The Best Teeth Whitening Treatment
How We Found the Best Teeth Whitening Treatment
10 Dentists Consulted
23 Whiteners Tested
4 Top Picks
The Best Teeth Whitening Treatment
There is no big secret to what makes the best teeth whitening treatment. According to the American Dental Association (ADA) and the dentists we interviewed, hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide are the only things that work. We rounded up the teeth whitening products that cap their peroxide at ADA-recommended levels, then had 39 testers weigh in on their results. Finally, we compared the method of delivery: trays, strips, or a paint-it-on gel to find four whiteners that outperformed the rest.
How We Chose the Best Teeth Whitening Treatment
Clearly labeled ingredients
For a teeth whitener to be really effective, it needs to contain hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as an active ingredient. Only whiteners with peroxides can remove both surface stains and deep stains, whereas other products like toothpastes only target surface stains. If we couldn’t confirm these active ingredients, we left those products on the shelf.
Safe and effective peroxide levels
According to the ADA, “It is known that at concentrations of 10% hydrogen peroxide or higher, the chemical is potentially corrosive to mucous membranes or skin, and can cause a burning sensation and tissue damage.” Florida-based dentist Dr. Katia Friedman DDS told us, “[For carbamide peroxide] 30-35% is theoretically equal to about 10% hydrogen peroxide” — these numbers are within safe limits for your mouth.
Dr. Paul Amato, DDS, FAGD explained if you go above 10% hydrogen peroxide or 35% carbamide peroxide, “then you’re getting into the professional grade.” Whitening products this strong should only be used with dentist supervision — they’ll take care to completely protect your gum tissue with a rubber dam or gel. In any case, you should consult your dentist before using any teeth whitening product to make sure you’re getting what’s best for your teeth and gums.
So we nixed any products that contained more than 10% hydrogen peroxide or 35% carbamide peroxide, but also tossed those that didn’t include any peroxide or relied heavily on ineffective methods (like charcoal or baking soda).
We recruited 39 participants across a wide range of ages to try out our top products. The experiment began with each tester matching their teeth shade to a professional teeth shade guide and snapping a “before” pic. After using the teeth whitening product for the recommended length of time, our testers took an “after” photo, evaluated their new shade, and completed a survey describing the experience.
From these findings, along with existing ratings from Consumer Reports and beauty sites such as TotalBeauty.com and Men’s Health, we concluded that the higher the peroxide content, and the better the surface contact (think strips over pens), the whiter the teeth.
Easy to use
Getting the best results from your teeth whitening treatment also depends on whether you use it consistently — most whiteners require two treatment sessions per day. In that sense, the best teeth whiteners should be comfortable and easy to use so that you are less likely to skip treatments.
We took a deep dive into the differences between strips, gels, pens, and trays to find which whitening methods fit seamlessly into our daily routines. For the most part, choosing a method comes down to personal preference, but all of our testers agreed that trays were out. They were uncomfortable, messy, and used strange-tasting gels.
The 4 Best Teeth Whiteners
Why we chose it
ADA Seal of Acceptance
Glamorous Whitestrips have 9.5% hydrogen peroxide content (according to customer service), which our experts recommend. But the product also 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.
As for actual whitening, the Glamorous Whitestrips didn’t disappoint. Our testers noticed an average improvement of 1.5 shades in 20 days — and our testers’ teeth were already pretty white to begin with.
But 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-star rating across 3,100 Amazon reviews, and praise from multiple dentists we spoke to helped prove that results greater than 1.5 shades with Glamorous Whitestrips are common.
Crest Glamorous White replaces our previous strips pick, Crest Professional Effects, with a better overall design. 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 — Professional Effects uses a rectangular bar that doesn’t fit as easily. Teeth whitening strips are technique-sensitive, and our tester appreciated the curved design, which molded more naturally to their teeth.
Strips are highly recommended
While strips in general can be a little uncomfortable, and you have to take care when applying them to avoid your gums, many dentists recommend this application method as the extended contact with teeth can yield better results. Dr. Friedman explained that, “Pens and gels are the least effective because the peroxide makes minimal contact with your teeth. Strips get the job done by sticking right to your teeth and directly applying peroxide” over time.
Points to consider
Not the most comfortable
Like all strips, there will be some discomfort when using these — having strips stuck to your teeth for 30 minutes is impossible to ignore. But out of all the strips we tested, the Glamorous Whitestrips were some of the most comfortable and least goopy.
To get the best results, you’ll need to wear Glamorous Whitestrips for 30 minutes at a time, which is time consuming. To be fair, results with Glamorous White should last up to six months, which means you might get away with this whitening regimen just twice per year, but for those who are on tighter schedules, the speedier Go Smile Snap Packs are a better bet.
Why we chose it
Easy to use
Ease of use really set Go Smile apart from the rest. You can apply the gel quickly and it’s totally wearable — simply pull out a vial, snap it with your fingers to release the solution, and paint it on your teeth. We liked the paint-on approach, because it meant we were more able to adjust the placement of the whitener on our teeth and find the best ways to avoid getting it on our gums. It’s much easier to control than the one-size-fits-all strips, which can be difficult to manipulate into place.
Plus, at only around five minutes per treatment, it fit seamlessly into our daily routine, which was a major bonus. One tester remarked, “It was super easy to apply after brushing my teeth. It was an easy habit to form.”
Safe peroxide levels
Although Go Smile won’t disclose the exact percentage of peroxide it uses (which, by the way, we didn’t love), the company confirmed that it’s no more than 7% hydrogen peroxide. Our testers also reported no burning gum sensations and like that sensitivity was minimal. In short, Go Smile makes it easy to do just that — but with brighter teeth.
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’ teen 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.
Points to consider
Low contact time
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. That said, Go Smile still produced some of the most impressive results during our testing.
Not the most portable
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. For whitening while traveling, the more flexible Crest 3D Whitestrips or a whitening pen with a cap is the way to go.
Why we chose it
Designed for sensitive teeth
Teeth sensitivity is highly subjective from one person to the next. But if your pearly whites are prone to pain — do you avoid ice cold water? — we suggest Crest 3D White Whitestrips Gentle Routine. The strips have a lower and gentler concentration of hydrogen peroxide (5.25%, according to customer service) 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.
Lower time commitment
The five minute wear time earned high marks from our testers. “I put them on every night before I started my bedtime routine,” one tester explained. “By the time I was finished washing my face and applying moisturizer, I could remove the strips and go to bed. Easy!” Consistency in use is essential for any teeth whitening method, and we liked that Crest Gentle Routine strips were easy to fit into our routines.
Strips are the most effective
As the name suggests, Crest Gentle Routine Whitestrips are strips that you apply to your teeth. The dentists we consulted agreed strips were the most likely to provide the best results — strips keep whitening gel in contact with your teeth. Other methods such as rub-on gels or pens can leave whitening solutions open to moisture and dilution, which can diminish your overall results.
Points to consider
While Crest Gentle Routine strips are great for sensitive teeth, the lower peroxide level means it also takes longer to see full results — 28 days compared to Glamorous White’s 20 days — which is something to keep in mind if you’re whitening for an upcoming event. Additionally, the experts we consulted, our testers, and findings from beauty sites such as TotalBeauty.com and Men’s Health agreed that the higher the peroxide content, the better the final results.
Rectangular strips aren’t as practical
We weren’t impressed by Crest Gentle Routine’s rectangular strips for bottom teeth. These don’t mold as naturally to your teeth, so you’ll have to take a little extra care when applying them to avoid your gums and get full coverage of your teeth. They’re still fairly easy to apply, but we missed the curved design that other strips like Crest Glamorous White Whitestrips offer.
Why we chose it
Whitening pens bring out the skeptic in us all, but our testers agreed this pen made touch-ups a breeze. The Go Smile pen takes only seconds to paste onto your front teeth, although it’s recommended you refrain from eating or drinking for at least 20 minutes after applying. “All you have to do is twist the cap until the product coats the brush and then paint the product on troublesome spots,” one of our testers said.
Ideal for touch-ups on the go
The Go Smile pen is so discreet you can whiten anywhere — in the office bathroom, on a quick break, or right before a date. With its slim, compact design and lower active ingredient content, this pen really is designed more for touch-ups than as a complete whitening regimen. According to GoSmile customer service, this pen is made with no more than 7% hydrogen peroxide. This means it may not deliver the potentially drastic results of products with more active ingredient and longer application times, but also that it’s safe to use as needed for touch-ups when you’re out and about.
Good for sensitive teeth
Our Go Smile pen testers reported none of the sensitivity issues that came up with other whitening pens, such as mild aching and stinging after application. While sensitivity during whitening will vary from person to person, as will whitening results, we preferred the Go Smile because it didn’t cause any unpleasant side effects during testing.
Points to consider
When it comes to whitening, higher peroxide contents and greater contact time with your teeth deliver better results. Unsurprisingly, the low contact time of pens mean they aren’t the most powerful whiteners, which is why we recommend the Go Smile pen as a supplement to your whitening regimen. In other words, the Go Smile pen isn’t the best bet for deeper whitening, but is a handy sidekick to any of our other picks.
Our testers agreed it was tough to tell how much they were using and how much was left in the pen, since the plastic casing isn’t clear. Because the gel itself is clear and relatively flavorless, it might be difficult to tell if you’re using enough product to cover your teeth or if you’re spreading it evenly. But careful, even application should prevent this from being too much of an issue.
Guide to Teeth Whitening Treatment
How to (safely) get whiter teeth
Consider your dental habits
Consistency is key when it comes to teeth whiteners, so you’ll want to choose a method that best fits your lifestyle. If the 30 minute wear time of the Crest Glamorous Whitestrips is tough to fit into your schedule, choosing the faster Go Smile Snap Packs or the Gentle Routine Strips might be a better option. At the end of the day, going with the whitening product you will use consistently will always yield the best results.
Take your dental history into account
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 generally can’t be whitened and have to be replaced. Go Smile does claim its products are safe for artificial tooth surfaces and braces — but the product won’t make these veneers whiter than their original color.
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.”
Consult your dentist
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. Ben Lawlor explained that “sometimes you just need a really good cleaning, and it’s just yellow plaque that can make your teeth seem discolored.”
Consider other teeth whitening methods
If you’re hesitant to try peroxide-based teeth whitening, you can ease yourself into the process by starting with the basics — like limiting your teeth’s exposure to the substances that cause stains and improving your overall dental hygiene.
Brush and floss regularly
The American Dental Association recommends brushing two times a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Daily flossing also gets rid of the plaque that makes your teeth look darker.
Natural teeth whitening methods
You can definitely give a few of these a try, although there’s not a lot of science backing their efficacy in actually whitening your teeth.
- Oil pulling — Swishing coconut oil around in your mouth can help fight gingivitis and bad breath, but no studies say it actually whitens teeth
- Baking soda — There is some research supporting baking soda’s ability to whiten teeth when present in toothpaste. However, Dr. Philip Fisher of North Carolina recommends avoiding these types of toothpastes altogether: “I frown upon some of the more abrasive whitening toothpastes, like those with baking soda. Try not to use those, because they are harmful to the enamel [and] cause way too much sensitivity.”
- Charcoal — When heated (or activated) and present in toothpaste, charcoal can help absorb the surface stains on your teeth. However, there are no studies supporting this method in removing deeper stains.
- Apple cider vinegar — It has a slew of health benefits and can be used to help fight bacteria, but when used too frequently, apple cider vinegar can actually erode enamel.
Watch for foods that enhance oral health — and those that don’t
You’re probably aware that a few of your favorite snacks or drinks can have a negative impact on your teeth. So, if you’re in the market for whiter teeth, it’s a good idea to monitor your intake of certain foods and drinks. Some, like citrus, coffee, and sugary foods and drinks, whittle away at your enamel, stain your teeth, or irritate your gums. Fiber-rich foods and green beans, on the other hand, help fight these properties plaguing your teeth, while common dairy products like milk and cheese help replace calcium and other lost minerals.
Don’t bother with whitening lights
Some professionally-applied and over-the-counter products include a hand-held LED light or laser that claims to accelerate the teeth whitening process. In most cases, this is bunk. According to the ADA, “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.
Teething Whitening FAQ
How often should I whiten my teeth?
The general recommendation is to use over-the-counter whitening products up to two times a year. Using whitening products too often can lead to increased tooth sensitivity or white spots — this is natural and due to certain areas of your teeth that have a lack of calcium (also known as hypocalcification). Excessive whitening can make the spots more prominent.
What are some other teeth whitening tips?
The best way to preserve your whitening results is to avoid stain causing products such as coffee, red wine, and dark colas. If skipping your morning coffee is too difficult, just remember to avoid brushing your teeth or using whiteners right after — it can do more harm than good. Acidic food and drinks soften your teeth, and Dr. Sanda Moldovan, DDS recommended, swishing with water “to lessen stains and prevent demineralization of teeth which causes sensitivity.”
Is there a way decrease tooth sensitivity?
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 after whitening — 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 or consult a dentist to see what other options are available.
What about whitening toothpaste or mouthwash?
Put simply, whitening toothpastes and mouthwashes cannot remove deep stains as well as whitening treatments. 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. But over time, the stuff you eat and drink — berries, red wine, coffee — forms another layer, the pellicle layer, on top of your enamel.
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 or rinsing 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.
Does the FDA regulate teeth whitening products?
The FDA exercises some oversight over cosmetics (over-the-counter teeth whiteners fall into this category)— the products can’t be “adulterated,” “misbranded,” or use unapproved color additives. However, cosmetics do not have to receive the FDA’s seal of approval before hitting the shelves, meaning that labels aren’t evaluated. There has been some conversation around whether the FDA should regulate teeth whitening products to bring more clarity to the industry and help prevent frequent, potentially harmful, misuse. Some members of the ADA even filed a citizen petition, claiming unregulated teeth whitening products have the potential to harm teeth and gums. But the FDA was reluctant to reclassify the products as drugs, stating there was insufficient data to prove whether whiteners met the actual definition of a drug and caused “significant adverse effects.”
The Best Teeth Whitening Treatment: Summed Up
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