Teeth Whitening vs Teeth Cleaning | Which Procedure Will Work Better for You?

Teeth whitening vs teeth cleaning. Both are common methods to ensure brighter, healthier teeth. As such, it’s easy for people to get the two confused. Upon closer inspection, however, it’s easy to see that teeth cleaning and teeth whitening are actually two very different procedures.

To help clear up any confusion, we want to provide you with detailed explanations of each dental procedure and what purpose they serve. We will also look at more than one option for each procedure so you can see what’s available.

Cleaning vs Whitening: What’s the Difference?

The primary objective of tooth cleaning is to remove tartar and plaque on the surface of your teeth. This is done to aid in preventing tooth decay, yet it also helps stop gum disease. The main purpose of teeth whitening serves to remove stains so that your smile appears brighter and healthier. 

Moreover, teeth cleaning is important for the continued health of teeth and gums, while teeth whitening procedures are purely for cosmetic purposes.

Now that you have a basic understanding of these dental procedures let’s take a closer look at the various methods offered by dentists. Indeed, there is more than one way to clean and whiten teeth, as both have a few different options for you to consider.

dentist at work with his patient

Teeth Cleaning Methods

As you will discover below, dentists have several different types of procedures they use to clean your teeth. Which one(s) they choose largely depends on the condition of your teeth, whether any issues are found, and what your dental goals are.


As odd as this word may sound, prophylaxis is actually the most common type of teeth cleaning. It’s also the cleaning procedure dental patients should have performed once every six months. 

Usually, this method begins with your dental hygienist using a variety of scraping devices and picks. These instruments are used in an effort to remove plaque and tartar from the surface of your teeth. 

Tartar usually develops along both your gum line and the sides of your teeth, where your gums and teeth meet. After your dental hygienist gently scrapes the tartar from your teeth, they will usually use polishing tools to remove any stains on the surface of your teeth, as well as any remaining plaque on the surface of your teeth. 

a person at the dentist's

Dental polishing tools are usually made of a strong rubber material that is designed to rotate on your teeth in order to polish them effectively. 

Plague is a sticky compound that you naturally remove on your own whenever you brush your teeth. Moreover, plaque forms after a collection of bacteria, acid, and sugar combine in your mouth. If plaque is allowed to stay on your teeth too long, it will harden into tartar. And as you just learned above, the removal of tartar requires special dental instruments. As such, you won’t be able to remove tartar by brushing alone; you will need to make an appointment with your dentist to ensure optimal oral health and hygiene.

a female dentist working on her patientYour dental hygienist should complete the prophylaxis procedure with thorough flossing of your teeth. This final step serves to get rid of any remaining buildup. Although patients with gingivitis might experience mild discomfort during the prevention process, the prophylaxis procedure is generally quite painless.  

As such, there is no need for numbing agents or anesthesia. On average, this cleaning method takes anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes to complete. Your actual completion time depends on how much tartar you have accumulated and the length of time you wait between your dental cleaning appointments. 

Planing and Root Scaling

Planing and root scaling are sometimes referred to as advanced or deep cleaning. Both cleaning procedures are used together to form a singular cleaning method. Thus, this procedure is usually recommended if your gums look like they have developed gum disease. 

When this happens, it means your gums have developed an infection, which results in soreness, swelling, and the formation of tiny pockets between your teeth and gums. Gum disease occurs whenever tartar and plaque remain in your mouth too long.

Therefore, if your everyday dental care at home hasn’t been effective in removing these compounds and you failed to see your dentist for routine prophylaxis cleanings, gum disease can easily occur. 

Speaking of prophylaxis cleanings, root scaling uses similar dental instruments. However, your dental hygienist or dentist uses something called scalers to safely clean below your gumline. What’s more, a local anesthetic generally needs to be used to comfortably numb the areas that require cleaning. 

If you have an advanced case of gum disease, you might be asked to return for multiple scaling and planing procedures. During each appointment, your dentist focuses on one portion within your mouth to help reduce discomfort. 

However, your gums might still be rather sore. Many patients report gum sensitivity when the anesthesia finally wears off after root scaling. You can help alleviate any soreness by continuing brushing and flossing at home. For optimal results, consider using mouthwash, as well. 

You can tell if you require planing and scaling by the condition of your gums. For example, you should ask your dentist about these procedures if your gums are: 

  • Causing chronic bad breath, regardless of how well you care for your teeth
  • No longer supporting your teeth comfortably (loose teeth)
  • Bleeding when you brush or floss
  • Forming pockets near your teeth
  • Swollen
  • Sore
  • Red 

At the first sign of any of the above, you should get in touch with your dentist to discuss the best course of action.

Teeth Whitening Methods

Now that you’ve seen what goes into conventional teeth cleaning let’s switch our focus to whitening. Teeth whitening actually consists of multiple procedures. Each method comes together to accomplish a singular goal: making your teeth brighter.

In-Office Whitening

When you visit your dentist for teeth whitening, they will work to remove dental stains using methods including lasers, bleaching, and UV lighting. Dental stains can develop for a variety of reasons, such as drinking coffee, tea, or red wine. Additionally, stains can form due to smoking or just eating common foods in general.

Plaque is another common culprit of dental staining, requiring teeth whitening to restore your natural luster and appeal. It’s important to note that your dentist’s whitening procedures aren’t designed to offer health benefits. Instead, teeth whitening is performed purely for cosmetic reasons - there are whitening products more suitable for sensitive teeth though, as explained in this post.

a method of teeth whitening

Home Whitening Kits

You can save a substantial amount of money by opting to whiten your teeth at home. Thanks to advancedhome whitening kits - see also the best whitening kits hereyou can enjoy a brighter, healthier-looking smile without ever having to leave the privacy of your house.

With kits like Dr. Brite’sWireless Advanced Whitening System, or this attractive offer, you get more than a whiter smile. Thanks to this home whitening system, you can also look forward to powerful odor protection. What’s more, one session is all it takes to remove pesky stains and restore your smile to its natural brilliance.

You can trust that you’re getting a non-toxic, natural approach to home teeth whitening. Dr. Brite’s Whitening System was created by dentists and is both vegan-friendly and gluten-free. It’s perfectly safe for your tooth enamel and doesn’t contain aluminum, an ingredient found in other whitening kits.

a woman using Dr. Brite product for teeth whitening

Home whitening kits are quickly becoming the preferred method of teeth whitening, and for good reason. More people wish to avoid going to the dentist while sharing a universal desire to save money - on that thought, whitening pens are affordable option, too, with its pro's and cons, of course. So the next time you consider getting a teeth whitening procedure, check out Dr. Brite’s selection.

In Closing

Now that you know the main differences between teeth cleaning and teeth whitening, you can be sure to seek the proper treatment for improving your smile.


1. Is teeth whitening the same as teeth cleaning?

Cleaning your teeth involves removing plaque and tartar from their surfaces. Doing so significantly reduces your risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease. In contrast, teeth whitening is a cosmetic procedure that removes tooth stains and discolorations.

2. How much does teeth whitening and cleaning cost?

In-office treatments can cost up to $1,000; over-the-counter kits start at $20. Professional whitening will cost you between $300 and $800. For a dentist-recommended kit, you can expect to pay between $300 and $600.

3. Why is teeth cleaning so painful?

During a cleaning, your teeth may feel extremely sensitive - more than usual - due to gum disease. A gum infection causes gums to recede from teeth, exposing their roots, which are much more sensitive to touch and cold and hot liquids.

4. How long should a teeth cleaning take?

Depending on the complexity of the issue, dental cleanings can take 30-60 minutes. As we examine your teeth, you will relax in a comfortable dental chair. We will also clean your teeth of dental plaque and tartar before polishing them with a lightly abrasive paste. You may need to schedule an X-ray appointment if this is necessary.

5. Is whitening teeth worth?

Professional teeth whitening is a safe and effective procedure that should only be carried out by a dental professional. For long-lasting, safe results, the extra cost of seeing a dentist is typically justified. In a nutshell, whitening your teeth isn't harmful.