can minimize the amount of liquids that touch your enamel.
  • Professional cleanings. Getting your dental cleaning every 6 months can help remove a lot of extrinsic stains on your teeth.
  • Maintaining oral hygiene. You must brush for at least two minutes twice a day to help keep stains off your teeth. What would make it even more effective is if you use a whitening toothpaste that contains peroxide.
  • Whitening touch ups. Periodically re-whitening your teeth once a month or every other month can go a long way in maintaining the color.
  • Minimize smoking. The tar from tobacco can cause intense staining. They can even turn your tartar black into what is called black tartar.

Conclusion – how long does teeth whitening last?

Depending on your lifestyle habits, studies have shown that it can last for as long as 5 years. Of course it won’t stay as white as the very first day but some of the color can be maintained for up to that long.

Your teeth will naturally yellow when you eat and drink colored foods. Then depending on how good your oral hygiene is and what else you do in your life, the color relapse may be quicker or slower.

Nonetheless, most people can expect at the very least for it to last at least 6 months. If you want to keep them white, you should try your best to stay away from staining activities.


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