The 30-Second Review

There is no big secret to what makes the best teeth whitening products. According to the American Dental Association and the dentists we spoke with, hydrogen and carbamide peroxide are the only things that work. We found which teeth whitening products capped their peroxide at 10 percent — the amount the ADA says is safe for over-the-counter use — then had 32 testers weigh in on their results. Finally, we compared the method of delivery: trays, strips, or a paint-it-on gel to find three whiteners that outperformed the rest.

Best Gel

Go Smile was an all-around favorite with testers because the paint-on gel is easier to apply than technique-sensitive strips and takes just 5 minutes twice a day. It's double the cost of our other picks, but only requires a week of application before yielding impressive results, whitening our testers’ teeth an average of three shades in 6 days. ($60)

Best Strips

These strips are the only ADA-approved product on the market, and the contoured bottom strip makes it easier to protect gums during the daily 30 minute application. Dentists recommended strips for better contact on teeth, although Glamorous White delivered slower results than Go Smile, whitening our tester’s teeth 1.5 shades in 20 days. ($30)

Best for Sensitive Teeth

Crest 3D White Whitestrips Gentle Routine
Virtually identical to the Glamorous White Whitestrips except with a lower peroxide content. The lower amount won’t whiten your teeth as much, but it makes these strips a great match for sensitive teeth. ($30)

  • December 21, 2017 - We spoke to eight more dentists and learned that strips are the most effective method for teeth whitening and have updated our results accordingly. We’ve named Crest 3D White Glamorous White Whitestrips, the only ADA-approved product on the market, our pick for Best Strips over our last year’s top strips, Crest Professional Effects. Both have the same ingredients, but the Glamorous Whitestrips has a more comfortable contoured strip. Our pick for Sensitive Teeth, Crest 3D White Whitestrips Gentle Routine, remains unchanged — it’s still the easiest to apply moderate peroxide option. Despite being a paint-on gel, Go Smile Super White Snap Packs remains our Best Overall because it’s the simplest to apply and delivers noticeably whiter teeth in a week.
  • July 7, 2017 - Our original top pick, Go Smile’s paint-on Double Action 6-Day Whitening Kit (seen in the images below), has been renamed Go Smile Super White Snap Packs. The manufacturer has confirmed that the product itself has not changed. We’ve updated the review to reflect the current product title.

The Best Teeth Whitening Products

Go Smile Super White Snap Packs ($60) kept its place as our top pick because tit whitened our teeth and fit seamlessly into our lives. Simply pull out one of the AAA-battery-sized vials and give it a snap with your fingers (kind of like a tiny glow stick) to release the gel. Then scrub each tooth with the small cotton brush end to start whitening. Best of all, application time takes only five minutes, which is less than the typical half hour needed by our other top picks (and most of our contenders). There are only 14 treatments, enough for twice daily application for one week. Our testers found the proprietary applicator easy to use and reported visibly whiter teeth — up to three shades — in less than a week!

If you’re looking for whitening strips, Crest is king. All six Crest products we tested were far easier to apply and keep in place than any of the competition. The Crest 3D White Luxe Glamorous White Whitestrips ($30) is our top pick for strips as it’s the only whitening product on the market approved by the American Dental Association. The strips take 14 days to get full results (compared to Go Smile’s seven) and require 30 minutes of wear time once a day. Strips in general can be a little uncomfortable, and you have to take care when applying them to avoid your gums, but some dentists recommend this application method as the extended contact with teeth can yield better results. Crest also promises results will last up to 6 months (most manufacturers, including GoSmile and Auraglow, don’t guarantee length of results).

Crest 3D White Whitestrips Gentle Routine ($30) is almost identical to the Glamorous Whitestrips, but with a lower peroxide content. With just 6 percent peroxide (compared to Glamorous White’s 10 percent), the Gentle Routine packs less whitening power, but means less potential irritation for sensitive teeth. The Gentle Whitestrips also requires two weeks of 30 minutes a day to achieve full results.

Our Top Picks for the Best Teeth Whitening Products

Best Gel

Go Smile Super White Snap PacksSpeedy results from a paint-on application that’s less messy than strips or trays.

This whitening kit was a complete surprise. Its signature vials (little tubes filled with liquid that you snap, like a glow stick, and rub on your teeth) seemed like a gimmick compared to the strips that dominate the market. But once we tried them out, we were sold.

Go Smile Vials for Teeth Whitening

The Go Smile vials are about the size of a AAA battery and have a dense cotton brush at one end.

The Go Smile Super White Snap Packs, which comes with 14 treatments for twice daily application, promises full results in only a week and whitened our testers’ teeth an average of three shades in that time. Pretty speedy, considering the average time until full results for the products we tested was 13 days. What’s more, only a few others like the Plus White 5 Minute Whitening System managed to whiten three shades but were far less comfortable to use. We liked that the snap packs didn’t have any taste at all, which was a nice break from the overly chemical minty flavors of most contenders.

Go Smile Double Action 6-Day Whitening Kit Close-up for Teeth Whitener

Go Smile: before and after

Ease of use really set Go Smile apart from the rest. The gel was quick to apply and totally wearable — simply pull out a vial, snap it with your fingers to release the solution, and paint it on your teeth. At only around five minutes per treatment, it fit seamlessly into our daily routine, which was a major bonus compared to messy and time-consuming trays that invariably lead to drooling. Plus, the paint-on approach meant we were more in control of how little whitener got on our gums than with one-size-fits-all strips, which can be difficult to manipulate into place. One tester remarked, “It was super easy to apply after brushing my teeth. It was an easy habit to form.”

Full Go Smile kit for Teeth Whitening

The Go Smile Super White Snap Packs kit.

The snap packs aren’t flawless though. Colorado-based dentist Dr. Nancy Gill DDS told us that the paint-on approach — like the one used by the snap packs — leaves the whitening solution open to moisture which “dilutes it and makes it not as effective.” In other words, closing your mouth will wash some of the whitener away. Since releasing the gel requires you to “snap” the vials with a little pressure, they’re also not the best for on-the-go — you’ll be at high risk of accidentally whitening the inside of your bag. But we didn’t consider these flaws dealbreakers, because Go Smile still produced impressive results and it was easy to fit them into our morning and nightime routines at home.

Although Go Smile won’t disclose the exact percentage of peroxide it uses, the company confirmed that it’s less than the ADA-approved 10 percent. Our testers also reported no burning gum sensations and liked that sensitivity was minimal. In short, Go Smile makes it easy to do just that — but with brighter teeth.

Best Strips

Crest 3D White Luxe Glamorous White WhitestripsThis tried and true method gets results, but sensitive mouths beware.

Strips are the most popular form of teeth whitening on the market, and Crest earns its reputation as the best provider, having been in the teeth-whitening space since 2001. For those who are new to teeth whitening and want to stick with a method that has a longer history of approval from dental experts, Crest Glamorous White Whitestrips are the way to go. Plus, they’re easy to apply which means fewer wasted strips on your first or fourteenth time around.

Crest Glamorous for Teeth Whitening

The Crest 3D White Glamorous White Whitestrips kit.

Crest Glamorous White replaces our previous strips pick, Crest Professional Effects for two reasons. First, the Glamorous strip for the bottom teeth has a contoured shape that makes it easier to apply and more comfortable for the required 30 minutes. Teeth whitening strips are technique sensitive, and our tester appreciated the curved design which molded more naturally to their teeth — Professional Effects uses a rectangular bar that doesn’t fit as easily. Second, Glamorous White has an ADA Seal of Acceptance that verifies it’s safe to use and measures up to its marketing claims. While we know from past experience that gaining a seal doesn’t mean a product is the only one that meets ADA standards — companies have to apply and the ADA isn’t always transparent about the application process — the seal is a valuable sign of quality that removes doubt in a world of sketchy whitening claims.

Crest Comparison for Teeth Whitening

The contoured shaped of the Glamorous White’s bottom strip was easier to apply than Professional Effects’ rectangular bar.

Whitening results depend on the current shade of your teeth.The exact amount of shades your teeth improve will depend on how white they are to start. Even if two people use the same product, the results could differ. That doesn’t mean all whitening products are created equal though. We gave points to products that consistently provided impressive results for more than one tester.

As for actual whitening, the Glamorous White strips have the same whitening ingredients as Professional Effects — 10 percent hydrogen peroxide — so results are similar for both. For our testers that meant an average improvement of 1.5 shades in 20 days (our testers’ teeth were already pretty white to begin with). Since everyone’s teeth are different, we wanted to double check and see what others were saying about Glamorous White. An avid fan base, plus a 4.1-star rating across 2,600 Amazon reviews, and praise from multiple dentists we spoke to helps prove that results greater than 1.5 shades with Glamorous Whitestrips are common.

Crest 3D White Luxe Professional Effects Whitestrips

Crest Professional Effects is identical to Crest Glamorous Whitestrips ingredients-wise. This is the Crest Professional Effects before and after.

However, Glamorous White isn’t free from making some lofty claims. Crest’s website boasts you can drink water while wearing them — but one sip turned our glass of water into a whitening gel cocktail. No thanks. Crest also states these results last up to 6 months, which means you might get away with this whitening regimen just twice per year, but their FAQ goes on to say, “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.”

Best for Sensitive Teeth

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

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 and is a matter of technique. Teeth sensitivity, on the other hand, is highly subjective from one person to the next. If your pearly whites are prone to pain — do you avoid ice cold water? — we suggest Crest 3D White Whitestrips Gentle Routine.

Crest Gentle kit for Teeth Whitening

The Crest 3D White Whitestrips Gentle Routine kit.

Crest’s Gentle Routine has a lower concentration of hydrogen peroxide (only 3–7 percent) and require just five minutes of wear 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!” The lower peroxide level means it takes longer to see full results — 28 days compared to Glamorous White’s 20 — which is something to keep in mind if you’re whitening for an upcoming event.

Crest-Comparison-2-for-Teeth-Whitening

Crest Gentle Routine’s strips aren’t contoured, but their lower peroxide content still makes them more comfortable for sensitive teeth than Glamorous White’s shaped strip.

We weren’t impressed by Crest Gentle Routine’s rectangular strips. These don’t mold as naturally to your teeth, so you still have to take a little extra care when applying them to avoid your gums and get full coverage of your teeth. But no other product we tested was able to prevent sensitivity as well as the Gentle Routine strips, making this an excellent choice for those with sensitive teeth.

Another Teeth Whitener to Consider

AuraGlow Teeth Whitening Pen 35% Carbamide PeroxideStart to finish, touch ups with this pen take 30 seconds.

Whitening pens bring out the skeptic in us all. As one tester put it, “I expected to hate this thing. It seemed cheap and like it wasn't going to work, but it was truly convenient.” Start to finish, whitening takes about 30 seconds: twist the end to release the gel and paint it on your teeth twice daily for seven days.

In terms of whitening results, our tester noticed only slightly brighter teeth (close to one shade) after a week of testing. Not nothing, but not standout results either. This product really should be a supplement to your teeth whitening routine. The real draw of the AuraGlow is its portability. Theoretically, this little guy is so discreet you could whiten anywhere — in the office bathroom on a quick break or right before a date. Our testers were big fans of pens and their added convenience: “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!” The gel inside the AuraGlow is a bit goopy — not a great texture to have on your teeth. According to testers the taste isn’t that great either. But the gel dissolves naturally over the course of 2-5 minutes and the AuraGlow pen is still a fan favorite, with a solid 4.4-star rating from 270 reviews on Amazon compared to the 2.8-star rating and 37 reviews of the Go Smile.

We liked that the AuraGlow tells us exactly what we’re getting in terms of teeth whitening power (Go Smile will only confirm its pen has less than the ADA’s recommended limit). The transparency extends to the physical product itself too in that it’s literally transparent, so you can see how much gel remains.

AuraGlow Close-up for Teeth Whitening

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. Before you whiten, you first have to boil the plastic trays in hot water before molding them to your teeth. Unfortunately, the gel still got all over our gums which is a big no-no for gum health — Dr. Amato told us “if the tray or whitening strip does not fit accurately, you can cause damage to the gum tissue or the root surfaces [of teeth].” Our testers weren’t fans either and found the extra, not-so-useful DIY mold steps annoying.

Cool Teeth Whitening Strips were a massive miss as well. Our testers complained of low adhesiveness — the strips slid everywhere resulting in a goopy mess. They also didn’t notice a change in their teeth whiteness. One tester did get a single shade lighter in 14 days but another actually went a shade darker — not a risk we’re willing to take.

Did You Know?

Teeth whiteners work by getting where regular brushing can’t.

Each of your teeth is made up of multiple layers. 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. Over time, the stuff you eat and drink — berries, red wine, coffee — forms another layer, the pellicle layer, on top of the enamel. All adults have both surface-level and deep stains from everyday eating and drinking.

Over the years, the pellicle layer may begin to penetrate the porous enamel layer. In other words, stains from your morning coffee 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, or peroxides. These can penetrate the tooth enamel and initiate a chemical reaction that breaks up the staining compounds.

As for homeopathic methods, our dentists were blunt. They don’t work. Even though “people believe methods like strawberries and banana peels will whiten their teeth, none of these will whiten their teeth” said Maine-based dentist Dr. Ben Lawlor DDS. “Hydrogen [or carbamide] peroxide’s bubbles clean teeth.”

Don’t brush right after acidic foods or drinks.

While it might be tempting to try to prevent stains by brushing your teeth right after drinking that glass of red wine, or finishing off that bowl of berries, keep in mind that acidic food and drinks actually soften your teeth. Beverly Hills-based dentist Dr. Sanda Moldovan DDS explained to us, “if you brush right away you can damage your enamel with a brush.” Instead, she recommended swishing with water “to lessen stains and prevent demineralization of teeth which causes sensitivity.”

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, an exposed tooth root, or simply having higher sensitivity.

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

To cut down on sensitivity during the whitening process, you can try brushing with Sensodyne Pronamel toothpaste (recommended by a few dentists we spoke to). Dr. Lawlor also recommends “putting a little toothpaste in a mouthguard and wearing it for about an hour — it seals off sensitive canals that teeth whiteners open to remove stains.” However, if you’re in real pain, give your teeth a break! You can always come back to whitening later.

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 (most often caused by smoking and taking certain medications, such as tetracycline). As for veneers, these can’t be whitened and have to be replaced.

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 well 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.”

But, before you spend a single dollar on a whitening product we recommend visiting your dentist to find out if you’re a good fit for over-the-counter teeth whitening. Dr. Lawlor explained that “sometimes you just need a really good cleaning and it’s just yellow plaque that can make your teeth seem discolored.”

The Best Teeth Whitening: Summed Up

Teeth Whitening Products
The Best
Go Smile Super White Snap Packs
Best Gel
Crest 3D White Luxe Glamorous White Whitestrips
Best Strips
Crest 3D White Whitestrips Gentle Routine
Best for Sensitive Teeth