A guide to teeth whitening, from the best products to the most effective natural home remedies

A guide to teeth whitening, from the best products to the most effective natural home remedies
Teeth whitening can be done at home or with your dentist.Jose Luiz Pelaez/Getty Images
  • Teeth whitening kits, gels, strips, and toothpaste can all be effective ways to remove stains.
  • To whiten teeth fast, check with your dentist about in-office teeth whitening treatments.
  • It's also important to brush and floss regularly, limit staining beverages, and avoid smoking to maintain white teeth.

Many of us look in the mirror and wish for whiter teeth. But it can be hard to navigate the endless amount of teeth whitening products on the market - whitening kits, strips, toothpaste, and more.

According to dentists, the best way to whiten your teeth is to brush and floss regularly and be consistent with whatever products you do choose.

Here's a complete guide to teeth whitening and how you can get white teeth quickly and effectively.
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What to know before you start teeth whitening

A consultation with your dentist is always the best first step when deciding how to whiten your teeth. Your dentist can talk through the right options for you, depending on your teeth and any prior dental work.

"If you have a crown, a veneer, or a feeling, you have to remember that that's not going to whiten," says Genaro Romo, DDS, a dentist and spokesperson for the American Dental Association.

It's also important to understand what stains your teeth in the first place. Tooth injuries and genetic factors can cause discoloration that may be difficult to address. But there are many lifestyle behaviors that might be preventing white teeth.
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According to Onika Patel, DDS, a dentist at Minted Dental, the main culprits of stained teeth are:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking beverages like wine, coffee, or tea
  • Failing to brush your teeth regularly
When you first address the behaviors that can stain teeth, it will significantly increase your chances of success with the following teeth whitening products.

Teeth whitening kits

Whitening kits involve two components: whitening gel and mouth trays. To be effective, the whitening gel should include carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, which are two proven bleaching agents.
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You can buy teeth whitening kits over-the-counter at any local pharmacy, or you can work with your dentist to create a more personalized whitening kit for your needs.

"We take impressions of your teeth and we make these trays, and you take them home," Romo says. You'll typically use the gel and trays at home for about 30 minutes a day for one or two weeks, depending on what your dentist recommends.

Whitening can also be performed in the dentist's office, Romo says, and it only takes about an hour. This kind of in-office whitening is ideal for patients who don't think they would be consistent using whitening kits at home.
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What's the cost: At the dentist, whitening treatments cost between $300 and $800, depending on the length and type of treatment, Patel says. Over-the-counter whitening kits are typically between $20 and $50 for a full course of treatments.

Though they are much cheaper, at-home whitening kits can take longer to be effective.

A small clinical trial from 2005 found that in-office treatment and at-home treatment could achieve similar whitening results, but the at-home treatment took an average of 16 days instead of one day with the in-office treatment.
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The best teeth whitening kits

A guide to teeth whitening, from the best products to the most effective natural home remedies
Crest Whitestrips is one of the best whitening kits.Ulta

For the full review, check out our picks for the best teeth whitening kits.

Whitening strips

Whitening strips are similar to kits, as they both include whitening gel and a mouth tray. But with strips, the gel is pre-applied to the single-use plastic.

Like at-home whitening kits, Romo says the strips can be effective, though it might take longer to see results. "The gel is not as strong as what you would find at a dental office, but it will also help whiten your teeth," Romo says.
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Whitening toothpaste

Regular tooth brushing is necessary to keep your teeth clean. While brushing with any toothpaste should help prevent tooth discoloration, whitening toothpaste can also lend an extra hand.

"Some of the toothpaste can be a little bit more abrasive and it helps remove extrinsic stains," Romo says. However, some whitening toothpaste can also be too abrasive and cause teeth sensitivity. Romo and Patel recommended looking for whitening toothpaste with the American Dental Association seal, which helps ensure that it isn't too abrasive and won't damage your tooth enamel.
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The best whitening toothpaste

A guide to teeth whitening, from the best products to the most effective natural home remedies
Sensodyne is the best whitening toothpaste for sensitive teeth.Amazon


For the full review, check out our picks for the best whitening toothpaste.

Natural teeth whitening at home

There are many natural home remedies to whiten teeth, but some work better than others, and some dentists say to avoid them completely.

To whiten teeth naturally at home:
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  • Brush and floss regularly. Patel says brushing your teeth and keeping them clear of food helps prevent tartar, which can make teeth appear yellowish. The American Dental Association recommends people brush their teeth twice a day and floss once daily.
  • Use drinking straws. Dentists recommend drinking beverages such as wine, tea, or coffee through a straw whenever possible. Patel says it prevents the beverages from coming in contact with tooth enamel, so they don't stain.
  • Stay away from charcoal. Charcoal toothpaste may be popular, but Patel and Romo strongly caution their patients against using it because it is so abrasive. "I cringe when I see people brushing their teeth with charcoal. That's painful for me as a dentist to watch that," he says. Studies continue to warn against charcoal for tooth whitening due to its ineffectiveness and abrasive nature.
  • Be careful with baking soda. Though it's another common remedy, many dentists also believe baking soda is too abrasive. In a 2015 randomized control trial, DIY tooth whitening methods were used on 120 extracted human molars to see how well they worked. The group that used a strawberry puree mixed with baking soda found it was not effective compared to traditional whitening products.
  • Avoid oil pulling. The American Dental Association says there is no peer-reviewed evidence oil pulling helps whiten teeth. While some swear by this folk remedy, science simply has not found swishing oil around your mouth to be effective for teeth whitening.

Insider's takeaway

Overall, brushing your teeth and avoiding stains is the best first-line treatment to whiten teeth, but there are numerous teeth whitening products on that market that are safe and effective.

For whitening kits and strips, consumers should look for whitening gels that have proven bleaching agents like carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. And make sure your whitening toothpaste has the ADA seal of approval.

Experts say consistency is key, so if you want to whiten your teeth and see results, you should use the product every day for the recommended length of time for maximum effectiveness.
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