Teeth Whitening Vs. Cleaning: Which One Is Right For You? (2023 Guide)

Teeth whitening and cleaning are two common dental procedures that people often choose to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Both of these procedures have different benefits, and understanding their differences before deciding between them is crucial. This article dives deep into the use cases for each procedure, so you can choose the one that’s right for you.

6 min readTeeth Whitening vs. Cleaning: Which One is Right for You?

If you're thinking about professional ways to improve your smile, chances are you've considered teeth whitening or professional cleaning.

Although both are common dental procedures, they are quite different and achieve different goals.

While teeth cleaning is something that people should do every six months to ensure they keep their teeth white and clean, whitening is a cosmetic procedure used to give the teeth a brighter and whiter appearance.

So, are you looking for a cosmetic touch-up or a deep clean? Let's look at the differences between the two.

Teeth Whitening And Cleaning: A Quick Look

Teeth whitening is a cosmetic procedure that involves bleaching your teeth to create a brighter, whiter smile. It can help reduce the appearance of discoloration and stains caused by food, drinks, smoking, and other factors.

It is often done in-office by a dentist, and the results can last for several months. There are at-home teeth whitening products available, but these can take longer to produce results and may not be as effective.

Cleaning, on the other hand, focuses more on preventing future tooth decay than enhancing existing aesthetics. During this procedure, your dentist removes plaque and tartar buildup from your teeth and polishes them to create a smoother surface.

A professional cleaning also involves flossing and checking for signs of gum disease. In some cases, your dentist will also take x-ray images of your teeth to look for any infections or underlying problems.

Confused Between Teeth Cleaning And Teeth Whitening?

Sometimes, people get teeth cleaning and whitening confused. Usually, this is because both procedures focus on improving the look and feel of your smile.

If you’re unsure of which one to choose, here are a few questions to consider that may help you decide:

  • Am I looking for professional dental care or a cosmetic touch-up? Tooth decay, gum disease, and other issues can be addressed with professional dental care and cleaning. If you’re just looking for a whiter smile, professional whitening is your best bet.

  • Are there any underlying issues with my teeth? If you are considering teeth whitening but have other issues that need to be addressed first, such as cavities or gum disease, you should get a cleaning and appropriate dental care beforehand.

  • Do I have any concerns that need addressing? Booking an appointment for a professional cleaning is the best time to address any dental concerns you may have. This is also the time to ask your dentist questions and get advice about keeping your teeth healthy in the future.

Ultimately, the main difference between cleaning and whitening is that they are different processes with different outcomes.

Cleaning may not give you the same aesthetic results as whitening, but it is an important step toward keeping your teeth healthy. Teeth whitening can help you improve your smile, but it is not a procedure that benefits your oral health.

The Importance Of Regular Teeth Cleanings

Regardless of whether you choose to whiten your teeth, regular (i.e., every six months) teeth cleaning and professional dental care are non-negotiable.

Regular tooth cleanings can help remove plaque and tartar buildup, reducing the risk of cavities, gum disease, and other oral issues. In addition, if you do choose to whiten your teeth in the future, having them professionally cleaned beforehand will give you a better result.

Teeth Whitening Vs. Cleaning: An In-Depth Comparison

When it comes to teeth whitening vs. cleaning, there are several differences to keep in mind. Let's take a look at the major ones.


Teeth cleaning can cost anywhere from $75 to $200, depending on your insurance coverage and the type of cleaning you need. If you choose to deep-clean your teeth, the cost can be slightly higher.

Teeth whitening can cost different amounts depending on the type of whitening you choose. In-office whitening can cost between $500 and $1,000, but the cost of home whitening kits is usually much less than this. Natural options like baking soda and oil pulling only cost a few dollars and over-the-counter kits cost under $100 in many cases.


Professional teeth cleaning and teeth whitening are different procedures altogether, but they do have one similarity: they both take place at a dentist's office.

When you sit down for a teeth cleaning, the process will look something like this:

  1. Your dentist will begin by examining your teeth, looking for signs of plaque and tartar buildup.

  2. They will then use special tools to scrape away the plaque and tartar.
  3. After this, they will use a polishing tool to get rid of any surface stains or discoloration.

  4. They may apply a fluoride treatment to strengthen the enamel and protect your teeth against future decay.

For teeth whitening, you will have a consultation with your dentist first. During this appointment, your dentist will discuss the best options for you and explain the results you can expect.

Once you’ve decided on a whitening treatment, your dentist will apply a special gel or solution to your teeth and then use either a laser or LED light to activate it. The procedure should take no more than an hour.

Goals & Benefits

The goal of teeth cleaning is to remove plaque, tartar, and surface stains in order to improve the overall health of your mouth. It can also help prevent cavities and gum disease.

Teeth whitening is done to improve the appearance of your teeth by removing deep-set stains or discoloration.

There are many benefits of white teeth, including boosting your confidence and making you look healthier, but it is not considered a medical procedure and does not improve your actual dental health the way a cleaning does.


The duration of teeth whitening will usually depend on the type of whitening you choose, but most procedures take no more than an hour. On the high end, a few whitening treatments may take up to two hours.

Teeth cleanings usually only take 30-60 minutes, and you can expect the results to last for several months before needing another cleaning.


Bi-annual teeth cleanings are generally recommended as part of an oral hygiene regimen, as they offer an opportunity to have your teeth professionally inspected. Some forms of teeth cleaning, such as deep-cleaning procedures, don't make much of a difference, but standard ones help prevent periodontal disease and tooth decay.

Teeth whitening can improve the color of your teeth by several shades, depending on the type you choose. It is important to note that this improvement will not last forever—eating the wrong foods or drinking staining liquids can cause your teeth to begin discoloring again.


Teeth cleanings are completed with manual tools, such as scrapers and polishers. Some dentists may use an ultrasonic scaler to remove plaque and tartar more efficiently. At home, you can clean your teeth with an electric toothbrush or a regular one.

Teeth whitening can be done in several ways, but the most common in-office methods are laser whitening and teeth bleaching. The former uses a concentrated beam of light to activate the whitening agent, while the latter involves applying a hydrogen peroxide-based solution or gel and then exposing it to UV light.

Home whitening kits use many of the same solutions as in-office treatments, but with much lower concentrations. Natural whitening methods include turning baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and other household items into a paste and brushing it onto your teeth.

Side Effects

Your teeth may hurt after a dental cleaning, but this should subside within a few days. Aside from increased sensitivity, there aren't many side effects of teeth cleaning.

Teeth whitening side effects include increased sensitivity, which affects most patients. Since teeth whitening opens small pores in the enamel, some patients may experience sensitivity for up to 48 hours after treatment.

Other issues, such as gum irritation and chemical burns, can result from improper use or overuse of whitening products. Sometimes, these are preventable by using whitening products as directed and with proper supervision (i.e., with a dentist).

Wrapping Up

Teeth whitening and cleaning can both help improve the health and appearance of your teeth. When deciding which one to go for, take into consideration what your goals are and how much time you have—teeth whitening usually takes less time than cleanings.

Still, it is important to make bi-annual cleanings a part of your oral hygiene regimen, regardless of whether you choose to whiten your teeth. ​White teeth alone don't guarantee good oral health, but they can boost your confidence and make you look healthier.

Want to learn more? These are the questions our customers ask us the most.

Does Dental Cleaning Make Teeth Whiter?

Dental cleaning might make your teeth a few shades whiter, especially if you have tartar build-up, but it won't make a dramatic difference. For a more significant change in color, you will need to opt for one of the many teeth whitening options available.

Should I Get My Teeth Cleaned Before Whitening?

Professional teeth cleaning will help remove plaque and tartar buildup, allowing the whitening products to work more effectively. It will also remove debris that could potentially interfere with or damage the whitening products. For the bets results, it is best to get your teeth cleaned before starting any whitening treatments.

Can I Whiten And Clean My Teeth On The Same Day?

You can whiten and clean your teeth on the same day. If you want to achieve the best results with teeth whitening, it's important to start with a clean surface. But be aware that polishing pastes used by dental hygienists typically have oils that inhibit the successful absorption of active ingredients in the whitening gel.

Can A Dentist Clean Yellow Teeth?

A professional teeth cleaning will remove some surface staining and potentially make your teeth a few shades whiter. But if you have deep stains, yellow teeth, or dark spots, it is best to opt for a more effective whitening method.

Does Teeth Whitening Remove Plaque?

Unlike dental cleaning, teeth whitening itself doesn't remove plaque and tartar from the teeth. That's why many people opt to get their teeth professionally cleaned before whitening to ensure the best results. Since whitening is purely cosmetic, it doesn't target plaque and tartar buildup.

How Can I Keep Teeth White After Dental Cleaning?

In addition to avoiding staining foods and beverages, it is important to brush your teeth twice a day with a whitening toothpaste. Regularly flossing can help prevent plaque accumulation and also keep them looking whiter. Remember to brush your tongue and thoroughly clean other areas of your mouth to prevent future buildup.