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Vital vs Non-vital Teeth Whitening Comparison

In general, over the counter and professional teeth whitening products can be used for both vital and non-vital teeth. The only exception would be the internal tooth bleaching procedure which is reserved for non-vital teeth whitening only.


Below is a summary table comparing non-vital and vital teeth whitening but we'll also go into greater detail in the subsequent sections.


Attributes

Vital Whitening

Non-Vital Whitening

Pulp status

Healthy tooth

Dead tooth

OTC products

Yes

Yes

At home options

Yes

Yes

Professional treatments

Yes

Yes

Internal bleaching

No

Yes

# of teeth treated

Entire mouth

Non-vital teeth only

Cost

$-$$$

$-$$$

Table of Contents:


 

Similarities

Whitening for vital and non-vital teeth share many similarities.

  • All over the counter teeth whitening products can be used for both conditions.

  • You can whiten both conditions from the comfort of your own home.

  • Traditional in office whitening at the dentist is available for both.

  • The costs are roughly the same since the same products can be used.


Now we will explore further for each of these four similarities between them.


OTC teeth whitening

Every single over OTC whitening product that is used for whitening vital teeth can also be used for non-vital dentition. There isn't anything special in the formulation or ingredients which makes it valid for vital teeth only. The same ingredients can work for both conditions.


otc whitening products

Examples of OTC products:

  • Toothpastes

  • Mouthwashes

  • Whitening strips

  • Bleaching pens

  • Any products with LED lights


colgate optic white pen - applied on teeth
colgate optic white pen - applied on teeth

Interesting fact: Teeth that are still alive will eventually become sensitive if you whiten long term. However, dead teeth will never become sensitive because there is no functional nerve to sense it. Therefore you can theoretically whiten necrotic teeth long term without any discomfort.


At home whitening

Similarly, both conditions can be whiten at home since OTC products can be used. There is no rule saying that only professional products or only at the dentist solutions will work for non-vital teeth.


take home whitening trays
take home whitening trays

With that being said, severely discolored necrotic teeth often have a difficult time reverting back to their original color with OTC products. The reason is because this condition often requires a higher peroxide concentration product to even alter the discoloration.


In extreme cases, bleaching the tooth can only do so much and crowns or veneers are required in order to get the color back to normal.


Professional whitening

Of course professional whitening options from the dentist will work for both conditions. This includes the take home kits as well as the in office whitening sessions.


in office whitening
in office whitening

On average, the professional solutions often provide faster and more effective results.


Costs

The cost for both types of whitening will be approximately the same because all three of the methods listed above can be used for either condition.


Therefore, it can be as inexpensive as whitening toothpaste or as expensive as in office bleaching at the dentist.


Cost of various whitening products:

  • Whitening toothpaste - $

  • Whitening pen - $

  • Whitening strips - $$

  • Professional take home kits - $$$

  • In office bleaching sessions - $$$


The difference in pricing is mostly due to the concentration of peroxide in each product. Typically the more you pay, the higher the potency of the bleaching product.



 

Differences

There are three distinct differences between whitening for non-vital and vital teeth.

  • The health status of the pulp or tooth nerve are different.

  • The internal tooth bleaching procedure can only be used for non-vital teeth.

  • The amount of teeth each whitening treats differ due to their purpose.


We will explain in greater detail what these three key differences between them entail.


Pulp status

The status of the tooth nerve is different for vital and non-vital teeth whitening.

  • For vital teeth whitening, the nerves of the teeth are all still alive.

  • For non-vital teeth whitening, the nerve of the tooth is dead or necrotic.


The biggest differentiating factor for these two bleaching treatments is that one is for dead teeth while the other is for healthy teeth.


discolored dead front tooth
discolored dead front tooth

Examples of dead teeth:

  • Root canal treated.

  • Teeth that have sustained trauma.


The two tell-tale signs of necrotic teeth is that it does not have a response to the cold test and it is often discolored (dark yellow or gray).


Internal tooth bleaching

Internal tooth bleaching is a whitening procedure done at the dentist specifically for non-vital teeth only. Teeth that aren't dead are not eligible for this treatment.


Reasons internal whitening is only for necrotic teeth:

  • Procedure involves placing whitening gel directly into the pulp chamber.

  • If the tooth was alive, you'd need a root canal afterwards since the bleach would've killed the nerve.


In summary, if you attempted internal bleaching on a vital tooth, by the end of the whitening process that tooth would be dead. Therefore it is only done on teeth that have already died.


Note: This whitening procedure whitens the tooth from the inside out. That is different from vital teeth whitening which whitens the teeth from the outside in. Yes, that means the dentin can be whitened.


Number of treated teeth

A major difference is that for non-vital teeth whitening, the purpose is often to whiten a single tooth. That is because most people have one dead tooth that is discolored in their mouth. The goal is to get that discolored dead tooth to match the rest of your dentition.


Vital teeth whitening is the traditional form of whitening where the purpose is to whiten all of the teeth in the mouth. The goal is to brighten your entire smile by altering the color of every tooth.


Attributes

Vital Whitening

Non-vital whitening

# of teeth involved

All teeth

Dead teeth only

Goal

Bleach entire mouth

Bleach dead tooth to match adjacent teeth


 

Takeaway

Overall there are many similarities as well as many differences between vital and non-vital teeth bleaching. Many of the products that are used for vital teeth can in fact be used for the non-vital teeth since ingredients are still effective.


Although you may have trouble getting your dead tooth color to match your adjacent teeth especially if it is severely discolored. If that is the case, you may have no choice but to seek professional help from your dentist.

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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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