How to Choose a Teeth Whitening Product That Actually Works

If you're hoping for a brighter, whiter smile, look no further! We've rounded up tips for you to choose the best products.

If you’re hoping to get a brighter smile, you certainly aren’t alone. Teeth whitening products have become increasingly popular over the years. In fact, a survey done by the American Association of Orthodontics showed that nearly 90% of patients had requested whitening treatments.

That’s a lot of white smiles!

before and after teeth whitening

The rise in interest has led to a multitude of at-home whitening kits that are available. Walk into any big box store, grocer, or drugstore and you’ll find an entire aisle dedicated to the stuff. Even beauty retailers like ULTA sell these kits.

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None of them are the same, either. You can find trays that you fill with gel, strips pre-coated in whitening solution, dissolving strips, solutions that you brush on and forget, plus kits that come with lights. Some promise to work in a few weeks, while others promise visible results in just a few days.

How do you know which ones actually deliver results? And what’s the difference between these kits and getting your teeth whitened at the dentist?

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How Does Teeth Whitening Work?

Let’s talk about how these products actually work to make your teeth whiter.

Most at-home whitening products use either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as the active ingredient. Both of these will produce desired results, as long as you’re using them as directed. This stuff penetrates the porous enamel on the outside of your teeth and lightens the color of the dentin underneath. It essentially works by reacting to organic stains and breaking the molecular bonds that hold them onto your teeth.

In order to see the best results, it’s recommended that you hop over to your dentist for a professional cleaning first. This way you can be completely sure there is no plaque or tartar creating a barrier between the whitener and your teeth. No one wants uneven whitening and splotchy teeth!

Some believe that hydrogen peroxide is more aggressive or whitens faster, while carbamide peroxide is a gentler option for sensitive teeth. Really, I’ve only found anecdotal evidence for this. Research has shown that there isn’t any noticeable difference in sensitivity between using one or the other.

It’s worth mentioning, though, that tooth sensitivity is a possible side effect of whitening products using either of these active ingredients. The exact cause isn’t known, but many believe it has to do with making your teeth more porous. The peroxide causes a slight demineralization, making your teeth more sensitive to sensations. However, after you finish the treatment, your teeth remineralize, and the sensitivity goes away soon after.

Whitening treatments will not work on fillings, dentures, bonding, crowns, or veneers. If you have a lot of dental work in there, you have to talk to your dentist about your options for a brighter smile.

What is Staining Your Teeth

woman drinking black coffee

There are several factors that could be dimming your smile. You might notice your teeth changing color over time due to one or more of these:

  • Foods and drinks: Sorry, everyone, but all that coffee, soda, and wine is turning your teeth a different color. Acidic foods like citrus fruits and sour candy are also destroying your enamel.
  • Tobacco use: Tobacco contains tar and nicotine, and both of these will seriously stain your teeth.
  • Poor dental hygiene: If you don’t take care of your teeth, they’ll start to change colors. Not brushing, flossing, and rinsing enough will not only lead to plaque and tartar buildup, but will allow stain-producing substances to take hold faster, and will lead to enamel erosion.
  • Aging: As we get older, the outer layer of the enamel gets thinner. This leads to more of the yellowish-colored dentin underneath showing through.
  • Genetics: Just like most anything else, our teeth are affected by genetics. Some people just naturally start with brighter or thicker enamel than others.
  • Trauma: It’s possible that damage from a fall can disturb enamel formation in young kids while their teeth are still developing. Adults who suffer an injury at or around the mouth can also experience teeth changing color.
  • Medications: There are some medications, like antihistamines, antipsychotics, and high blood pressure medications, that might have a side effect of tooth darkening. Treatments for certain conditions can also change the color of your teeth, like chemotherapy and head or neck radiation.

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After you finish a whitening treatment, your best bet at keeping your smile bright for longer is to ditch as many of these as you can. while things like aging, genetics, and medications might not be within your control, your tobacco use and the foods you eat are definitely in your court!

Professional Teeth Whitening vs. At-Home Teeth Whitening Kits

While both at-home kits and professional treatments take advantage of peroxide, there are some notable differences between the two.

The cost is a big factor when it comes to choosing between the two. The at-home kits are obviously much cheaper than a professional treatment. Those professional in-office whitening sessions can run you anywhere from $300 up to $1,000 or more. In comparison, an at-home kit might run you $20 to $50 a pop.

Of course, that is because professional treatments have a leg-up on the over-the-counter kits. At the dentist’s office, the solution contains much more peroxide. You are looking at spending an hour or two to get your teeth several shades lighter. It would take one or two hours each day over a series of days or weeks to see the same results with an at-home kit.

Whiter smiles from over-the-counter solutions often don’t have the same longevity as professional treatments, either. The solution at the dentist’s office penetrates deeper, keeping your teeth whiter for longer. You will need to do treatments every so often with at-home kits to maintain your pearly whites.

Whether you choose an at-home kit or a professional treatment depends on your situation, teeth, and desired results.

These At-Home Whitening Kits Will Produce Results

Although the professional stuff is the more powerful choice, the at-home kits you can pick up at the store (or online, obviously) can provide great results, too. For a lot less cash, they can help polish off staining and leave your teeth with an overall better appearance.

Crest Whitening Emulsions Leave-On Teeth Whitening Gel Kit

Crest Whitening Emulsions Leave-On Teeth Whitening Gel Kit

Crest has been in the over-the-counter teeth whitening game for a long time, so it’s probably not surprising to see it on this list. This particular kit comes with an applicator and a tube of whitening gel. You simply brush the gel on your teeth – no tray needed – and you are good to go. It makes it easy to whiten your teeth in a variety of situations and time frames, considering you don’t have to remove a strip, store a reusable tray, or brush your teeth after. You can literally let it do its magic while you sit in rush hour traffic, and arrive at work with whiter teeth.

SmileDirectClub Teeth Whitening Kit

SmileDirectClub Teeth Whitening Kit

This kit from SmileDirectClub is a great option for anyone who does not have a ton of time to leave a whitening solution on their teeth. It only requires five minutes, twice a day. In order to use this kit, you brush the solution onto your teeth, and then use the LED light with it. You can plug the light into a power adapter, but for convenience, you can even plug it into your smartphone. The kit comes with extra phone adapters to ensure it will fit Apple and Android devices. That means you can whiten your teeth while you scroll Instagram!

SNOW Dissolving Teeth Whitening Strips

SNOW Dissolving Teeth Whitening Strips

The “Magic Strips” from SNOW are cool because they dissolve. You can put them on before going to bed or while you are walking out the door, and you don’t have to worry about throwing away a used strip later. Unlike whitening products that require you to brush them on, this one just sticks on and you’re ready to go. They make it pretty easy to find the time to whiten your teeth, even if you have a busy schedule. I also have to admit that their lavender and mint flavor isn’t bad at all. And while everyone is different, I did not have any sensitivity issues with my teeth as I have experienced with other whitening products.

Opalescence At Home Teeth Whitening Gel Syringes

Opalescence At Home Teeth Whitening Gel Syringes

Opalescence is actually a professional teeth whitening product that is often distributed by dentists. Your dentist will make custom-molded trays of your teeth, and send you home with a few syringes of this stuff to squeeze inside. I can say that I have personally used this whitening gel, and it definitely works! If you don’t have a dentist’s molded tray, Opalescence also makes pre-filled generic trays. You just have to make sure you purchase it directly from your dentist or an authorized retailer.

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