There is no lack of choice when it comes to teeth whitening treatments, which can make it overwhelming to pick the product that will work best for you. In this guide, we seek to simplify that decision by outlining the main types of teeth whiteners, reviewing top considerations and explaining how to fit teeth whitening into your bedtime routine.
There are a variety of teeth whitening products on the market, and they all fall within the following categories. They vary when it comes to efficacy, the types of stains they treat, how long they take to work and how much they cost.
- Whitening Toothpaste: Whitening toothpaste is perhaps the simplest whitening product because you can use it to replace your current toothpaste. To remove stains, whitening toothpaste typically relies on abrasives or peroxide. Though it’s easy to use, results often take a few days or weeks to see. Whitening toothpaste also targets surface stains rather than internal stains. Price Range: $3 – 20
- Whitening Pens: Whitening pens have become increasingly popular because of their portability. They contain whitening gel—usually hydrogen or carbamide peroxide—housed in a small, pen-like device with a brush on the end. Simply paint the gel onto your teeth twice a day. Some products recommend using the pen after brushing your teeth, while others work best right after meals. They’re great to throw into a purse or use for travel. Price Range: $10 – 40
- Whitening Strips: Whitening strips became popular because they’re a bit more affordable than more traditional at-home kits. Whitening strip kits usually come with a set of plastic strips covered with a layer of whitening gel, like hydrogen peroxide. Simply place the strips around teeth once a day for 30 or 60 minutes (depending on the product). Whitening strips are a bit more of a daily time commitment than other products, but you may see results in just a few days. Price Range: $20 – 50
- Whitening Gel: Whitening gel, which is typically applied to teeth using trays that fit around teeth, is most similar to what’s used to whiten teeth in a dentist’s office. Users fill trays, that resemble a mouthguard, with whitening gel from a preloaded syringe and place them on their teeth for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the product. Whitening gel comes in a variety of strengths, which depends on the peroxide content. Price Range: $50 – 70
- Whitening Light: Whitening lights are blue LED lights used in tandem with whitening gel. While they won’t do anything on their own, they help speed up the reactions of whitening agents and enhance their effects. The result is accelerated and longer-lasting whitening treatments. Many whitening gels or strips now come with a light, or one can be purchased separately. Price Range: $50 – 150
There’s a great deal to think about when choosing a teeth whitening treatment that works for you. In this section, we’ll outline top considerations, including strength, sensitivity, safety and time commitment.
When you decide a teeth whitener is right for you, you may think the strongest formula is the best one. The correct strength really depends on your goals, and you’ll want to be sure to pick a product with a safe level of whitening agent.
The two most common—and effective—agents used to whiten teeth are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. A higher percentage of either agent means more whitening power. Both hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide can cause teeth and gum sensitivity, however, so a higher strength is not always better.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends at-home teeth whiteners with a hydrogen peroxide concentration of 10 percent or lower. Hydrogen peroxide is stronger than carbamide peroxide, by a ratio of about 3:1, so a safe level of carbamide peroxide is 35 percent or lower. Higher levels of whitening agents may be used in a dentist’s office where care can be taken to protect gums and tissues.
The right strength correlates to the level of staining you have and what you want to achieve. If you just want to brighten your already fairly white smile, a product with 6 percent hydrogen peroxide will do the trick. If you have years of coffee stains you’d like to get rid of, you might consider something stronger. Just remember that not every type of stain can be removed with even the best teeth whiteners. Yellow teeth respond better to whitening treatment than gray teeth, and stains from medications, like tetracycline, may require longer treatment or another option, like veneers.
The most common side effects associated with teeth whiteners are tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. Gum irritation is usually due to an ill-fitting whitening tray, but tooth sensitivity is likely due to peroxide irritating the nerves in your teeth. Some individuals are more prone to tooth sensitivity than others, especially if they have fillings. If you do experience sensitivity due to whitening, here are some tips to cope:
- Lessen the strength: Teeth whitening products with lower concentrations of peroxide tend to cause less sensitivity.
- Take a break: Let your teeth get used to whitening by taking a break for a few days between treatments.
- Brush your teeth: Switch to a toothpaste made for sensitive teeth to help soothe your teeth’s nerve endings.
- Use fluoride: Toothpaste containing fluoride or a fluoride treatment from your dentist will help remineralize your teeth to help ease sensitivity.
At-home teeth whitening may be convenient and effective, but is it safe? The short answer is yes, with the caveat that you need to follow your product’s instructions.
Again, higher concentrations of peroxide can cause irritation and sensitivity, and the ADA warns that these higher levels can be “potentially corrosive to mucous membranes or skin.” That’s why it’s so important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, especially if you do choose a product with high peroxide concentration. When kept away from your gums, stronger teeth whiteners can be used safely.
Also remember that, depending on the product, it’s recommended that you only whiten your teeth once or twice a year. Whitening toothpaste can be used daily, but whitening kits are not meant to be used often. Be sure to follow the recommendations laid out for the specific product you choose.
Consistency is one of the most important elements in ensuring teeth whitening treatments are successful. Because time commitments vary by product and type of treatment, you’ll want to be sure to pick one that you know you can stick with.
Whitening toothpaste is the fastest treatment, but it also takes the longest to achieve results. Brush on gels or pens take a bit longer, and strips and trays have the longest time commitment. Consult the table below for a break-down of time commitment associated with different treatments:
||Whitening Gels (used with trays)
|Number of Applications
||One to two times daily
||Usually twice daily
||Usually once daily
||One minute (typically requires user to wait before eating or drinking after)
||30 – 60 minutes
||30 – 60 minutes
|Time to See Results
||Can be immediate, with full results in a couple weeks
||3 days with full results after 20
||A few days, with full results in a week
If you’re looking to whiten your teeth for an upcoming event, like a wedding, you might want to commit the time to whitening strips or gel to see quick results. If you know you won’t stick to a 30-minute session every day, try a toothpaste or pen.
One of the simplest ways to start whitening your teeth is to incorporate it into your bedtime routine. If you choose a whitening toothpaste, the switch will be easy, but even kits requiring more time can become a habit.
Some products specify that you should brush your teeth either before or after use, so be sure to consult the instructions. Then, simply build teeth whitening into your nightly routine. Some products, like whitening strips, allow you to talk and drink water while using them. Others, like those that use an LED light, might require more involvement. Either way, apply your treatment 30 to 60 minutes before bed and spend that time like you always would: read a book, catch up on your favorite show or get ready for the next day. By the time you’re ready for bed, you can remove the treatment and sleep soundly knowing you’re one step closer to a brighter smile.
Teeth whitening shouldn’t interfere at all with your sleep, unless you experience tooth sensitivity. If that’s the case, use a toothpaste made for sensitive teeth or consider switching your teeth whitening regimen to the morning.
If you’re still not sure if at-home teeth whitening is right for you, talk to your dentist. Even if you don’t have concerns, it’s a good idea to check with your dentist before starting a treatment. Your dentist can help determine if you might experience sensitivity to teeth whiteners or if you have any conditions that might prohibit you from achieving desired results.
Your dentist can also let you know if teeth whitening is right for you. You may want to have a good cleaning before determining if whitening is necessary. Or your teeth staining is related to a medical issue that requires another type of lightening procedure, like veneers or crowns.
While at-home treatments are safe if directions are followed, you can always ask your dentist if you have any questions or concerns.
Looking for more information related to taking care of your teeth? Check out these other Tuck guides.