The Best Teeth Whitening Products

Grin and bear ‘em

The 30-Second Review

What makes the best teeth whitening products is no big secret. According to the American Dental Association and the dentists we spoke with, only hydrogen and carbamide peroxide work. The real difference between treatments is the amount of peroxide and their method of delivery: trays, strips, or a paint-it-on approach.

86
Contenders
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Top Picks
How We Found the Best

We looked for which products capped their peroxide at 10 percent — the amount the ADA says is safe for over-the-counter use — then had 32 testers report back with their results. Surprise! Go Smile's paint-on treatments outperformed industry favorite Crest Whitestrips in both ease of use and tooth and gum sensitivity.

Think teeth whitening is simply an exercise in vanity? There may be more to it than that — at least in the United States. According to a 2007 study, people were more likely to be hired and received higher salary offerings after their teeth had been whitened, and, according to Charles Guthrie, a senior research analyst at Penn State University, whiter teeth are associated with a healthier mouth, something that plays a role in mate selection. “A less attractive smile would be an implied negative nonverbal communication,” he told us. “Is this person going to be a good mate? Or, is this person going to bring about harm in one way or another?”

Sure, that study was commissioned by the parent company behind Crest Whitestrips to prove its product’s point, and there are plenty of people with not-so-pearly teeth in happy relationships. But like manicuring facial hair or plucking eyebrows, teeth whitening has become a mainstay in the beauty routines of millions of Americans, and out of the dozens of products available, a few victors emerged in our research and usability tests. Two of our top picks for best teeth whitener are Go Smile Double Action 6-Day Whitening Kit and Crest 3D White Luxe Professional Effects Whitestrips, but all five we recommend garnered positive reviews from our testers, and also include the American Dental Association’s recommended percentage of peroxide to be both safe and effective.

Our Picks for the Best Teeth Whitener

Best Overall

Go Smile Double Action 6-Day Whitening Kit Go Smile is effective, works fast, and is even easier to apply than traditional strips.

This whitening kit was a complete surprise. Its signature ampoules (little pockets filled with gel that you mix and rub on your teeth) seemed like a gimmick compared to the strips we were all used to. But once we tried them out, we were sold. The Go Smile Double Action 6-Day treatment whitened our testers’ teeth an average of three shades — among the most of any product we tested — in just six days. Pretty speedy, considering the average time until full results for the products we tested was 13 days.

The gel was quick to apply and really wearable — you could whiten during the course of a day, which was a major bonus compared to messy trays or strips that, for better or worse, end up making you drool. One tester remarked, “It was super easy to apply after brushing my teeth. It was a quick habit to form.”

We also liked that sensitivity was minimal. Although Go Smile won’t disclose the exact percentage of peroxide it uses, it does confirm that it’s less than the ADA-approved 10 percent. Plus, the paint-on approach meant we were more in control of how much of the whitener got on our gums than having to manipulate and place one-size-fits-all strips.

Best Reputation

Crest 3D White Luxe Professional Effects Whitestrips This 10 percent peroxide treatment gets results, but sensitivity may occur.

Crest Whitestrips is a veteran in this space; it began advertising over-the-counter teeth whitening to the masses all the way back in 2001. We had high expectations for such a household name — and because of its 10 percent hydrogen peroxide levels, the maximum amount recommended by the ADA.

Crest delivered well enough. Our testers were all pleased with the look of their teeth after 20 days, but their teeth only whitened an average of 1.5 shades. Could it be because their teeth were already pretty white to begin with? Sure. An avid fan base, plus more than 800 4.5-star reviews on Crest.com and nearly 5,000 4.3-star reviews on Amazon, helps prove that more impressive results are common.

Crest makes a lot of lofty claims about its Whitestrips, not all of which pan out. Its website says you can drink water while wearing them — but one gulp turned our water into a whitening gel cocktail. No thanks.

Crest also says these strips grant results that last up to 12 months, which means you can do this whitening regimen just once per year; we didn’t have a full year to test this out, but on its FAQ page, Crest admits that, “The length of time your teeth will stay whiter is influenced by several factors, including how often you drink coffee, tea, dark colas, red wine, or smoke.” (Right. The weight you lost on a month-long diet will also stay off if you don’t eat carbs, sugar, or alcohol.)

But that stuff is just marketing. The only real downside was two of our testers reported uncomfortable gums while wearing Crest 3D White Luxe Professional Effects Whitestrips, again probably due to the high hydrogen peroxide content. Gum sensitivity occurs when the whitening gel directly interacts with your gums — this can happen if you apply the strips imprecisely or too high up on your teeth.

Best for Sensitive Teeth

Crest 3D White Whitestrips Gentle Routine Lower peroxide levels and a shorter wear time keep teeth and gums comfy.

Tooth sensitivity, on the other hand, is highly subjective from one patient to another. If your pearly whites are prone to pain, we suggest Crest 3D White Whitestrips Gentle Routine.

Crest’s Gentle Routine strips have a lower concentration of hydrogen peroxide (only 3–7 percent) and you wear them for five minutes per day as opposed to 30. None of our testers experienced any sensitivity throughout their four-week testing period, but all reported some level of whitening and an appreciation for the lesser time commitment. “I put them on every night before I started my bedtime routine,” one explained. “By the time I was finished washing my face and applying moisturizer, I could remove the strips and go to bed. So easy!”

That said, it takes 28 days to see full results with the Gentle Routine — a full week longer than Luxe Professional Effects, which is something to keep in mind if you’re whitening for an upcoming event.

Most Affordable

A+ Professional Strength Teeth Whitening Strips These strips matched Crest in effectiveness and are less than half the price.

These teeth whitening strips punched above their weight. A 14-day supply of 28 strips will set you back just $12.43 on Amazon — that’s around $40 cheaper than a 20-day supply of Crest 3D White Luxe Professional Effects Whitestrips, and less than half the average $27 of all our testing products.

Our testers experienced little-to-no sensitivity (the levels of peroxide are at 6 percent with these guys) and an average whiteness increase of two to three shades — even more than our Crest 3D testers, although that has as much to do with our testers teeth than the strips themselves. Like the Crest 3D Luxe strips, you have to wear them for 30 minutes per day.

Downsides: one tester didn’t like that the gel seemed to stick to her teeth even after she removed the strips and rinsed with water. These guys may require a quick toothbrush scrub before you’re ready to go about your day.

Most Convenient

Go Smile On the Go Teeth Whitening Pen Start to finish, whitening with this pen takes about 30 seconds.

Whitening pens bring out the skeptic in us all. As one tester puts it, “I expected to hate this thing. It seemed cheap and like it wasn’t going to work, but I like the way my teeth look. And it was truly convenient.” Start to finish, whitening takes about 30 seconds: twist the end to release the serum and paint it on twice daily for seven days. (Again, Go Smile wouldn’t say how much peroxide is inside, just that it’s less than 10 percent.) Both of our testers brightened their smiles by a shade in just a week. Not standout results, but not nothing either.

Theoretically, this little guy is so discreet you could whiten anywhere — in the office bathroom on a quick break or even stopped at a red light. “You can paint it on and then go about your day; no need to brush your teeth again or take off strips. There’s nothing to even throw in the trash!” one tester said.

Several recent Amazon reviewers have dinged the product for crappy manufacturing, claiming they couldn’t get the gel out no matter how many times they twisted the pen. Neither of our testers reported this, but, unfortunately, if it does happen to you, you may be out of luck. If you order the product over the phone via GoSmile, you can take advantage of the GoSmile return policy: return the pen with its unused materials up to 30 days after the purchase for a full refund or exchange. But if you order via Amazon, you’re subject to their return policy: if you open the pen and it doesn’t work, you’re stuck with it.

Other Teeth Whiteners to Consider

Lumeeno Teeth Whitening Strips whitened our testers’ teeth an average of three shades — that’s huge, especially considering they only required 15 minutes of daily wear for two weeks. (One tester reported seeing results almost immediately.) Lumeeno didn’t make it into our top picks because another tester complained about an icky residue left behind by the strips.

The ampoules used in the Go Smile Teeth Whitening System are identical to the ones in our top pick Go Smile Double Action 6-Day Whitening Kit, with one major difference: They only contain 6 percent hydrogen peroxide, which is why our testers agreed that this kit was easy to use, but didn’t feel it was that effective in whitening their teeth.

Plus White 5 Minute Premier Whitening System was lauded by our testers for its whitening properties (an average of two shades in two weeks), but they didn’t love that the bulky trays made talking impossible.

Our testers were divided on Harmony Life Teeth Whitening Strips. One tester whitened her teeth four shades (!!) in just 14 days. Another complained of having to brush her teeth again after removing the strips each night because they left behind a gel residue. Overall, our testers rated it 3.5 stars out of 5 — just average.

Some Teeth Whiteners to Avoid

Dr. George’s Dental White Patented Dental Whitening System does a doozy on the mouth — it’s complicated to use, uncomfortable to wear, and a tongue twister to pronounce. The whitening process has an inauspicious start; before you whiten, you first have to boil the plastic trays in hot water before molding them to your teeth. One tester expressed “annoyance at the product and Dr. George personally.” Another tester admitted that it did whiten her teeth somewhat, but she didn’t feel it was worth the hassle.

Cool Teeth Whitening Strips were a massive miss as well. Our testers complained of not being able to talk well while wearing the strips due to low adhesiveness. They also didn’t notice a change in their teeth whiteness. Indeed, one tester went just a single shade lighter in 14 days of using this product; another actually went a shade darker.

Crest 3D White Whitestrips Classic Vivid ranked fourth on TotalBeauty.com’s list of Best Teeth Whiteners, but our testers thought the product was just OK. It didn’t perform as well as the other Crest Whitestrips we tried, likely due to a lower 6 percent peroxide concentration.

Dreow Teeth Whitening Kit, Grinigh Bright Touch Teeth Whitening Strips, Smilebriter Teeth Whitening Gel Pens (60-day supply), Ultimate Smile Professional At-Home Teeth Whitening Kit

Did You Know?

Teeth whiteners work by getting where non-bleaching products can’t.

Each of your teeth is made up of multiple layers. There’s an inner dentin layer and a hardshell outer enamel layer, which acts as a barrier to protect your teeth. Over time, the stuff you eat and drink — berries, red wine, coffee — forms another layer, the pellicle layer, on top of the enamel. (You don’t have to be a chain smoker or red wine guzzler to have stains on your teeth; all adults have both surface-level and deep stains from everyday living.)

Over the years, the pellicle layer may begin to penetrate the porous enamel layer. In other words, stains from your three-cups-a-day coffee habit seep into the enamel and take up permanent residence. No amount of surface-level scrubbing can get rid of these stains once they’ve penetrated the enamel layer.

Enter: teeth whiteners with bleaching chemicals, aka peroxides. These can penetrate the tooth enamel and initiate a chemical reaction that breaks up the staining compounds.

Not everyone’s teeth will react to whitening.

Not all teeth are capable of being whitened by over-the-counter products; this is especially true for patients with many fillings, crowns, or very dark stains. Color matters too. Patients with yellow teeth (a natural result of aging) generally respond better to teeth whitening products than those with gray teeth. Gray teeth are most often caused by smoking and taking certain medications (such as tetracycline); these stains aren’t dramatically changed by teeth whitening.

Age is also a factor. “Remember that young teeth whiten a lot better than older teeth,” says Dr. Amato. “Over-the-counter products might work as good as dentist products for 16–24 year olds because they haven’t drank as much coffee or red wine to stain their teeth, unlike adults.”

Teeth sensitivity can make whitening painful.

If a bite of ice cream sends shooting pain up and down your teeth, you probably suffer from sensitive teeth. According to the ADA, sensitivity can occur for a variety of reasons: cavities, fractured teeth, worn fillings, gum disease, worn tooth enamel, or an exposed tooth root.

A healthy tooth has a series of protectors in place. These layers are like bodyguards protecting the dentin, the innermost portion of your teeth. First, a layer of enamel offers defense for the crowns of your teeth, the part that exists above the gum line. Another layer below that, called cementum, protects the tooth root. Finally, underneath the enamel and the cementum lies the vulnerable dentin layer.

When enamel and cementum fail to do their job, the dentin is exposed to hot, cold, or acidic foods and drinks, which reach the nerves and cells inside your tooth — and send painful zingers that make you want to chuck the ice cream cone across the room. When the hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide in a bleaching product reaches these nerves, it’s equally painful.

There are treatments for hypersensitivity, including desensitizing toothpaste, fluoride gel that’s applied in-office by your dentist, or, in severe cases, a root canal.

LED lights or lasers probably won’t whiten your teeth any faster.

Some professionally applied products (and some OTC products) include a hand-held LED light or laser that claims to accelerate the teeth whitening process. In most cases, this is bunk. The ADA says that, “Most studies have reported no additional long-term benefit with light-activated systems.” It won’t harm your teeth to use an LED light, but it’s probably a waste of time and money. Skip it.

The Bottom Line

There are two things to look for when you’re picking a teeth whitening treatment: a full ingredients list and hydrogen peroxide levels no higher than 10 percent. Beyond that, it’s personal preference, although we were surprised by how much we preferred paint-on treatments to the more traditional strips — they’re easier, just as effective, and with less chance of gum sensitivity.

Take Action

Go Smile Double Action 6-Day Whitening Kit Pleasantly surprising and totally effective, Go Smile will have you grinning from ear to ear with a brand new confidence.

Visit your dentist. Before you spend a single dollar on a whitening product, find out if you’re a good fit for over-the-counter teeth whitening. Remember: Yellow teeth whiten easier than gray, and veneers cannot be whitened at all.

Plan ahead. This is especially important if you’re whitening before a big event, like a wedding or a graduation. If a treatment claims it takes 14 days to achieve full results, you’ll want to be sure you have enough time to finish using the product as intended. If you try to double up on the amount you use per day, you’ll likely end up with painful sensitivity.

If it hurts, don’t do it. You can try brushing with Pronamel Sensodyne toothpaste to cut down on sensitivity during the whitening process. However, if you’re in real pain, give your teeth a break! You can always come back to whitening later.