If you’ve been hesitant about using whitening strips and whitening kits to whiten your pearly whites in the past, now may be a perfect time to actually give them a go, Julie Cho, D.M.D., a general dentist in New York City, tells SELF. Many of us are (still) working remotely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, so we have the time to experiment for a few days with teeth whitening kits like these—and can more closely monitor how they affect our teeth and (temporarily) thwart high-staining foods.
With so much variety, though, it’s hard to know how to find the best teeth whitening kit, whitening strips, or whitening toothpaste for you. Here’s what you need to know.
What causes teeth staining?
One of the most common causes of teeth surface stains is what you eat, Cho says. Things like blueberries, coffee, and red wine can stain your teeth, especially if you eat them frequently.
This kind of pigmentation is the kind that responds best to whitening agents, Mark S. Wolff, D.D.S., Morton Amsterdam Dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, tells SELF. There’s a colored molecule in these foods (called a chromogen) “that literally attaches itself to the outside of the tooth,” he explains. Whitening agents, which tend to be bleaching chemicals like carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, break up the chromogen so that it can be easily washed away.
But there are a ton of other things that can contribute to the discoloration on your teeth. Some teeth just naturally develop more color as they grow in, which tends to be yellowish, brown, or even reddish, Wolff says. Part of that is also determined by your genetics, Cho points out. These types of pigment are deeper in the tooth and generally require more aggressive whitening than over-the-counter options offer.
Other causes of teeth surface stains include medications (particularly tetracycline, which is known to give teeth a gray or purplish hue in some patients) and metals precipitating in the mouth (which might appear as black dots on the teeth after taking iron supplements, for instance). In both of these cases, over-the-counter whitening products aren’t likely to be effective, Wolff says, and you’ll have to get assessed by a dentist to figure out the best strategy to lighten your teeth.
Who should—and shouldn’t—use at-home teeth-whitening kits?
The most common side effect associated with whitening teeth is increased sensitivity, so people who already have sensitive teeth should use these whitening kits with caution, Cho says, and you may want to steer clear entirely. Not only can some bleaching agents strip some of the protective enamel from the teeth, Wolff warns, but they can also exacerbate any sensitivity related to gum recession.
However, this effect is usually temporary and will lessen after your treatment period is over. You can also minimize it by using a toothpaste for sensitive teeth while doing the whitening treatment, Cho says.
But home whitening kits and whitening strips are still a good place to start before getting in-office treatment. If you use an at-home kit and find that you still don’t have the results you want (and don’t develop too much sensitivity), you may be a good candidate for in-office whitening treatments, Cho says.
What should you know before using a home teeth-whitening kit?
Honestly, teeth-whitening kits won’t work super well for everyone. How well they work for you depends on a bunch of different things, including consistency. In-office treatments are done once with a high concentration of bleach. Home kits spread that out (usually over 10 to 14 days) and use a lower concentration of bleach, so it’s important to use them consistently for that amount of time if you want to see results.
Also, know that the whitening won’t last forever, Cho says. Even in-office results last between six months and two years, she says, which is a huge window. But ultimately, how long any whitening lasts “is dependent on your habits,” Wolff says. If you’re a heavy coffee drinker or smoker, or are genetically more prone to darker teeth, you may find your results don’t last as long. But no matter who you are, you should expect to need to repeat the process at some point if you still want your teeth to appear whitened.
On the flip side, you actually shouldn’t whiten your teeth continuously, Wolff says, because that can start to damage the teeth and actually make them look gray rather than white. Doing it once every six months to a year should be the limit, he says.
Remember that, unlike your natural teeth, devices like veneers won’t whiten, Cho says. And overall, you may not get the perfect gleaming shade of white you’re after. So it’s crucial to have realistic expectations for what your results might be, Wolff says. If you’re not happy with your results, you can chat with a dentist about what else you can do to whiten your teeth.
There’s also a ton of variety out there, so if you don’t like one teeth whitening kit, you can try others to find the best whitening kit for you. The American Dental Association (ADA) even has a voluntary seal program to indicate which products meet their standards, which Wolff recommends using as a guide when selecting a product.
Below, find recommendations for the best teeth-whitening products from our experts as well as teeth-whitening treatments and whitening toothpastes that have the ADA seal of acceptance. We’ve also included a few that are SELF Healthy Beauty Award winners, and several from brands such as Crest, Colgate, GLO, and more. You can largely buy all of these whitening products at Amazon, Target, or Walmart.
All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.