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The best teeth whitening products in 2023, according to dentists

At-home teeth whitening products are a more cost-effective option compared to professional treatments.
While at-home teeth whitening products can help remove some stains from teeth, treatments at dentist offices are usually more effective.
While at-home teeth whitening products can help remove some stains from teeth, treatments at dentist offices are usually more effective.NBC / Vivian Le

Even if you brush your teeth for the recommended two minutes twice a day with an electric toothbrush or manual toothbrush, and consistently use floss and mouthwash, stains can still build up on your teeth over time. Untreated cavities, coffee and red wine consumption and even eating dark fruits can all lead to discoloration, thus altering the shade of your teeth. And while going to the dentist for an in-office whitening treatment is an option, it’s often expensive and time consuming — whitening treatments at New York City’s Dntl Bar, for instance, range from $275 to $575, and an appointment can last up to 90 minutes. Many oral care brands offer more cost effective over-the-counter products you can use at home — they aren’t as strong or effective as in-office treatments, but they can tackle more minor discoloration.

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To understand how at-home teeth whitening products work and how effective they are, we talked to dentists about everything from whitening toothpaste to whitening trays with built-in LED lights. We also rounded up a handful of at-home teeth whitening products to consider, including options with the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance.

How to shop for at-home teeth whitening treatments

When shopping for at-home teeth whitening treatments, keep in mind that the most powerful whitener may not be the best option for you, said Dr. Matt Messina, a dentist and spokesperson for the ADA. If you’ve never used whitening products before or you have a history of tooth sensitivity, Messina recommended starting with products that contain lower concentrations of active whitening ingredients like hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide — whitening toothpaste, for example, is good for beginners, and you can work your way up to strips or trays. If at any point you notice sensitivity on your teeth or gums while using at-home whitening products, stop using the whitening product immediately and contact your dentist.

Experts recommended looking for teeth whitening products with the ADA Seal of Acceptance — dentists previously told us the same thing about shopping for other dental care products like toothpaste and water flossers. The ADA Seal of Acceptance is the “gold standard” for oral care products, experts told us — when you see that seal, it means the brand submitted data and other materials to the ADA and the organization determined that the product meets specified safety and efficacy requirements. This does not mean that whitening products without the ADA Seal are ineffective — it just means brands have not submitted their products for the ADA to review.

At-home teeth whitening products to consider

Regardless of which at-home teeth whitening method you use, Messina said it’s imperative to follow the product’s directions. “If it says 30 minutes, an hour isn’t better,” Messina said. “It may instead dramatically increase your tooth sensitivity, making it hard to handle cold things like ice cream or even water.”

Below, we rounded up a handful of at-home teeth whitening products that range in type and price point. If brands included the percentage of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide in the product, we mentioned it below — keep in mind that a higher percentage of active whitening ingredient means it’s stronger. We also noted which are ADA-approved and which are not to help guide your shopping.

ADA-approved at-home teeth whitening products

Crest 3D Whitestrips Classic Vivid

Whitening strips are coated with a thin layer of hydrogen peroxide, which is a whitening agent that bleaches teeth, the ADA says. Whitening kits come with multiple strips for the upper and lower teeth, and you use them multiple days in a row for a set amount of time each day to gradually whiten your teeth.

Crest 3D Whitestrips are currently the only ADA-approved whitening strips. The Classic Vivid strips come in a pack of 20, which is enough for 10 treatments, the brand says. The strips are made with hydrogen peroxide and are designed with a no-slip grip that Crest says helps them stick on teeth. Crest offers other types of whitestrips including Brillance White, Glamorous White and Sensitive, all of which are ADA-approved.

Burt’s Bees Whitening Toothpaste

According to the ADA, whitening toothpaste primarily relies on abrasives to help remove surface stains on teeth. All toothpaste is mildly abrasive to scrub teeth clean, but whitening toothpaste typically contains ingredients that specifically target surface stains, like sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda.

Messina said whitening toothpaste works best for surface stains and maintenance after you’ve used another form of whitening. This whitening toothpaste from Burt’s Bees is formulated with hydrated silica to help remove surface stains from teeth. The toothpaste has a Mountain Mint flavor and comes in a 4.7-ounce tube.

Other at-home teeth whitening products

Opalescence Go Teeth Whitening Trays

Teeth whitening trays are similar to whitening strips —they adhere to teeth and whiten using hydrogen peroxide while you wear them. Some trays come prefilled, and others need to be filled with a whitening agent before you use them. Dental offices sometimes make custom trays that fit the exact shape of your mouth to use with whitening gel, experts told us.

Opalescence Go Teeth Whitening Trays come prefilled with a minty gel that contains 15% hydrogen peroxide. The brand says the trays are flexible so they can conform to your teeth and the shape of your mouth.

Colgate Optic White Advanced LED Teeth Whitening Kit

Some gel whitening trays are designed with built-in LED lights that help activate the whitening agent, said Dr. Ben Elchami, a dentist at Dntl Bar. You add the whitening gel to the rechargeable tray and wear it for a set amount of time. Once you own a tray, you can buy refills of the gel to continuously reuse it.

The Colgate Optic White Advanced LED Teeth Whitening Kit comes with a 10-day supply of whitening serum that’s formulated with 9% hydrogen peroxide. The LED tray comes with a charging case.

Auraglow Teeth Whitening Pen

If you’re looking for a portable teeth whitening option, many brands offer gel-filled whitening pens formulated with whitening agents like hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. To use a whitening pen, you brush the gel on your teeth and repeat as directed.

Auraglow says its teeth whitening pen is best for touch-up whitening after an initial whitening treatment. The pen contains gel made with 35% carbamide peroxide, and the brand says there’s enough gel inside the pen for 15 whitening treatments. To dispense the gel, you click the bottom of the pen and brush it on your teeth.

Colgate Optic White Overnight Teeth Whitening Pen

This teeth whitening pen is specifically designed to be used as an overnight treatment. The pen contains a whitening serum made with hydrogen peroxide — you apply it to your teeth before you go to sleep and the serum stays on overnight. Colgate says each click pen is filled with enough serum for 35 nightly treatments.

How does teeth whitening work?

Most teeth whiteners rely on active ingredients to get rid of stains. Stains can occur on the interior and exterior of teeth — those inside the teeth can result from aging or some genetic disorders, according to the ADA, while exterior surface stains are usually associated with tobacco use and the consumption of pigmented food and drinks.

Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide are most commonly used in whitening treatments, the ADA says. These ingredients can penetrate tooth enamel and break down discoloration without softening or thinning teeth, Elchami explained.

One of the biggest differences between teeth whiteners is the concentration of the active ingredients they’re formulated with, experts told us. The higher the concentration of the active ingredient and the longer it’s left on the teeth, the more effective the whitener typically is. But with higher concentrations of active ingredients comes concerns like tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. That’s why dentists are able to use whiteners with higher concentrations of active ingredients in their offices — professionals know how to whiten teeth based on your sensitivity level while protecting other parts of your mouth.

In-office whitening treatments are the most effective option since they’re formulated with higher concentrations of active ingredients, experts noted. This is especially the case if you have teeth discoloration from oral issues like cavities and tooth decay. With that being said, at-home teeth whitening kits can help correct more surface-level tooth discoloration. Cavities or tooth decay may make teeth turn a dark gray color, which won’t go away with at-home whitening, Messina noted. The same goes for other oral problems like plaque build-up or gum irritation.

Is at-home teeth whitening safe?

Teeth whitening is safe overall. However, experts said it's important to talk to your dentist before starting a whitening treatment at home to make sure it’s a viable path for you, especially if you’ve experienced tooth or gum sensitivity in the past. If you can’t handle a higher concentration of whitening agents, your dentist can help you find a product that works best.

In addition, beware of beauty fads or do-it-yourself approaches to teeth whitening, which can have negative side effects like reducing teeth hardness or increasing sensitivity. A common example is using charcoal toothpaste — the abrasiveness of the ingredients can remove the enamel from your teeth overtime, which Messina compared to “sanding a floor.”

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