Teeth whitening has well and truly hit the mainstream. From posting social media selfies to seeing their image in video calls, consumers are more aware of their smiles than ever before — and they want their pearly whites looking, well, white.
And it’s not just a celebrity trend. The popularity of teeth whitening has exploded with every-day Australians too. According to the Australian Dental Association’s (ADA) annual oral habits survey, 22 percent of the 25,000 respondents said they whitened their teeth in 2022. That’s an eight percent increase since 2017.
After a deluge of cheap over-the-counter teeth whitening products stormed the market in recent years, consumers seem to be turning back to the dentist for professional-standard teeth whitening. Dr Lawrence Neville, principal dentist and owner of Spa Dental, is seeing a huge demand for teeth whitening at his Sydney-based practice.
“We’re doing hundreds and hundreds of teeth whitening treatments. It has become a major source of revenue for us,” he says. “I think the over-the-counter teeth whitening trend is reversing. I’m seeing a lot of people who have had poor results with cheap whitening products and now want a professional treatment.”
Dr Neville has been treating patients successfully for over 12 years, and has clinically performed more than 30,000 hours of treatment. He also runs his own dental seminars company Dental Events Australia to teach other dentists some of the latest techniques, and is a speaker and coordinator for the IAS academy.
Dr Neville favours Avant Dental’s custom teeth whitening trays for at-home use over in-chair treatments. He says there’s no need for dental practices to invest in teeth whitening equipment, and patients can achieve comparable results.
“All you need is a standard digital scan,” he says. “Avant makes the custom tray from the scan and we prescribe the right whitening gel for the patient. We get the tray back from Avant in about seven days and send it out to the patient. It’s as easy as that. You can literally start offering teeth whitening tomorrow.”
Dr Neville says a key advantage of at-home teeth whitening over in-chair treatments is that patients have the opportunity to top up their treatment at will. And at-home treatments don’t require lengthy chair time.
“In-chair teeth whitening treatments take about 90 minutes,” he explains. “They also tend to use stronger whitening gels that can cause sensitivity for the patient. At-home treatments typically use lower-strength gel, so it’s quite rare for patients to experience sensitivity.”
While the barrier to entry is very low for dentists, Dr Neville suggests setting up a simple four-step workflow to drive efficient teeth whitening treatments.
Adding teeth whitening treatments to your practice begins with a simple conversation with your patients.
“We ask every patient whether they are happy with the colour of their teeth,” says Dr Neville. “Most people answer that they would like their teeth to be a few shades whiter, and that lets us start a conversation about teeth whitening.”
This also gives Dr Neville an opportunity to address some common misconceptions he says many of his patients have about teeth whitening.
“Some people believe that teeth whitening doesn’t work for them,” he says. “That’s usually because they’ve tried a cheap over-the-counter whitening product. In fact, whitening works for 95 percent of people. Some patients may also have experienced gum burns when using over-the-counter products and are now apprehensive about teeth whitening.”
This is an opportunity to explain the importance of custom-fit teeth whitening trays to the patient. Dr Neville says an accurate, personalised fit is vital for achieving professional results that are comparable to in-chair teeth whitening treatments.
“Avant makes whitening trays with little wells that are closed against the teeth. This prevents the whitening gel from leaking out onto the gums,” he explains. “The key to getting good results is consistency. But if a patient experiences a burn or sensitivity on day one, they’re not going to continue with day two, three and four.
“Custom-fit trays are also vital for getting the right shade. Accurate fit heaps to ensure an even spread of the gel, and that the gel is contacting the tooth for the correct amount of time.”
With your patient’s apprehension put to rest, you can continue to the assessment stage. Dr Neville says the dentist should examine the general health of the patient’s teeth and gums, and address any issues before proceeding with teeth whitening.
If the patient is a good candidate for teeth whitening, Dr Neville says it’s important to set expectations for the treatment early in the process.
“Whenever a patient wants to change their smile, we need to identify the best route for them,” he explains. “That means assessing their expectations. If they want to change the colour of their teeth, we’ll ask them where they think they’re at now on a scale of one to 10, and where they want to get to on a scale of one to 10.
“If the patient says they’re currently at a three or four and want to get to a six or seven, then they’re a great candidate for teeth whitening. However, if they want a more extreme transformation, they may be better suited to veneers.”
With the patient’s expectations clearly set, Dr Neville will take a digital scan of the patient’s teeth and prescribe a tooth whitening gel.
“Any standard digital scan is fine,” he says. “If you have a recent scan on file from the patient’s last check-up, then there’s no need to take another one. You simply send the scan off to Avant, and they make the whitening tray. It really is as easy as that.”
Dr Neville also advises dentists to take photos of the patients teeth with the corresponding shade card as a reference.
“These photos will be helpful in the patient review stage,” he says. “If a patient has any disappointment around the result of their teeth whitening treatment, showing them their own before and after photos can provide a better basis of comparison than their memory.”
Some dentists might choose to call patients in for a fitting appointment. Dr Neville says it’s vital to ensure the whitening tray is an accurate fit to achieve the best result.
“Poorly fitting trays will make it very difficult to get a consistent result and can even cause gum burns and teeth sensitivity,” he explains. “Patient use of the whitening trays is also vital. If they don’t use the trays consistently and as instructed, they won’t see the result they’re looking for.
Custom-made trays are safer and more comfortable for the patient, and that encourages them to use the trays more consistently. And that will get them the best result. That’s why it’s important to partner with a good dental lab.”
Dr Neville also says that it’s important to take the time to instruct patients on how to properly apply the treatment.
“The number-one reason for failed teeth whitening treatments is down to poor patient usage,” he explains. “Patients need to be really clear about exactly how you want them to use the treatment.”
It’s also a good idea to suggest to the patient that they take a selfie shortly after each treatment. This will provide a good record of the gradual whitening process, and help to clearly demonstrate the results to the patient. The photos also make good social media content as your patient’s followers come along on their teeth whitening journey — perhaps with a shout-out to the friendly dentist here and there.
The patient review is perhaps the most important step in the teeth whitening workflow. Dr Neville says it provides an opportunity to establish the success of the treatment — for the patient and the practice.
“The teeth whitening treatment is a gradual process that may be drawn out over a handful of weeks. It can be difficult for patients to see the change as it’s happening slowly,” he explains.
“We want to see our patients after their treatment to really assess their results. We take new photos and compare them to the before photos. Patients are often surprised to see how discoloured their teeth were, and the extent of the change becomes much more obvious.”
Dr Neville says if necessary the review can be done virtually on a video call, or even by text message.
“Even if the patient can just text through a photo, that can be enough to assess the results and get a sense of the patient’s reaction.”
The patient’s reaction isn’t just important as satisfaction for a job well done. It’s also an excellent word-of-mouth marketing tool. Dr Neville says happy patients give good reviews, and good reviews boost revenue.
“You really want the patient to feel like they’ve had a five-star experience. We get so many referrals from good online reviews. They are really important to our business.”
Of course, happy patients often tend to show off their new smile on their social media feeds, so making sure your practice has its own social handles will help you get in on the conversation. Responding to any posts that mention your practice can also help you get seen on social media.
Teeth whitening can also be a patient’s first step into other cosmetic treatments, so make sure they’re aware of any other treatments that might be available to them.
“When patients see the difference teeth whitening makes, they tend to take more interest in their smile. That might naturally lead to conversations about teeth straightening or veneers,” Dr Lawrence says.
And even if they don’t take further interest in cosmetic treatments, patients are likely to want to take better general care of their oral health.
“You’ll often find that patients start coming to their six-monthly checkups, take better care of their teeth, and do future teeth whitening treatments.”
Future teeth whitening treatments are also easy to facilitate. Avant can resupply new teeth whitening trays from the original patient scan, and may not even require an in-person appointment.
If your practice is equipped with a digital scan, you’re ready to start offering teeth whitening. It is a low-commitment, low-risk treatment with visually impressive results. Many patients will see it much like an impulse buy — an easy add-on to their regular dental treatment.
As long as you set patient expectations early in the process, use custom-made teeth whitening trays to ensure an accurate fit, and give your patient clear usage instructions, there’s little chance of complication.
But the real benefits to your practice come in the review process. This is an opportunity to continue to build the patient relationship with another positive experience. Showing the patient before and after photos can help to crystallise the success of the treatment in their minds — and that promotes good reviews and happy social media posts.
Good word-of-mouth not only generates referrals for your practice, but an impactful teeth whitening treatment might get your patient interested in further cosmetic options or simply encourage them to take better care of their general oral health.
Either way, teeth whitening is a straight-forward revenue generator that dentists can use as a lucrative additional income stream with minimal investment and next to no other barriers to entry. All it takes is a standard digital scanner and a partnership with a good dental lab.
Watch on-demand now: our free dental webinar on how to add teeth whitening to your practice.